Cardinals news from a Sabermetric point of view

Cardinals don’t need Pujols in order to win

As Cardinal fans anxiously await any news of Albert Pujols signing, it’s worth looking into a particular argument being made by proponents of signing The Mang: The Cardinals won’t be able to be a playoff team without Albert Pujols. Is that really true?

Let’s assume that Albert Pujols is the best player in the league and will be for the remainder of his contract. Using WAR data from Baseball-Reference. com, we can determine the correspondence of the teams with the best player in each league and the teams that make the playoffs. Over the last 10 years, here’s the correspondence:

Year NL teams NL top WAR
2001 HOU,STL,ATL,ARI Barry Bonds SFG
2002 STL,ATL,SFG,ARI Barry Bonds SFG
2003 CHC,FLA,ATL,SFG Albert Pujols STL
2004 HOU,STL,ATL,LAD Barry Bonds SFG
2005 HOU,STL,ATL,SDP Albert Pujols STL
2006 STL,NYM,SDP,LAD Albert Pujols STL
2007 CHC,PHI,ARI,COL Albert Pujols STL
2008 MIL,CHC,PHI,LAD Albert Pujols STL
2009 STL,PHI,COL,LAD Albert Pujols STL
2010 ATL,CIN,PHI,SFG Albert Pujols STL
Year AL teams AL top WAR
2001 CLE,NYY,OAK,SEA Jason Giambi OAK
2002 MIN,NYY,OAK,ANA Alex Rodriguez TEX
2003 MIN,BOS,NYY,OAK Alex Rodriguez TEX
2004 MIN,BOS,NYY,ANA Ichiro Suzuki SEA
2005 CHW,BOS,NYY,LAA Alex Rodriguez NYY
2006 MIN,DET,NYY,OAK Grady Sizemore CLE
2007 CLE,BOS,NYY,LAA Alex Rodriguez NYY
2008 CHW,TBR,BOS,LAA Joe Mauer MIN
2009 MIN,BOS,NYY,LAA Zack Greinke KCR
2010 MIN,TBR,NYY,TEX Evan Longoria TBR

Of the 20 opportunities (two leagues, 10 years), the team with the league’s best player went to the playoffs eight times, or 40% of the time.

Being of the mindset that the playoffs are a crapshoot, and that anything that happens after you make it there, well, we’re not sure you can draw any useful conclusions beyond merely using the data of playoff teams. But some who are making the claim about needing Pujols are obviously using success in the playoffs as a point, so we’ll go ahead and look at correspondence with league pennant winners and World Champions. First, the pennant winners:

Year NL teams Champ NL top WAR
2001 HOU,STL,ATL,ARI ARI Barry Bonds SFG
2002 STL,ATL,SFG,ARI SFG Barry Bonds SFG
2003 CHC,FLA,ATL,SFG FLA Albert Pujols STL
2004 HOU,STL,ATL,LAD STL Barry Bonds SFG
2005 HOU,STL,ATL,SDP HOU Albert Pujols STL
2006 STL,NYM,SDP,LAD STL Albert Pujols STL
2007 CHC,PHI,ARI,COL COL Albert Pujols STL
2008 MIL,CHC,PHI,LAD PHI Albert Pujols STL
2009 STL,PHI,COL,LAD PHI Albert Pujols STL
2010 ATL,CIN,PHI,SFG SFG Albert Pujols STL
Year AL teams Champ AL top WAR
2001 CLE,NYY,OAK,SEA NYY Jason Giambi OAK
2002 MIN,NYY,OAK,ANA ANA Alex Rodriguez TEX
2003 MIN,BOS,NYY,OAK NYY Alex Rodriguez TEX
2004 MIN,BOS,NYY,ANA BOS Ichiro Suzuki SEA
2005 CHW,BOS,NYY,LAA CHW Alex Rodriguez NYY
2006 MIN,DET,NYY,OAK DET Grady Sizemore CLE
2007 CLE,BOS,NYY,LAA BOS Alex Rodriguez NYY
2008 CHW,TBR,BOS,LAA TBR Joe Mauer MIN
2009 MIN,BOS,NYY,LAA NYY Zack Greinke KCR
2010 MIN,TBR,NYY,TEX TEX Evan Longoria TBR

Two in 20, for a 10% rate. And among the teams who won the World Series:

Year World Champs League top WAR
2001 ARI Barry Bonds SFG
2002 ANA Alex Rodriguez TEX
2003 FLA Albert Pujols STL
2004 BOS Ichiro Suzuki SEA
2005 CHW Alex Rodriguez NYY
2006 STL Albert Pujols STL
2007 BOS Alex Rodriguez NYY
2008 PHI Albert Pujols STL
2009 NYY Zack Greinke KCR
2010 SFG Albert Pujols STL

As Providence would have it, only one of the World Series winners in the last 10 years had the best player in its league — and it was Albert Pujols. Still, a one-in-10 rate doesn’t make a very convincing argument.

So, at best, the argument that the Cardinals need Pujols to remain competitive is demonstrably half-true, or 40% true (and that assumes that he’ll continue to be the best player in the league). Another way to put it — one might say, a more objective way — is that 60% of the playoff teams in the last 10 years made it without having their league’s best player. And, for those who are inclined to think that World Series success is somehow predictable beyond simply being in the playoffs, nine of the last ten world champs won without their league’s best player. That’s not to say that Albert Pujols won’t be a tremendous advantage in reaching the playoffs, especially over the next three or four years, but he’s certainly not necessary.

16 Responses to “Cardinals don’t need Pujols in order to win”

  1. Tweets that mention Cardinals don’t need Pujols in order to win: how having the best player corresponds with playoff appearances #stlcards -- Topsy.com Says:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by St. Louis Cardinals and fungoes, utdcardbloggers. utdcardbloggers said: New @fungoes: Cardinals don’t need Pujols in order to win http://bit.ly/fwj391 #stlcards [...]

  2. SocraticGadfly Says:

    He’s arguably still worth it from a business standpoint: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2011/02/pujols-worth-10-years-300m.html

  3. Danny S Says:

    Gadfly, Thats a ginat “if” – dropping to 2.4M gate. IMO, the Cardinals will continue to draw 3M plus if they win, with or without Pujols.

  4. The Cardinals Don’t Need Pujols Says:

    [...] in St. Louis — Matthew Philip of Fungoes — cracks out the calculator to prove that the Cardinals don’t need Albert Pujols to win. Matthew may win the battle on this one, but will he win the [...]

  5. SocraticGadfly Says:

    Danny, it’s not that giant; it’s what they averaged in the first half of then 1990s, before Big Mac. Actually, below 2.6M is probably about the break-even point, not 2.4M. And, I could see them falling that low. Not necessarily, but possibly.

  6. zubin Says:

    Respectfully, I don’t see the point of this analysis… I am pretty sure we already knew you don’t need an MVP or a Cy Young to win a championship. The real question is what the Cardinals do with the money they would have used to meet Pujol’s contract demands. If the Cardinals don’t sign Pujols, can they sign enough usable talent with that cash?

  7. The Daily Pujols – 02.16-17.2011 | Pitchers Hit Eighth :: An Unofficial St. Louis Cardinals baseball blog Says:

    [...] Pip at Fungoes, always the bastion of reason and analysis (and I mean that in a good way), shows that the Cards can win without Mang. [...]

  8. desertcardinal Says:

    It’s difficult to tell whether Albert Pujols is being greedy or just getting what he thinks he is entitled to. The point of the problem lies in his almost total failure to bring the Cardinals to a World Championship, 2006 notwithstanding. We should remember that had the Central Division put up anything resembling a contender in 2006, the Cardinals would have been watching the WS at home. The ballclub’s resurgence, i.e. beyond it’s 83 wins that season, was inspiring and all the more dramatic considering the inept performance we all witnessed through the season. Albert’s performance was better that year than last year, where the Cards just quit as he struck out regularly with men on base. I would rather see a well-paid and deeeper Cardinal team without Pujols, even if that means his departure comes sooner rather than later. His great numbers, better than Gehrig we are often told, failed to bring a repeating championship to Saint Louis between 2001 and 2010. Thank Mr. Pujols for his efforts and send him on his way, as he seems to desire as it is.

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