Albert Pujols has proven to be a dependable star, playing in 140-plus games every year since 2001. In addition to showing up nearly every game, he has proven very resistant to slumps.
This year, Albert started the year stuck in a prolonged, for him, slump, finally breaking out in June. They he suffering the first major injury of his career, reported as a non-displaced forearm fracture that will keep him off the field of four to six weeks.
This is not the first time Pujols has hit the disabled listed or had a lingering injury.
He did have offseason surgery on his right elbow in October, 2009, with stints on the disabled list in 2006 and 2008 for muscle strains. Pujols has, at times, missed a game because of various minor aliments. He also has suffered with chronic plantar fasciitis in his left heel.
So, while not always in perfect health, he has played through his injuries and been one of the best players in the league during that time.
What does this mean for Pujols?
After his collision with Wilson Betemit, there was quite a bit that took place. You could see Pujols’ wrist, arm and shoulder get bent back. While reacting to the pain, Pujols grabbed his wrist and at one point pointed towards his shoulder. He also was holding his wrist, making it appear there was some instability in the wrist.
After imaging, it was reported Pujols had a non-displaced fracture of the radius, near the wrist. Non-displaced means, basically, it cracked, but the bones are still aligned. Surgery is not needed. I’m still doubtful this is the whole story. Based on the type of injury, receiving enough trauma to break a bone near the wrist and not cause an injury to the remaining complex parts of the wrist seems unlikely.
If this truly is the case, then Pujols should be able to come back fairly quickly with little impact. The wrist takes a good part of the torque generated in a baseball swing. If there is additional damage to the wrist, Pujols’ returned could be delayed, and he could have a drop in his power numbers until the wrist completely heals.
Pujols may come back within the reported time frame, but you’ll want to watch his power numbers. He was hitting like the old Albert in June, but he also had grounded into 17 double plays. An Albert with a drop in his power may hit fewer line drives and more ground balls.
How Pujols comes back is also going to affect his pending free agency. While he has proven to be resilient with injuries, you now have a 31-year-old player who has finally missed significant time to an injury. If you look at Baseball References Similarity Score, number one right now is Albert Belle. This can be a scary comparison* if you want to sign him to a long-term contract.
* It also reminds you how good Belle was at one time. But a lot of those Indians during that period get forgotten, probably because the team never won a World Series. In fact, if you look at Kenny Lofton, he simply doesn’t get the credit he deserves.
Where does this leaves the Cardinals?
The Cardinals are not in that bad a situation. As a right fielder, Lance Berkman makes a heck of a first baseman. Jon Jay can cover for Berkman in right field. While Berkman is not quite as skilled defensively at first base as Pujols, it is not a large drop-off, and Jay is an improvement in right over Berkman.
The Cardinals will not have a huge defensive dropoff and may, in fact, have a slightly better overall defense.
Offensively, you can’t replace Pujols long term, The Cardinals may need to replace only about 180 at-bats (about 35 percent of the season). Jay has produced a WAR* or 0.9 over 179 AB this year, Pujols 2.3 over 318 AB, which means Pujols, this season, was about one win better than Jay.
** WAR numbers taken from Fangraphs
The Cardinals will miss about two wins during this short period of time.
Two wins isn’t bad, but with the Brewers and Reds within three games of the Cardinals, this injury will tighten up the division race.
Losing Pujols is going to put pressure on players to step up, and Tony LaRussa is going to have a juggle the lineup a bit. St. Louis should be able to keep pace in a tight NL Central race. The larger issue is whether the full extend of the injury is being made public. If not, the forecast gets a worse for the Redbirds.
I would watch if the Cardinals look to make a move. If they try to bring in somebody to add some offensive support, it could indicate that more is wrong that just a fractured forearm.