Albert Pujols hit two home runs yesterday. Now at a home run total of 689, could he be the 4th to reach 700?
700 Home Runs
Significance: Having The Highest Home Run Totals in MLB History
Time Achieved: Three Times
Last Achieved: 2004 - Barry Bonds (Finished with 762)
Last Achieved (Cleanly): 1973 - Hank Aaron (Finished with 755)
First Achieved: 1934 - Babe Ruth (Finished with 714)
On August 14th, 2022, Albert Pujols twice connected for home runs during a St. Louis Cardinals victory over the Milwaukee Brewers. These were career home runs 688 and 689 respectively. This was the first time he did so since May 22nd (against the Pittsburgh Pirates) though unlike then, this time Pujols hit both off of left-handed pitchers.
This has been a staple of Albert Pujols since becoming a Los Angeles Dodger in the 2021 season. After seeing less playing time, more injuries, and worse performance with the Los Angeles Angels (ultimately leading to him getting DFA'ed), Albert Pujols has been seeing a little bit of a renaissance since moving across town. The Dodgers were smart and realized that Pujols would serve a good role as a good veteran clubhouse presence as well as a good lefty-specialist bat off the bench. In 2021, Pujols hit just .180 against right-handed pitchers in 150 PA's (with just 4 Home Runs) but hit .296 against left-handed pitchers in 146 PA's (with 13 home runs). Seeing this model work, the St. Louis Cardinals decided to bring back Pujols for one final season in 2022, where they have mostly used him as a DH and pinch-hitter.
As of the end of playing action on August 14th, Albert Pujols currently sits at 10 home runs through 66 games played (out of 114 team games) for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. This is a pace of about .15 of a home run per game played/.08 of a home run per team game played, or one home run every 6.6 games played/11.4 team games played. Following this pace, it would be expected that Pujols finishes the year adding another 4 by seasons end. This would put him at a career total of 693.
Now, the other day I looked at Aaron Judge's pursuit of the single-season home run record by looking further into scheduling, ballparks, and who the Yankees are set to play. Let's see if we can find another 7 home runs for Albert.
From here on out, the Cardinals have 48 games left this season. They have a perfectly even split with 23 games at home and 25 games away. For the away games, this is who they will be playing:
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Dodgers
This is a good first step in trying to determine if we can find an additional 7 home runs for Pujols. If we look at Albert Pujols's 2022 spray chart for hits (and long outs into the outfield) and evaluate how he would've done if solely playing at the above 7 ballparks (8 if we also count Busch Stadium), we can get a good metric for if the field itself plays for Pujols.
Here are Albert Pujols's home run numbers this year if he played every game at each of the above stadiums (including Busch Stadium):
Busch Stadium: 11 (+1)
PNC Park: 11 (+1)
Wrigley Field: 14 (+4)
Chase Field: 14 (+4)
Great American Ballpark: 16 (+6)
Petco Park: 13 (+3)
Dodgers Stadium: 13 (+3)
Miller Park: 12 (+2)
This is a very promising sign for Albert Pujols. For the Cardinals remaining schedule, it would appear that the ballpark itself plays favorably towards how he has been hitting the ball this season.
However, knowing where they are playing is half the battle. The other half of the battle is how good the pitchers are that Albert Pujols could be likely facing over the next 48 games.
Now, because it would be too difficult (and by that I mean impossible) to predict what pitchers Judge is going to face exactly between now and the beginning of October, it makes sense to look at who is left on the schedule in general. These are the Cardinals opponents for the rest of the season:
San Diego Padres
Los Angeles Dodgers
Now that we have a good mix of 11 teams left to play against this season, lets take a look at some important numbers across these teams and their pitching staffs:
What we can see here is that, relative to the league averages for pitching, the Cardinals- and Albert Pujols especially- will find themselves in a good position over the final 48 games of the season.
When it comes to ERA, the Cardinals are set to face just 1 teams considerably below the rate (Dodgers), and just 3 others have team-ERA's below the average ERA of 3.99 (Braves, Brewers, Padres). A similar pattern is found with FIP and WHIP, where the Dodgers are considerably better than the average while only the Braves, Brewers, and Padres come out above the average as well. This helps defend the expected data above by ballpark.
Additionally, just 2 teams (the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves) come out ahead of the league average on the most important statistic: Home Runs allowed per 9 innings (HR/9). While the league allows, on average, 1.1 home runs per game, both the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves are comfortably below that mark...with a HR/9 of 0.9. And while this seems problematic, the Cardinals are also set to play 3 teams with HR/9 much higher than the league average between the Chicago Cubs (1.3), Cincinnati Reds (1.4), and Washington Nationals (1.6).
Finding 7 additional home runs over the final 30% of a season for a player who has knocked in just 10 all season is a very difficult challenge. To put it simply, it is not going to happen according to the data and based on what we have seen this season from Pujols.
However, am I going to completely count out the notion that Albert Pujols could hit 11 home runs in a month and a half? Absolutely not. Especially if the teams the Cardinals are playing against continue to throw left-handed pitchers at him. To put it into perspective, Pujols has a .351/.386/.662/1.049 triple-slash against left-handed pitchers this year (over 88 PA's). That's better than what Aaron Judge has been doing. If the Cardinals are able to see an overwhelming number of left-handed pitchers, Pujols has a good shot.
What's playing favorably is just about everything for Pujols right now. The entire league is on his side to be the 4th player to meet the 700 mark. The ballparks his team will be at over the next month and change are favorable to how he has been hitting. The teams he will be playing against (outside of the Dodgers and Braves) are mostly out of contention this season and may be willing to give lesser arms a shot. (And, hopefully, lesser lefty-arms against Pujols.)
I also want to get this out now.
If I was Albert Pujols, and I finished the 2022 season within an arms reach of 700, I would not come back. Leave good enough alone and enjoy retirement. It is a shame to look back at the numbers of Ken Griffey Jr. and to see his horrific 2010 season...a season in which he just got up and left halfway through. Don't tempt the baseball gods.
Sometimes, it is better to let well enough be well enough. Sometimes it is better to let people think of what could've been (if not for the COVID season...if only the Dodgers got him earlier...if only the Angels used him as a lefty-specialist...etc.) rather than tempting fate and becoming a shell of your former self. Especially after having this great- what should be- final season with a team seriously in contention for the World Series.
Best of luck, Albert.