Here’s the lowdown: Albert Pujols is hitting .127 against righties this season. He’s 3 for his last 28 against RH (.107) since May 23.
Pujols is one of 293 players to have at least 85 plate appearances against right-handers this year. Among the 293 clubs, he has the worst batting average, ranking 241st in onbase percentage (.271) and 288th in slugging percentage (.225). Only 13 of the 293 batsmen have a worse OPS than Pujols.
Needless to say, I respect Pujols immensely and consider it one of the greatest privileges of my career to watch, write about, and discuss him during his first 11 incredible seasons in St. Louis. He will always be the best baseball player I have ever covered and no one else comes close. How lucky I was.
I was glad he returned for his farewell season in 2022. But I’ve also taken a consistent position: Pujols can’t beat right-handers anymore, so manager Oli Marmol had to do the smart thing – which also happens to be the right thing to do – and limit No. 5’s at-bats against right-handers.
It’s hardly personal, and I understand the emotional, powerful pull of seeing Pujols as a cardinal. I realize that fans in St. Louis and beyond will come to the stadium and want to watch him play. And I know they may only have a few chances to see him in person one last time.
But at some point it has to go to the baseball part. It has to be about manager Oli Marmol using your optimal line-up as often as possible.
Pujols can still beat lefties. Absolutely. He’s hitting .342 against them this season with .372 OBP and .579 OPS for a .951 slug. And we all wish the cardinals would face a lot more leftists, but that’s not going to happen.
This season, MLB hitters have made about 27% of their plate appearances against LHP. And that explains why Pujols only has 43 PA against left-handers in the first two months of the season.
But the lack of opportunities doesn’t justify Marmol using Pujols against RH pitchers as often as he does. Two recent examples: Last week, Marmol Pujols started in both ends of a double-header against Pittsburgh, despite the Pirates starting both games with right-handed pitchers. Pujols went 1 for 7. And then Marmol put Pujols in the lineup as the designated hitter against a right-handed starter at Fenway Park in Boston on Sunday, and Pujols went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts.
After Sunday’s game, Marmol said fans wanted to see Pujols in his final appearance at Fenway Park. Well, the Red Sox honored Pujols on the field Saturday, and he pulled off a trick later in the game. And I suspect many of the Cardinal fans who were at Fenway Park for Game 3 would have preferred a Nolan Gorman home run and an STL win to win the series.
On Saturday, the Cardinals had 11 runs, 14 hits and six walks. A Marmol-backed action became the potential strength of the St. Louis lineup if the cards can match their best possible batsman line. And that’s true.
The front eight of Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Gorman, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader make for an exciting lineup. (Offensively, the catcher position seems hopeless at the moment.)
But less than 24 hours after Gorman’s explosive LH swing launched a 440-foot home run over the tall midfield wall, Marmol sat rookie Sunday and played Pujols at DH instead. If the top priority was winning Sunday’s game, Gorman would have been slotted back to DH. Why Ice Gorman? Why not roll him back to the DH spot and let him build more confidence after his boom boom homer on Saturday? It’s just silly.
The Cardinals were able to win the three-game streak, but their offense lay dormant for most of the game until they recovered late. It was a rally that included a Gorman pinch hit walk and a run made in the four-run ninth inning. The four-run breakout was fun, but not enough to erase Boston’s 6-1 lead.
If you’ve just hit 11 runs and are bragging about being able to play with your No. 1 lineup regularly, I don’t know how you’d instantly walk away from it and go up against a right-handed starting pitcher with Pujols when two better options were available: Gorman or his rookie colleague Juan Yepez. Ironically, Yepez brought the Cardinals within two runs of the Sox with a ninth-inning, pinch-hit, three-run homer.
Gorman has three doubles, four homers, 11 RBI and a .432 slug in Limited Duty vs. RH Pitching. Yepez has six doubles, six homers and 16 RBI in 127 at-bats against RH this season. And he’s only started three of the last 10 games.
Pujols has the most plate appearances by a Cardinal (64) at DH against right-handed pitchers. In such situations, Pujols beats .115 with .281 OBP and .192 Slug for .474 OPS.
What’s the point of this?
It’s nothing new; Pujols has been in a steady — now steep — decline against RHP for several seasons. The evidence is strong and plentiful, but Marmol chooses to ignore it. The manager feels compelled to play Pujols, even though it’s a terrible decision from a baseball perspective.
If Marmol Harrison benches Bader for lack of effort, then who blames the manager for refusing to field his most capable lineup? I’m just wondering
Perhaps the front office can safely intervene in this matter…unless, of course, Marmol follows the front office’s instructions.
Marmol is a good manager. And he’s too smart for that.
There’s a time and a place for nostalgia. But the manager cannot accept that. He has to give his team the best to win. Also, Pujols has nothing to gain by knocking out in all four at-bats in Boston. It is high time for Marmol to reconsider this situation.
Thank you for reading …
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All statistics used herein are from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the past 35 years, Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened and connected with generations of sports fans in St. Louis.
While best known for his voice as a senior sports columnist at Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington DC
Bernie, his wife Kirsten, and their cats live in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.