Just two months ago, the NL Central was known as the home to three of the game’s elite first basemen. But yesterday, Prince Fielder agreed to sign a nine-year deal with the Detroit Tigers, confirming that he would be joining Albert Pujols in leaving the NL Central for the foreseeable future.
How will these moves affect the Brewers and Cardinals? Last year, Fielder hit .299 with 38 homers and 120 RBI. Pujols hit .299 with 37 homers and 99 RBI. Obviously, it’s extremely difficult to replace that kind of production.
But how will it affect the players that surrounded them in the batting order? What will happen now that those players don’t have the kind of protection offered by Fielder and Pujols?
With Fielder, it’s hard to say because he doesn’t miss games. Going back to his first full season in the majors in 2006, he has never played in fewer than 157 games.
Pujols, on the other hand, spent two weeks on the disabled list in 2011 with a wrist/forearm injury, missing a total of 15 games. It’s admittedly a rather small sample size, but let’s examine the effect his absence had on the numbers of the men who typically surrounded him in the St. Louis batting order, Jon Jay, Matt Holliday, and Lance Berkman.
Holliday had a typically strong season in 2011, with a slash line of .296/.388./.525. Berkman, last year‘s NL Comeback Player of the Year, had a spectacular season, posting a .301/.412/.547 line. Now let’s compare their numbers for the season to what they did in the 15 games in which Pujols did not appear. Admittedly, it’s a rather small sample size, but you do see a drop off in production.
Holliday’s line fell to .250/.333/.554. Berkman, meanwhile, fell to .229/.367/.521.
Similarly, Jon Jay, who often batted in front of Pujols, also experienced a noticeable statistical decline. His season line of .297/.344/.424 dropped to .278/.317/.407 with The Machine out of the lineup.
The Cardinals offense as a whole scored 4.7 runs per game with Pujols in 2011, and 4.4 without him. If you project that out for the entire year, you’ll see a difference of almost 50 runs. That’s enough to drop St. Louis from No. 1 in the NL in runs scored with 762, to No. 8 with about 713.
It will be interesting to see if these numbers translate to a full season. While the decline may not be quite as steep, I do think that Jay, Holliday, and Berkman will noticeably suffer statistically.
I would also expect to see a similar drop off in Milwaukee. The loss of Fielder, combined with a possible 50-game suspension for Ryan Braun, should have a devastating affect on the Brewers lineup.
This can only mean good things for the Reds’ playoff chances in 2012. And hey, Joey Votto should be a lock to start in the All-Star game now.
Also, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to John Parent, Steve Engbloom, and everyone at FanSided and Blog Red Machine for allowing me to join the staff. I can’t wait for the season to get here.