I’m really tired of hearing the “Pujols Protection Theory” in regards to Matt Holliday. Fans, reporters, and even baseball-addicted nuns are all atwitter with the thought of Albert’s numbers with the looming, bullet-headed baldness of the Big Oklahoman in the on-deck circle. As if Albert has ever needed cleanup protection. Really.
Look…Albert’s numbers are predictable. They are astronomically consistent (is that a contradiction?). And they will continue to be consistent regardless of who hits behind him. Will the big man have a bit more RBIs? Maybe. But how much more is Albert really going to get? Do we honestly believe an MLB pitcher is going to look at Albert, look at Holliday, and say to himself, “Yeah…I think I want Pujols”? I think not.
The wrong question: “Will Holliday protect Pujols?”
The right question: “Will Holliday protect the Cardinals?”
On a whim, I thought to myself, “When was the last time Albert experienced some level of protection in the lineup?” I had to think back to 2004, when the likes of Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds (at the height of their careers) made a living in the cleanup spot. So, I gathered a few quick numbers on both the 2004 and 2009 Cardinals.
Wow. Clearly the 04 team’s offense was head and shoulders above the production of the 09 lineup. If nothing else, the RBI totals (817 vs. 694) are drastically different. Of course, a person suggesting protection for Pujols is critical for the team might assume the reason for the difference must be because Albert had a much better year in 2004 than he did in 2009…right?
Um…maybe not. It just so happens that 2004 and 2009 are both uncanny in their similarities. Home runs (46 vs. 47), Runs Batted In (123 vs. 135), and OPS (.657 vs. .658) seem to tell a much different story than one would expect.
So…what does this all mean? It means Albert is Albert, and no amount of protection is going to change that. In many ways, Albert is the un-protectable player. He’s the best. How do you protect the best? Too often we get caught up in fantasy statistics that beg the question, “Yeah…but what if…?!” What if you took the talent of Pujols and maximized or increased it? What would we see then?!
Albert is doing a pretty good job of maximizing that talent all on his own. And Matt Holliday is not protecting Albert Pujols…he’s protecting the Cardinals. He’s adding that additional upper level talent capable of delivering in key RBI situations. He’s providing one more shot at a big inning with men on base. He’s filling out the lineup and forcing pitchers to change their approach to many other hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup. In a way, Holliday’s bullet-shaped head is the perfect metaphor…because that’s exactly what he is to the Cardinals’ lineup. He’s not an enforcer for Albert Pujols…he’s one more super-sized, hollow-pointed bullet in the Cardinals’ lineup.
But pitchers are not changing their approach to Albert Pujols.
Matt Holliday is providing protection…but it’s not for Albert. It’s for everyone else in the Cardinals’ lineup.
SPRING TRAINING IS HERE!!!! Bring on the season…and GO CARDS!!!