How has Albert Pujols gotten here, to the verge of 700 home runs?
How has he gone on this incredible home run surge — 12 home runs since Aug. 10 — to get to 698 in the final weeks of his final season?
How has the Cardinals legend started hitting like his younger self at age 42?
Here’s how. This is what Pujols is doing to give himself a chance at joining Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth as the only members of the 700 home run club in AL/NL history.
This is the biggest one. Pujols was never a platoon specialist. But the power surge is coming from him killing left-handed pitching.
Nine of Pujols’ 12 home runs since Aug. 10 have come against lefties (the first nine in a row, actually, to get to 695 — his last three are off righties). He’s squaring up everything against them.
Pujols’ average exit velocity against left-handers since Aug. 10 is 96.8 mph. Based on his quality of contact against lefties, his expected slugging percentage against is .950. Over one out of every five of his plate appearances against lefties has ended with him barreling the ball — hitting it with the ideal exit velocity and launch angle to yield an extra-base hit or home run.
Pujols since Aug. 10
vs. LHP: 96.8 mph exit velo, .950 xSLG, 21% barrel per PA
vs. RHP: 91.3 mph exit velo, .432 xSLG, 6% barrel per PA
Pujols’ exit velocity against left-handers is second-best in the Majors over that time. His xSLG and barrel rate per plate appearance are the best.
Highest barrel rate per PA vs. LHP since Aug. 10
Min. 25 PA vs. LHP
He’s jumping on pitchers early …
Pujols, historically, takes a patient approach to an at-bat. For example, he almost always has one of the lowest first-pitch swing rates in the league, tending to only swing at the first pitch about once every six plate appearances.
Before Aug. 10 this season, Pujols’ first-pitch swing rate in 2022 was 18%, in line with past seasons. Since Aug. 10, it’s 28%. That aggressiveness is paying off.
Four of Pujols’ 12 homers since Aug. 10 have been first-pitch homers. Three more have been on the second pitch, meaning over half his homers during this run are in the first two pitches of the at-bat.
Pujols’ seven homers in the first two pitches of the at-bat are the most of any hitter since Aug. 10, one ahead of Aaron Judge, Julio Rodríguez and Bo Bichette, who have six each. His four first-pitch homers are tied for the most of any hitter with Ronald Acuña Jr.
… But he’s also slugging with 2 strikes
Even if he doesn’t jump on a pitch early and go deep, Pujols has been staying competitive to the end of the at-bat, which is paying off with late-count home runs, too.
Pujols has almost as many home runs (12) as strikeouts (16) since Aug. 10. Four of the home runs have come with two strikes — the same number that have come on the first pitch.
Only three hitters have more two-strike homers than Pujols since Aug. 10: Max Muncy, who has six, and Paul Goldschmidt and Daulton Varsho, who have five.
Even after an at-bat gets to two strikes, Pujols is still slugging .617 during his hot streak, second-best in the Majors. The overall MLB slugging percentage with two strikes during that same timespan is .259.
He can hit a fastball anywhere …
Eight of the 12 homers Pujols has hit since Aug. 10 are off fastballs. Eugenio Suárez is the only hitter who’s taken more fastballs deep over that span; Pujols is tied for second with his old teammate Mike Trout and current teammate Goldschmidt. He’s slugging .800 vs. fastballs.
Highest SLG vs. fastballs since Aug. 10
Min. 50 PA ending on fastballs
But it’s not that Pujols is just up there hunting middle-middle fastballs to chase a milestone. He’s covering the entire plate against heaters. Look at the pitch locations of the fastballs he’s taken deep.
Half of them have been on the edges of the strike zone. And one was way out of the zone: the Drew Smyly sinker Pujols homered against on Aug. 22 that was 4 feet, 3 inches high — the second-highest fastball hit for a home run in MLB this year.
… And if you hang him a slider, you’re in trouble
The four home runs Pujols has hit on his streak that aren’t on fastballs? They’ve all been on sliders the pitcher has left up and over the middle of the plate.
Three of those sliders have been in the very heart of the zone — true middle-middle pitches, which Statcast classifies as “meatballs.”
Which shows you what Pujols has been doing. Since Aug. 10, against breaking pitches in the strike zone, he’s slugging 1.087. Against breaking pitches out of the strike zone, he’s slugging .071.
Highest SLG vs. in-zone breaking pitches since Aug. 10
Min. 20 PA ending on in-zone breaking pitches
Pujols will go get the fastball no matter where it’s pitched, or he’ll wait for the pitcher to miss with a breaking ball in a place where he can do damage. If he does it a couple more times, he’ll be in the 700-home run club.