Here are the facts: Albert Pujols is batting .127 against right-handed pitching this season. He’s 3 for his last 28 versus RH (.107) since May 23.

Pujols is one of 293 players that have at least 85 plate appearances against righthanders this year. Among the 293 hitters he has the worst batting average, ranks 241st in onbase percentage (.271) and 288th in slugging percentage (.225.) Only 13 of the 293 batters have a poorer OPS than Pujols.

I don’t have to say – over and over again – that I greatly respect Pujols and consider it one of biggest privileges of my career to watch him, write about him and discuss him during his first 11 incredible seasons in St. Louis. He will always be the best baseball player I’ve ever covered, and no one else comes close. How lucky I’ve been.

I was happy to see him return in 2022 for his farewell season. But I also took a consistent position: Pujols can no longer hit right-handed pitching, so manager Oli Marmol had to do the smart thing – which also happens to be the right thing – and limit No. 5’s at-bats vs. righthanders.

This is hardly personal, and I understand the emotional, powerful pull of seeing Pujols as a Cardinal. I realize that fans in St. Louis and beyond want to come to the ballpark and watch him play. And I know that maybe they’ll have just a few opportunities, if that, to see him in person, for one last time.

But at some point, this has got to be about the baseball part. It’s got to be about Marmol using his optimal lineup as often as possible. It’s got to be about winning, period. The Cardinals claimed only one division title from 2016 through 2021, and haven’t won a single NLCS postseason game since 2014.

I’d like to believe that they’re dedicated to changing that.

And Pujols can help. He has helped. Pujols can still clobber lefties. He’s hitting .342 against them this season with a .372 OBP and .579 OPS for a .951 slug. That’s excellent. We all wish that the Cardinals could face a lot more lefties, but that won’t be happening.

This season MLB hitters have taken around 27% of their plate appearances against LHP. That explains why Pujols has only 43 PA vs. lefties in the first two-plus months of the season.

But the shortage of opportunities vs. LHP doesn’t justify Marmol using Pujols against RHP as often as he does.

Two recent examples: Last week Marmol started Pujols in both ends of a double header against Pittsburgh, even though the Pirates went with right-handed starting pitchers in both games. Pujols went 1 for 7.

And then Sunday at Fenway Park in Boston, Marmol put Pujols in the lineup at designated hitter against a right-handed starter, and Pujols went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts.

It’s telling that Marmol pulled Pujols for a LH-batting pinch-hitter, Nolan Gorman, in the 9th inning Sunday against a RH reliever Tyler Danish. If you’re going to pinch hit for Pujols with Gorman with a righthander on the mound in the ninth inning — down five runs at the time — then why the heck wouldn’t you go with Gorman at DH over Pujols at the start of the game when there’s nine innings of opportunities to do damage and win? Makes. No. Sense.

After Sunday’s game, Marmol said the fans wanted to see Pujols during his final appearance in Fenway Park. Well, the Red Sox honored Pujols on the field on Saturday, and he later pinch-hit in that game. And I’m guessing that many of the Cardinal fans who were at Fenway Park for the third game would have preferred  to give Gorman multiple chances to go deep and boost his team to a victory to win the series.

Jun 18, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols (5) is honored prior before a game by Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) and former Red Sox player David Ortiz and third baseman Rafael Devers (11) and pitcher Michael Wacha (52) at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday the Cardinals scored 11 runs on 14 hits and six walks. A Marmol-endorsed storyline was centered around the potential potency of the St. Louis lineup when the Cards can go with their best possible row of hitters. And that’s true.

A first eight of Tommy Edman, Brendan Donovan, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado, Gorman, Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Harrison Bader makes for an exciting lineup. Marmol called it his best lineup. (Offensively the catcher position appears to be a lost cause at this time. And O’Neill is injured again. Hamstring.)

But less than 24 hours after Gorman’s explosive LH swing launched an awesome 440-foot home run high over the center-field wall, Marmol parked the rookie on the bench Sunday afternoon and played Pujols at DH instead. If the top priority was winning Sunday’s game, Gorman would have been slotted at DH. Why ice Gorman? Why not roll him back into the DH spot and let him try to generate more confidence after his boom-boom homer on Saturday? It’s just silly.

The Cardinals were in a position to win the three-game series, but their offense snoozed for most of the game until rallying late. It was a rally that included a Gorman drawing a pinch–hit walk and scoring a run after being inserted for Pujols. (Sigh.) The four-run outburst was fun but wasn’t enough to erase Boston’s 6-1 lead.

When you’ve just scored 11 runs and boast about the impact of being able to play your No. 1 lineup on a regular basis, I don’t know how you immediately pivot from that and go with Pujols against a right-handed starting pitchers when two better options were available: Gorman or fellow rookie Juan Yepez. Ironically, Yepez brought the Cardinals within two runs of the Sox with a ninth-inning, pinch-hit three-run homer. He also would have been a fine choice to fill the DH line on Sunday.

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 vs. RH this season. And through Sunday Yepez had started only three of the last 10 games. Why?

Pujols has the most plate appearances by a Cardinal (64) at DH against right-handed pitchers. In such situations Pujols is batting .115 with a .281 OBP and .192 slug for a .474 OPS. What is the point of this other than showcasing Pujols out of a misguided sense of loyalty? Remember what happened after 2011? Pujols did what was right for him and his family and left the Cardinals as a free agent. It would be nice to see Marmol do what’s best for his baseball team. When there’s a RH pitcher on the mound, Marmol’s loyalty should be all about the team instead of one player.

The poor numbers vs. RHP are nothing new; Pujols has been in a steady – now steep – decline against righthanders for quite some time. He hasn’t had an an above-average performances vs. RH in a season since 2016. In 235 plate appearances against righties since the start of the 2021 season, Pujols is batting .162 with a .252 slug and a .499 OPS.

The evidence is stark and plentiful, and Marmol knows this — but he bizarrely chooses to ignore it. The manager feels obliged to play Pujols, even it’s a flat-out wrong decision from a baseball standpoint.

If Marmol is going to bench Harrison Bader for a lack of effort, then who holds the manager accountable when he repeatedly declined to deploy his most capable lineup?

Perhaps the front office can quietly intervene on this matter … unless of course, Marmol is following the front-office orders.

There’s a time and a place for nostalgia. But the manager can’t get caught up in that. He needs to give his team its best shot at winning. Besides, Pujols has nothing to gain by striking out in all four at-bats in Boston, and the manager isn’t doing the legend any favors here — especially if this grows into a controversy. I doubt that will happen in this media market, so Marmol has cover. But that doesn’t make it right to play Pujols over more sensible options when opponents start a righthander.

It’s way past time for Marmol to rethink this situation, adjust his priorities, and do everything he can to maximize his team’s probability of winning the NL Central. That’s what he’s paid to do. Someone please remind Oli that the Cardinals have an outstanding marketing department to take care of the Pujols tributes.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.

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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.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

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.