How Albert Pujols regained his old form to hit 700 home runs and what it means for the Cardinals in October

The legend of St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Albert Pujols became the fourth member of MLB’s 700 home run club on Friday night when he hit Nos. 699 and 700 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pujols can now be mentioned in the same breath as Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth, the most prolific sluggers in Major League Baseball history.

The chances of Pujols reaching that pinnacle seemed slim in the spring when he signed a one-year contract to end his career where it began. He was, after all, a 42-year-old whose recent statistical history suggested he was best suited for small-platoon work. Pujols hasn’t improved his chances through the first three months of the season either. He hit a pair of home runs in April and May, but failed to hit paydirt once in June. A three-homer July got him back on track, but still left him 14 home runs short of 700 with just two months left in his season and career.

They say life finds a way, and so does Pujols. From August onwards he appears as… well, his younger self. Over his last 43 games, he is hitting .306/.372/.694 with 14 home runs in 137 trips to the plate. Pujols continued to do most of his damage in lefties, but the introduction of the universal designated hitter combined with the Cardinals’ comfortable lead in the National League Central gave him a steady stream of opportunities.

To honor Pujols’ achievement and nod to his turnaround, let’s break down his play this season and what it means for the Cardinals’ playoff hopes.

How Pujols blossomed

Again, this sounds like a sentence cut from a 2008 article, but Pujols’ success this year can be attributed to the combination of his contact pieces and power.

For example, Pujols entered Saturday with an 89 percent zone contact rate, 37th best among 346 batters with at least 200 trips to the plate. Meanwhile, Pujols’ average exit velocity, at 91.2 mph, was better than all but two of the hitters ahead of him in in-zone contact velocity: Yandy Díaz and Vinnie Pasquantino — and Pujols, from on his side, he hits the ball in the “sweet spot” launch angle window more often than anyone else.


88.3 mph


90.9 mph


90.0 mph


90.7 mph


93.0 mph


92.3 mph

Pujols’ rise in performance has, as expected, coincided with growth in the exit velocity department. As the chart above shows, he went from consistently recording average exit velocities in the 90-91 mph range to gaining extra momentum over the last two months. This development could be linked, in part, to a philosophical turn. Take a look below and notice how he’s become more prone to hitting the ball in the air and into left field:



20.3 degrees



19.4 degrees



1.7 degrees



13.1 degrees



18.0 degrees



21.9 degrees

Pujols’ lasting memory will be as an all-fielder. This has not been the case recently. By contrast, Pujols’ pull rate this season is within two percentage points of Joey Gallo, whose extreme pulling tendencies have made him the prime example of someone who could benefit from the opposite direction to compensate for the shift.

Pujols has seen his share of overtime innings, but they are less prevalent as a righty batter. And they are less effective when he puts the ball in the seats.

What does it mean for the Cardinals in the playoffs?

This is where we usually talked about durability and the like and cautioned against betting on a 42-year-old maintaining an MVP-caliber pace for an extended period of time. The beauty of Pujols’ impending retirement is that none of this matters. He has 10 regular season games and yet plenty of postseason games left. Almost anything and everything can happen in this small sample, regardless of the process.

If you’re the Cardinals, Pujols’ resurgence will give them renewed hope that he could positively impact the postseason. That’s a welcome result, as the Cardinals are dealing with a compromised lineup and outfield: Dylan Carlson just came off the injured list and Tyler O’Neill is on it because of a strained hamstring. The Cardinals have to be excited about the emergence of Lars Nootbar, but it’s fair to say that they could be in a better position with their lineup and outfield if they could ensure that Carlson and O’Neill were generous and smiling before October.

Logically, it might seem silly to see Pujols as a potential counterweight, let alone a plausible difference-maker. But there’s still room for magic in this old sport, and he’s done well to show that time and time again over the past couple of months.

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