Adam Wainwright delivers home at Busch Stadium in 2010, a season in which he finished 2nd in Cy Young voting.
Yes, as we’re all well aware by now, Albert is gone. My personal feelings towards the situation are that it’s a sad state of affairs that all of us, Albert included, will miss out on such a great story and a legendary career with the Cardinals. That’s as far as my emotional response extends on the situation, though. My practical side says we just dodged a very big $220 million dollar bullet and I give all the credit in the world to John Mozeliak for not caving to the pressure of losing out on this era’s greatest hitter and putting the team in a very difficult position for the next decade.
Not only did John Mozeliak handle the contract situation with Albert intelligently and rationally, he handled the damage-control just as well. That’s what today’s post is dealing with; how the St. Louis Cardinals of 2012 replace the contribution of Albert Pujols – and how they might fare even better during this regular season than they did in 2011.
Albert Pujols contributed a 5.1 WAR season to the Cardinals efforts last year. That’s pretty good, obviously, but it won’t come as a shock to most of the readers here that it was the lowest WAR season he’s had in the Major Leagues and by a good chunk – nine-tenths of a win.
Just to clarify for any readers unfamiliar, WAR is based upon statistics that count the contribution of Runs by a player. 10 runs accounts for 1 win. So, Albert Pujols was worth roughly 51 Runs above the average replacement-level ballplayer in 2011. Now, there is more to it than just scoring runs, of course. The stats utilized are wRAA (weighted Runs Above Average) which have to do with offensive output, UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) which is the defensive representation, along with an adjustment for the player’s position – because certain positions tend to carry less offensive potential than others (SS or 2B versus 1B or a corner OF position), and an adjustment for the value of a replacement level player to set a benchmark for the average.
Now, I feel like a true assessment on WAR as a definitive measure of on-field value is still up for debate but most seem to agree that its best value is in determining a players production value in terms of dollars and cents (well, really just dollars… and millions of them). For our purposes here, however, I’m using it with the idea that it’s pretty good at telling us how much value we can expect from a player on the field.
The first thing I look at in this whole idea of replacing what Albert Pujols provided on the field is in who we are getting back for 2012. We were without a Cy Young caliber pitcher in 2011, a pitcher with a 6.1 WAR in 2010. Adam Wainwright before his Tommy John surgery is not much less valuable than a 31-year old Albert Pujols. And the adjustment for age has Albert losing around 1 to 2 WAR per season while Wainwright (though his surgery being an intangible at the moment, but one we can be fairly confident he successfully returns from as seems to be the norm these days) should continue to increase his WAR value now in the middle of his prime years. Bill James projects Wainwright for 30 starts next season with an FIP 3.24.
Wainwright is certainly the most important addition to the 2012 team but it’s not the sole addition thanks to smart work by the front office. The addition of Furcal for a full season, assuming health, is a very positive addition. With the Cardinals suffering a substandard defense up the middle most of the season, Furcal will at least mitigate the defensive miscues that the pitching staff had to deal with and save runs with his glove.
Without question the biggest off-season story for the club outside of losing Albert is the addition of Carlos Beltran. Beltran posted a .389 wOBA last season and was worth 4.7 WAR which are both great for a player at his age and a player coming off knee surgery. (For those curious about Beltran’s actual health issues, I refer you to bgh’s look on VEB at what really happened and where the confusion came in on the procedure Beltran really chose to undergo.) Though a .389 wOBA is not a reasonable expectation of what Beltran may do for us next season – his career average is .372 and he hasn’t posted a wOBA as high as last year for a single season when playing over 100 games since 2006 – I think it’s fair to suspect he’ll not be too terrible below that mark. Beltran will fit nicely into a pretty potent lineup surrounded by Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, Yadier Molina, David Freese, and Allen Craig.
The projections for Beltran seem to agree that he won’t fall very far short of his production from last season. Here are a couple outlooks from my two favorite resources, Bill James and ZiPS, we’ll look at Bill James’ first and ZiPS’ second as they each present a different selection of data.
Perhaps expectedly, the projected OPS+ of 126 would be good for 3rd best on the 2012 Cardinals based on ZiPS outlook for the Redbirds. That would be behind the even-132 OPS+ of both Berkman and Holliday.
The 2012 Cardinals have such a great potential, so much better than last season, to score more runs than they allow. The return of Adam Wainwright to the rotation is simply invaluable and improved defense in the infield and presumably an improved defense in the outfield with the luxury of utilizing Berkman’s bat at the safe position of 1B give the team a great chance to slow down opposing offenses. As for our own offense, it will always hurt to lose a player the caliber of Albert Pujols (even a player who is 75% the caliber or Albert Pujols), but we have added a very adequate bat with Carlos Beltran who would firstly bridge the gap between Opening Day and the return of Allen Craig smoothly and secondly provide a stronger OF offense when Craig returns and pushes Jay to the 4th OF slot where he can spell Beltran, Craig, and Holliday as needed.
Given the additions, I feel more than confident that our 2012 incarnation will prove stronger than the 2011 and credit the front office for a great recovery after losing one of the greatest players of our generation.