Pujols takes a curtain call following his first homerun in front of the St. Louis crowd, 4/9/01.
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It’s Opening Day, my friends.
Baseball is officially back. Albert Pujols is in the Cardinals starting lineup. Adam Wainwright is starting.
It’s going to be Bedlam at Busch.
It truly is one of the greatest days of the year, as we can finally see our favorite team realize the hopes — or fears — that we hold for them. Who will break out? Who will disappoint? What magical moments await us over the next six months? It all starts today.
***Quick personal aside. I’ve only written 5 articles since baseball returned from the COVID delay in 2020. I guess I never really came back. With this new season underway, I’m trying to get back into blogging, for real, and ending what was essentially a 2 season hiatus — in which I actually did write and record music, if you’re into that sort of thing…***
I think it best to ease into the season, so I won’t kick things off with a deep dive. As a new season starts, it’s always fun to peruse some player statistics to see if there are any significant milestones on the horizon.
For the 2022 Cardinals, there are several numbers to keep an eye on.
The Cardinals have 2 players that are within reach of 300 career homeruns this season, Paul Goldschmidt (280) and Nolan Arenado (269).
Goldschmidt has something of a trifecta in play this season, as he currently sits at 280 HRs, 939 Runs, and 927 RBI for his career. (Those numbers rank 5th, 3rd, and 3rd in MLB since 2011, by the way.) If he hits all the round numbers of 300/1000/1000, he would be the only player since 2011 to accumulate that combination of productivity.
He does have some competition though, as Freddie Freeman sits at 271/969/941. Because Goldy needs 61 Runs and 73 RBIs and Freeman needs 29 HRs, it’s likely this one doesn’t resolve until late in the season, though I would think Goldy can hit his marks slightly earlier than Freeman gets to 29 homers. We shall see.
Very quietly, those two first basemen have been among the top 3 most productive hitters of the last decade plus.
A few years ago, I thought Yadi had a decent shot at rounding out his career with 200 plus HRs. Unfortunately, 2020 threw a wrench in his ability to accumulate, along with a general decline in power. Sitting at 171, it would take a career high 29 HRs — and I just don’t see that happening…
Yadi is closing in on one milestone this season, 1000 RBI. Sitting at 998, we may see this one before the opening weekend ends.
Other interesting numbers to watch with Yadi:
He needs 120 defensive games at catcher to move into 2nd place all-time. Sorry, Andrew Knizner.
He needs 84 hits to climb to 4th all-time in hits by a player that was primarily a catcher.*
*I say this because Joe Torre will rank ahead of him, but played less than half of his games as a catcher.
Wainwright and Molina are tied together for a pretty cool milestone. With 20 starts together this season, they will reach 325 and take over 1st place all-time for starts by battery-mates.
With 30 starts on his own this year, Wainwright will bypass Jesse Haines for the 3rd most starts in franchise history, behind Gibson and Forsch.
He is 75.1 innings from 2451, which would pass Bill Sherdel for the 4th most innings pitched in franchise history – behind Gibson, Haines, and Forsch.
He currently has 184 career wins. 16 would give him a round 200 career wins. He collected 17 wins in 2021.
Unfortunately, Albert reached a lot of meaningful career milestones on the west coast, but there is plenty of intrigue in his return to St. Louis.
He is just 38 hits behind Rogers Hornsby and 4th place in franchise history.
He needs 18 hits for 10th place all-time in baseball.
He is 65 RBI behind Babe Ruth, all-time.
Pujols needs 17 HRs to match Alex Rodriguez for 4th place on the all-time list.
The big fish is, of course, 700 career home runs, which would require 21 homeruns this season.
It is a tall order to collect 21 HRs when the plan is to predominantly use Pujols vs left-handed pitchers.
Last year, Albert hit 17 HRs in 296 plate appearances. If he were to maintain the 5.7% HR rate that he posted last year, he would need roughly 370 plate appearances to reach 21. If that rate dips, then it would take more than 400 PAs.
The Cardinals will surely look for places to get him extra at-bats. One area was brought up by Buster Olney recently, when he tweeted out some of the solid numbers Pujols posted against what Baseball-Reference defines as “finesse” pitchers, last season. I looked a little further into it and found that Pujols has also hit well against fly-ball pitchers.
Baseball-Refence’s definition of Finesse is pitchers that rank in the bottom third of the league in terms of strikeouts plus walks over a period of years. Fly-ball pitchers rank in the top third of FB/GB ratio over a range of years.
This is what his slash lines have looked like over the last 4 years against finesse and fly-ball pitchers. Be mindful that these numbers are vs both RH and LH pitchers, though if you look into the numbers he has been back and forth on hitting lefties over the last few years — last year he crushed them.
Now, I’m not able to parse R/L out of these numbers, but in general, he still hits these types of pitchers at a good level, especially in terms of slugging. The Cardinals can certainly dial in the numbers and find ideal RHP to match him up with. My own rough sorting found the following RHP in-division that fit at least one of these profiles:
Cubs – Stroman, Hendricks, Mills, Givens (LHP Miley, Smyly, Norris in rotation or options to start.)
Reds – Sims, Strickland*, Hoffman, Dunn*, Cessa, Santillan (LHP Minor in rotation)
Brewers – Houser, Peralta, Gustave, Urena (Lauer, Suter, Hader, prominent LHP)
Pirates – Bednar, Hembree, Crowe, Wilson* (LHP Quintana in rotation)
*both a finesse and fly-ball pitcher
Now, some of these guys aren’t ideal matchups. Stroman is a finesse pitcher, but also a groundball machine. Peralta is a heavy fly-ball pitcher, but also a power arm.
It’s up to the analytics department and Oli Marmol to figure out the right spots to give Albert extra ABs and an outside shot at 700.
We watched Albert do some really stupid good things for 11 years, so I certainly won’t count him out on this front. Heck, he might just be so pumped that he goes off and hits 30 HRs to match Stan the Man at 475 on the franchise list — though that feels sacrileges to even speak about.
Thanks for reading!