By the numbers: What if Pujols had stayed?
Beltran has picked up offensive slack, four first basemen have been productive
LOS ANGELES -- While not talked about inside the Cardinals' clubhouse, Albert Pujols' absence has provided a topic of debate elsewhere.
The arguments about whether or not Pujols should have stayed in St. Louis have simmered. So, too, has some of the emotion about the manner in which Pujols left. But one natural question remains: Where would this Cards club be had he stayed?
Finding a quantifiable way to answer that query won't happen, though that doesn't preclude a look at the what-if.
The individual numbers would suggest that the Cardinals have fared fine without Pujols' bat this season. The team numbers, though, do indicate that the absence has been felt to a certain degree.
First, on the individual side ...
Pujols, in his 11th and final season in St. Louis, supplied a .299 average, .366 on-base percentage and .541 slugging percentage as the team's first baseman. During that 2011 season, he hit 37 home runs, 29 doubles and drove home 99 runs.
In every offensive category, Pujols' numbers were not up to his career averages. That, of course, is to be expected with increasing age, meaning that as the Redbirds look to what they may have missed out on from Pujols in 2012, last year's statistics are likely the better barometer.
The Cardinals have had four players start at first base this season, so the stability certainly has not been the same. The numbers? Well, they're actually not lagging far behind.
After Sunday's game, the Cards have received a .292 average at the position. There have been 20 homers, 45 doubles and 97 RBIs. While there is a discrepancy in the home runs, St. Louis is on track to finish the year with 107 RBIs from the position.
How good is that production?
Good enough that the only National League team on pace to have its first basemen drive in more runs would be the Washington Nationals, who have Adam LaRoche playing there regularly.
Most of the Cardinals' offense at first base has come from current cleanup hitter Allen Craig.
"Allen Craig has been huge," added Skip Schumaker. "It feels like every time a guy is on second, he's driving in somebody. I don't know where we would be without him in our lineup every day."
Of course, had Pujols chosen to re-sign with St. Louis, Craig would likely still be playing regularly. Only, those at-bats would have come as a right fielder.
The one player St. Louis would not have had if Pujols had remained is Carlos Beltran, whose signing was in direct response to the loss of a future Hall of Famer.
While the two are playing in different ballparks against differing competition, Pujols and Beltran have 2012 season numbers that are actually quite comparable.
Pujols has put up a .282/.342/.524 line with 30 home runs and 96 RBIs. For Beltran, he has hit .267 with a .343 on-base percentage and slugging percentage of .494. He has 29 homers and 87 RBIs. In terms of WAR (wins above replacement player), Pujols holds the edge, though not a significant one, with a 3.7 mark to Beltran's 2.8.
Numbers, though, don't tell that complete story of Beltran's season, which is that while he was one of the league's best first-half hitters, his production has simmered considerably since the All-Star break. Pujols, on the other hand, has gotten better as the season has progressed.
Pujols recently reached the 30-homer mark for the 12th straight season. He entered the weekend with a .314 average since May 8.
Determining Pujols' impact, though, cannot be done solely through individual comparisons. His defense, for instance, has been missed at first base, where no one has matched Pujols' ability to make picks and save errors.
It's impossible to quantify, too, what Pujols' presence alone meant to a lineup. Pitchers feared Pujols in a unique way, and that has an effect on everyone around him. And then there is his knack for coming through in the clutch, something that has been a regular weakness for the Cards this season.
Even though St. Louis has been among the NL leaders in batting average and runs scored all year, the club has a 77-70 record that is just the 13th best in baseball.
"The bottom line is we're losing games we need to win," David Freese said. "We're putting forth our best effort and things aren't working out. It's about execution. It's about doing the right things to win ballgames. We're just not doing it."
As a team, the Cardinals are hitting .264 with runners in scoring position this year. Pujols is a career .337 hitter in such spots. Beltran's average this season is .278.
Regardless of the projected impact Pujols could have made, the Cards believe one thing very firmly -- that the offense they do have sans Pujols has the pieces to thrive in big ways, even if the unit hasn't hit its potential just yet.
"You can talk about potential all day long, but if you haven't executed, it's all just talk," manager Mike Matheny said of his offense. "And to me, that's something these guys are frustrated about because they know we're a different team than that."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.