Earlier this season when manager Oli Marmol made the obvious mistake of giving Albert Pujols too many starts and at-bats vs. right-handed pitching, the people hollered … and hollered … and hollered.
“What is he doing? Everybody knows Albert is terrible against righthanded pitching. Everybody knows the Cardinals signed Albert to use as the DH when their opponent starts a lefty. Albert still crushes lefties, but is virtually useless against righthanders. Marmol has to stop managing with his heart and start making decisions with his brain. We all love Albert Pujols, but Marmol is supposed to be a manager – not a fan boy.”
True. Accurate. Tough but fair. Playing time must be determined by performance, and Pujols has been overmatched by right-handed pitchers for a long time.
I apologize for being rude here, but if you are one of the folks out there that’s oblivious to this – and you believe that we should assess Pujols based on what he did in 2010 instead of what he’s doing now – well, my friend, stop going on Twitter to make a damn fool of yourself.
Twitter was blowing up in the eighth inning Wednesday when Marmol pinch-hit for Pujols with two outs and the bases loaded. The Cardinals were down-and-out all night, trailing the Braves 3-0. Ideally the Redbirds needed a damage hit. A double to score two runs or perhaps clear the bases. A grand-slam homer to take the lead. Heck, even a two-run single would cut the Atlanta lead to one run and keep the rally going.
Marmol made the decision to have rookie Nolan Gorman, who bats left, face RH Atlanta reliever Jesse Chavez. Gorman grounded out to end the game.
Marmol’s swap of Gorman for Pujols didn’t work, but it was absolutely the correct thing to do. That’s managing. At times you can make a smart move that doesn’t produce the more likely result. Other times you can make a lunkhead strategy decision that ignores the higher probability — and somehow it works. But it always makes more sense to go with the move that has the best possibility of paying off.
I don’t understand why this is even a debate.
Please allow me to wipe out some of the nonsense here, OK?
Bark! Pujols is a Hall of Famer! How can you pinch-hit for a Hall of Famer? Bark!
Yes, Pujols is Hall of Famer. Automatic. First ballot. One of the greatest of the greats to swing a bat in the majors. A legend and an icon. In franchise history, Pujols is topped by one man, Stan Musial, for his career prowess offensively.
But this has nothing to do with the state of Pujols’ offense in 2022. Even after he singled and doubled against the Braves in Wednesday’s game, Pujols is batting .200 this season with a .626 OPS that would be the worst of his career.
Bark! But Pujols had two hits in that game? Other than Paul Goldschmidt, no one else in the lineup was doing much. So stay with the hot bat! Bark!
Um, Albert’s two hits came against Braves starter Max Fried. He’s a lefty. And Pujols has hammered lefties this season for a .294 average, .490 slugging percentage and .806 OPS. From a baseball standpoint, Pujols is still an asset against LH pitchers. He was effective in that role for the Angels and the Dodgers last season. And despite a recent downturn against lefties that ended with his two hits off Fried, Pujols is coming through just fine as a lefty masher for the 2022 Cards.
The only problem: the extremely limited number of opportunities for Pujols to take on LH pitching. But that doesn’t justify Marmol using Pujols on a semi-frequent basis against righthanders.
In 88 plate appearances vs. RHP this season Pujols is 10 for 71 for a .135 batting average. He’s slugged a weak .230 and has a .502 OPS against them. Since May 23 Pujols is 4 for 31 against righthanders (.129) with eight strikeouts, one extra-base hit, and a .161 slug.
Bark! You nerds get too hung up on platoon splits and all of these fancy-pants numbers! Gorman hasn’t been doing this long enough for me to take his track record seriously. Bark!
The small sample objection is fair. But it’s also fair to note that Pujols is 42 years old and largely diminished as a hitter – so in this context his past success isn’t much of a factor, either.
So in this case Marmol had a choice between (A) a faded RH batter who has awful numbers against RH pitchers to face a RH pitcher with the game on the line; or (B) an up-and-coming LH batter with more power and impressive numbers vs. RH pitchers.
This is an easy call. Gorman has a .463 slugging percentage and .791 OPS vs. RH this season. Pujols has a .230 slugging percentage and .502 OPS vs. RHP this year. Among 318 MLB hitters that have at least 88 plate appearances against righties this season, Pujols ranks 314th in batting average, 307th in slugging and 303rd in OPS.
And Jesse Chavez is more vulnerable against LH batters this season. They have a .823 OPS against him; that’s 90 points higher than the OPS posted against Chavez by RH batters in 2022.
Gorman has been even better against RHP since June 21, batting .291 with a double, three homers, a .357 OBP, .553 slug and .910 OPS as he went into his pinch-hitting appearance last night.
Bark! But Gorman is a rookie who strikes out too much! Pujols has more experience in “clutch” situations. Bark!
Going into his at-bat Wednesday, Gorman was batting .313 with runners in scoring position with a .450 onbase percentage and .500 slug for a .950 OPS. And he has more walks (8) than strikeouts (7) with runners in scoring position. Pujols has done pretty well in RISP situations (.738 OPS.) But Gorman is 68 percent above league average offensively with runners in scoring position this season. Pujols is two percent above league average with RISP.
If it’s any consolation to the dissenters, I’d take the 22-year-old Pujols over the 22-year-old Gorman. Unfortunately, that option was not available last night.
Bark! But you’re leaving out an important consideration! Pujols has very good numbers against Jesse Chavez. So why are you ignoring that? That’s another reason for staying with Pujols in that situation.
Yes, Pujols is 10 for 28 against Chavez during his career. That’s a .357 average. And Pujols also has a .400 OBP and .500 slug against Chavez too. Impressive.
From 2009 through 2014, Pujols was 7 for 14 vs. Chavez (.500) with a homer and four RBI.
Since 2015, Pujols has gone 3 for 15 against Chavez (.200.) In his most recent encounters with Chavez, Pujols went 1 for 5 against him in 2019-2020.
So what’s more relevant? The younger-guy Pujols numbers or the older-guy Pujols stats? Easy answer. Pujols’ only real success in matchups against Chavez ended eight years ago.
Wednesday’s episode reaffirmed the obvious: Marmol is in a tough spot with Pujols. An awkward and mostly thankless spot.
If Marmol plays Pujols vs. righthanders, then he’s a fawning fan boy who doesn’t have the guts to do what’s best for the team by keeping Pujols on the bench. If Marmol makes an obvious, clear, fact-based, and 100-percent proper decision to go with a matchup that greatly favors the LH-batting Gorman over the RH-batting Pujols in a showdown against a right-handed pitcher, then the manager is a dumbo who doesn’t know what he’s doing — and how dare he disrespect Pujols?
If Gorman had smoked a bases-clearing double or hit a typically cheap home run in Atlanta’s homer-happy ballpark, that makes Marmol a bold, brave genius.
If Marmol had stayed with Pujols only to watch The Machine strike out, that makes the manager the mindless President of the Pujols Fan Club who refuses to acknowledge AP’s feeble numbers against right-handed pitchers.
Personally, I’m more ticked off by the collapse of this offense which is a much bigger deal than one pinch-hit decision. I may go on Twitter to bark about that.
Thanks for reading …
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the 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 D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.