Amid Magical Career Resurgence, Will Albert Pujols Actually Reach 700 Home Runs?

Zachary D. RymerAugust 24, 2022

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Albert Pujols is back with the St. Louis Cardinals? Well, isn't that a nice story.

There wasn't much else to say about the situation when Pujols and the Cardinals reunited in March after 10 years apart. As cool as it was that the future first-ballot Hall of Famer was returning to the place where he won three MVPs and two World Series between 2001 and 2011, the odds of him making it a fruitful reunion were surely low.

Several months later, however, this nice story has morphed into a serious question: Is the 42-year-old Pujols actually going to make it to 700 home runs?

After hitting .198 with four home runs in 47 games through July 9, Pujols has come alive to club 10 homers in 27 games since then. His career total stands at 693, putting him just seven long balls away from the big 7-0-0.

The most recent of Pujols' blasts was of the "You gotta see this" variety. On Monday at Wrigley Field, he took a 93 mph fastball from Chicago Cubs left-hander Drew Smyly that was darn near eye-level and launched it 373 feet:

St. Louis Cardinals @Cardinals

Another one! <a href="https://t.co/LWFbBWL8Sp">pic.twitter.com/LWFbBWL8Sp</a>

In a flash, Pujols has thus gone from needing 17 homers in 75 games to just seven in 39 games in order to join Barry Bonds, Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth in the 700 Home Run Club. This is obviously assuming the Dominican Republic native doesn't come back for another season in 2023, for which we'll take his word.

“Where I’ll be in 2023 is here...watching some of these guys play from the stands,” Pujols told reporters, referring to Busch Stadium. “I really don’t think about [coming back]. This is it for me...I’m going to take a little break.”

Hey, He's Come This Far...

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Pujols may have come into 2022 more or less on the doorstep of 700 home runs, but the uninspiring slog that came before didn't exactly bode well for his chances.

After averaging 42 home runs per 162 games in 11 seasons with the Cardinals, he averaged "only" 30 through the first nine seasons of a 10-year, $240 million contract with the Los Angeles Angels—and as you'll remember, one of those was a 60-game affair that hamstrung his pursuit by default.

After he hit five homers through his first 24 games of 2021, the Angels had seen enough. They designated him for assignment on May 6, a move that may have spelled the end of his career if the Los Angeles Dodgers hadn't given him a chance and benefited to the tune of 12 homers in 85 games.

All the same, that amounted to just a 23-homer pace over a full season. Pujols would have to do at least that well in 2022 in order to make it to 700, and his recent track record wasn't the only thing that suggested not to take that bet. Throughout MLB history, only one player has ever hit as many as 20 homers in his age-42 season: Bonds with 28 in 2007.

Speaking of Bonds, though, Pujols has him matched in at least one respect. They're now the only 42-year-olds in history to hit 10 home runs in a 25-game span.

This stretch effectively shattered preseason projections for Pujols, the most generous of which (ZiPS) had him going deep just 13 times in 2022. As such, that ZiPS now projects him for just four homers the rest of the way should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt.

If it's a question of what kind of percentage can be put on Pujols' chances of joining the 700 Home Run Club, we'll defer to Baseball Reference on that one:

Baseball Reference @baseball_ref

Updated since Pujols hit 693 yesterday:<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/PujolsWatch?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#PujolsWatch</a> | <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/STLCards?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#STLCards</a> <a href="https://t.co/F4WVIhSErq">https://t.co/F4WVIhSErq</a> <a href="https://t.co/huOerXOVrT">pic.twitter.com/huOerXOVrT</a>

Lloyd Christmas would see a chance here, and so do we.

So, Why Not a Little Further...

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

Beginning with the date of his fifth home run on July 10, Pujols was hot to the tune of a .969 OPS going into the All-Star break. He's been more like scorching coming out of it, batting .439/.492/.930 over 21 games.

A couple things are going on here, starting with what we'll call the "Juan Soto Effect."

The San Diego Padres wunderkind theorized that his participation in the 2021 Home Run Derby would fix his swing after he had hit too many ground balls in the first half. That indeed happened for him, and it's likewise happening for Pujols since he partook in this year's derby:

  • 1st Half: 41.8 GB%
  • 2nd Half: 34.0 GB%

Pujols' rate of home runs per fly ball has also improved, from 12.5 percent to 33.3 percent.

Hypothetically, the latter is the kind of number that even Aaron Judge would be hard-pressed too sustain even if he were playing in, say, a mailbox. Yet Pujols hasn't been hitting cheapies. Per Statcast, his home run off Smyly would have been out at only five of MLB's 30 stadiums. Otherwise, the other 13 home runs he has this year would have exited at least 28.

St. Louis Cardinals @Cardinals

April 2, 2001 - Pujols gets his first MLB hit at Coors Field. <br><br>August 10, 2022 - Pujols gets his 687th home run at Coors Field. <a href="https://t.co/wnIfpMkF6i">pic.twitter.com/wnIfpMkF6i</a>

These things help explain why Cardinals manager Oli Marmol has been giving Pujols more playing time, as his plate appearances per team game are up from 1.7 through July 9 to 2.4 since then.

Then there's the slugger's downright brutal treatment of left-handed pitching. He was doing fine against southpaws through July 9, slugging .481 with two of his four homers. He's been doing a lot better than fine since July 10, punishing them to the tune of a 1.278 SLG (yes, that's a SLG and not an OPS) and eight of his 10 homers.

If Pujols' platoon advantage is going to be the primary factor in his playing time down the stretch, the road ahead is favorable. Per Roster Resource, the starting rotations of the Cardinals' eight remaining opponents include 11 left-handers.

Further, the Cardinals' status within the National League Central should also work to his advantage.

With the team having gained a 5.5-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers and an 86.9 percent chance of winning the division with its Pujols-led 20-5 charge since July 27, Marmol is looking at extra leeway to run Pujols out there against right-handers. Not an ideal lineup choice, to be sure, but one that would add well-earned at-bats to his pursuit of 700.

At Last, a Prediction and an Appreciation

AP Photo/Matt York

So, is Pujols going to get the seven home runs he needs to join Bonds, Aaron and Ruth in baseball's inner-most home run circle?

The head says no, as chances are that Pujols' recent home run surge will prove to be as good as it gets. Even Bonds hit a wall at this point in '07, homering just once after Aug. 25.

But the heart? It says, "Shut up, head." And since that sounds reasonable enough, let's go for it: Pujols will hit exactly seven more homers and finish his career with a nice, round 700.

The record should show, though, that it won't be any kind of disappointment if Pujols falls short.

His season could end right here and now, and it would nonetheless go into the books as one of the great final acts in MLB history. This is a guy who seemed done as recently as last May, if not even more recently. Yet for one 25-game stretch, at least, he was able to go where nobody his age ever goes.

It will have been a final telling of the true story of Pujols' 22-year career. That in spite of all his hard times, he was one of the greatest to ever do it.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant.


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