- David Schoenfield, SweetSpot blogger
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Now we know the details of Albert Pujols' injury: He's out four to six weeks with a fractured left forearm, the first major injury of his career.
What I wrote last night still holds true: I don't see this as a devastating, season-ending injury for the Cardinals. To spin it positively, it's better that it's his forearm and not his wrist; a damaged wrist can be a more troublesome recovery for a hitter.
St. Louis Cardinals
On an analysis level, what does it mean? The Cardinals presumably move Lance Berkman from right field to first base, with Jon Jay moving to right field. There is actually another positive in this: Berkman has historically been a good defensive first baseman (if not quite Pujols); he is not a good right fielder, however. So the Cardinals' defense may actually improve slightly. Certainly, there will be a drop-off in offensive production from Pujols to Jay. Pujols' bat had finally gotten going in June -- .317/.419/.778 -- but Jay is a decent hitter, currently batting .313 with four home runs in 163 at-bats.
Jay has produced about six runs more than an average hitter this season in 179 PAs -- coincidentally, about six weeks of regular playing time. Pujols has produced 15 runs more than the average hitter in 318 PAs, or about eight runs better over 179 PAs. (Data from Baseball-Reference.com). Now, say Pujols was due to continue his June breakout and hit like he did last season. Then we're talking about 16 runs produced above average over 179 PAs -- only 10 more than Jay.
So the offensive loss isn't devastating over a short period. Plus, factor in that David Freese should return shortly from his broken hand and Colby Rasmus should start hitting better, and the Cardinals' offense should be able to pick up most of the slack. (Not to mention that Matt Holliday has missed 25 games but is back in the lineup.)
The Pujols injury will hurt, no doubt. Even one extra defeat could loom large in an NL Central race that projects as a tight three-way race between the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds. But if I were a Cardinals fan, I'd still be more worried about the starting rotation and its 4.66 ERA in June, and the bullpen, which has a 5.82 ERA in June.
As for Pujols' free agency, the injury has to cost him some money. He's always seemed indestructible and slump-prone. Now we've seen the first major slump of his career and the first big injury. He turns 32 before the 2012 season and these issues only hammer home the point that he probably is past his peak years. Will he still be regarded as the best player in baseball as he enters free agency? I'm not sure that will be the case.
Follow David on Twitter @dschoenfield.