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The $64,000 (or perhaps $300 million) question

Note: This is the first of the reader article submissions as part of The Cardinal Nation Blog’s Cardinals Social Media Night ticket giveaway contest. For details on how you too can participate, click here.

The following article was submitted by Marilyn Green. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyncolor and via Facebook as well.

By Marilyn Green

It is said that Social Security is the third rail of politics.  If there is a third rail of St. Louis Cardinals baseball, it is definitely Albert Pujols.  Not since Stan Musial has any player epitomized Cardinal baseball more than Pujols.  He is the most talked-about player in Cardinal Nation and arguably in Baseball Nation.  His very existence among Cardinal fans engenders strong emotional responses, whether good, bad or indifferent.

The 2011 season is a season like no other in Albert Pujols’ career.  For the first time in 11 seasons, Pujols is on the brink of free agency, that status so coveted among the elite, and even the non-elite, of baseball players.  The question on the lips of every Cardinals fan, and every baseball fan (if they were honest with themselves) is ‘where will Albert Pujols play after the 2011 season?’  The anticipation is palpable.

As I write this (April 30, 2011) we are 26 games into the 2011 season.  The Cardinals are 16-11, in first place in the NL Central Standings, two games ahead of the Cincinnati Reds.  The Cardinals as a team have the highest team batting average in MLB at .295, the highest on-base perecentage at .362, and the third-highest slugging percentage at .451.  Matt Holliday has the highest BA in MLB at .407 and his teammate Lance Berkman has the third-highest at .393.

What is odd about this picture is the notable absence of Pujols among the league leader standings.  As a matter of fact, Pujols is now the proud owner of the lowest stat line in the first 26 games of a season in his career.  Below, for your viewing and pondering pleasure, is a table of statistics for Albert Pujols for the first 26 games of each of his 11 seasons.  The statistics are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

Pujols thru 26 G BA OBP SLG OPS
2001 0.336 0.429 0.703 1.132
2002 0.295 0.419 0.558 0.977
2003 0.390 0.467 0.675 1.143
2004 0.276 0.440 0.552 0.992
2005 0.339 0.405 0.587 0.992
2006 0.333 0.500 0.881 1.381
2007 0.280 0.363 0.500 0.862
2008 0.376 0.535 0.635 1.170
2009 0.337 0.449 0.745 1.154
2010 0.327 0.412 0.615 1.027
2011 0.255 0.316 0.471 0.786

So, what is your point, you ask?  Well, the obvious answer is a rhetorical question (at least by me; I have better sense than to try to answer it).  Is Pujols’ contract status and pending free agency having an effect on his 2011 performance?

If you ask Pujols, you would get a resounding (and probably annoyed) “No.”  The numbers are what they are.  When asked, Pujols has responded that he has not suddenly forgotten to hit.  Okay.  The question fans may be asking is whether some other verb, past or present participle thereof, may apply.

Have fun, and keep the tomato throwing to a minimum.  The seeds are murder to get out of your hair.

Is Pujols' contract status affecting his results?

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