St. Louis Cardinals and baseball legend Albert Pujols is playing in the final few games of his illustrious career. The 3-time MVP looked like he was going to retire as a shell of his former self. A player at his peak who hit .300 or better in 10 straight seasons while hitting 32 or more home runs in each of those seasons. Between the 2017 and 2021 seasons the 11 time All Star was only able to hit over .250 once and tallied just two years with 20 or more home runs in that time frame. This year he is experiencing a career renaissance that has seen him post a triple slash line of .263/.340/.527 to go along with 22 home runs and 61 RBI’s and even more impressively the analytics back up his success and indicate he is having an even better year than people think.
What do the numbers say?
Pujols is playing like anything but a 42-year-old this season. His average exit velocity of 91.1, which is his highest mark since 2016 ranks in the 87th percentile in baseball. His xSLG of .487, also his highest since 2016 is in the top 7th percentile amongst qualified hitters. Impressively his wOBA of .368 is right in line with his xWOBA of .359 which sits in 92nd percentile. His hard-hit percentage, which is balls batted at 95 MPH or higher is 47.6 percent — that’s 11.8 percent better than league average and good enough to fall into the 87th percentile.
Despite his age, which often results in a slower bat and worsened bat to ball skills, Pujols still ranks among the best hitters in baseball at putting the bat on the ball. His strikeout percentage is 15.8 percent — 6.3 percent better than league average. Additionally, his whiff percentage of 20.8 percent also sits in the 26th highest percentile. Pujols has been chasing a lot this season, at a rate of 35 percent and 6.6 percent higher than league average, but he has offset this with a chase contact percentage of 64.1 which is 5.8 better than the league’s average number. It is rare to see a hitter keep this type of bat to ball skills as they enter their late 30s. Seeing Pujols in his age 42 season striking out and whiffing at well below league average rates speaks volumes to just how good of a hitter he is.
Pujols has also been one of the best hitters in baseball this season against four seam fastballs. His run value per every 100 fastballs he has faced this season is 3.3 which ties him with Aaron Judge for the second-best number in the league amongst batters with at least 100 at bats. Against them he has an xBA of .293, xSLG of .563 an xWOBA of .397 with only a 14.1 whiff rate against them.
Entering the season, I think just about everyone expected Pujols to be at best a serviceable hitter against lefties and soft tossing righties. Pujols has defied everyone’s expectations by becoming not only one of the Cardinals better hitters on the season, but also according to the numbers one of the better hitters in baseball. Numbers like this might make some baseball fans wish the slugger would reconsider his intention to retire to see just how high he can climb on the all-time home run leaderboards, but there is something fitting to one of the best right-handed hitters in baseball going out when he still has something left in the tank rather than when he becomes a shell of his former self. Albert Pujols deserves to go out on top.