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How Albert Pujols got back to his old form and hit 700 home runs, and what this means for Cardinals in October

St. Louis Cardinals legend Albert Pujols became the fourth member of MLB’s 700-homer club on Friday night as he launched the numbers 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 odds of Pujols reaching this pinnacle seemed slim in the spring, when he signed a one-year deal to finish his career where it began. He was, after all, a 42-year-old whose recent statistical track record suggested he was best suited for short platoon work. Pujols also didn’t improve his chances during the first three months of the season. He hit a couple of home runs in April and May, but failed to hit paydirt in June. A July three-home run put him back on track, but still left him 14 home runs short of 700 with only two months left in his season and career.

It is said that life finds a way, and so did Pujols. Beginning in August, he acted as… well, his younger self. In his last 43 games, he hit .306/.372/.694 with 14 homeruns in 137 trips to the plate. Pujols continued to do most of his damage from left-handed pitching, but the introduction of the universal indicated batter coupled with the Cardinals’ commanding lead in the National League Central has given him a steady stream of opportunities.

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

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How Pujols came to fruition

Again, this reads like a sentence ripped from a 2008 article, but Pujols’ success this year can be attributed to a combination of his contact chops and his strength.

Pujols came in on Saturday with an in-zone contact rate of 89 percent, the 37th best of 346 batters with at least 200 trips to the plate. Pujols’ average exit speed, meanwhile, was better than all but two batters before him in zone contact speed: Yandy Díaz and Vinnie Pasquantino — and Pujols, for his part, hits the ball into the “sweet spot” launch angle window more often than either.

April

88.3 mph

Be able to

90.9 mph

June-

90.0 mph

July

90.7 mph

August

93.0 mph

September

92.3 mph

Pujols’ performance improvement, predictably, coincided with growth in the exit rate department. As the chart above shows, he went from consistently posting average exit speeds in the 90-91 mph range to gaining extra oomph over the past two months. That development could be partly related to a philosophical shift. Check out how he’s more likely to hit the ball in the air and into left field below:

April

41.7%

20.3 degrees

Be able to

51.2%

19.4 degrees

June-

41.4%

1.7 degrees

July

52.3%

13.1 degrees

August

66.0%

18.0 degrees

September

59.6%

21.9 degrees

Pujols’ lasting memory will be as an all-fields hitter. That has not been the case lately. Instead, Pujols’ pull rate this season is within two percentage points of Joey Gallo, whose extreme pull tendencies have made him the example of someone who could benefit from going the other way to counter the shift. to go.

Pujols has also seen his fair share of overshifts, but they are less common as a rightful 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 normally where we talk about durability and the like and warn against betting on a 42 year old who maintains an MVP caliber pace for a long time. The great thing about Pujols’ approaching retirement is that none of those things matter. He has 10 regular season games and how many post-season games are left. Just about anything and everything can happen to such a small monster, regardless of the process.

If you’re the Cardinals, Pujols’ revival should give them new hope on the grounds that he could positively impact the postseason. That’s a welcome relief as the Cardinals face a compromised lineup and outfield: Dylan Carlson just got off the injured list and Tyler O’Neill is on it due to a strained hamstring. The Cardinals should be happy with Lars Nootbar’s rise, but it’s fair to write that they could be in a better position with their lineup and outfield if they could assure Carlson and O’Neill were solid and healthy before October. .

Logically, it might seem silly to see Pujols as a possible counterweight, let alone a plausible difference maker. But there’s still room for magic in this ancient sport, and he’s done well to demonstrate that over and over for the past two months.

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