Today’s Redbird Report Card:

Albert Pujols, the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year for 2022.

Yes, you can call it a comeback. Come to think of it, Pujols packed multiple comebacks into his final season.

1. He came back home, to the Cardinals, and to his adoring fans.

2. He came back to the All-Star game, chosen to participate for the first time since 2015.

3. He came back from a slow and disturbing start to the season by returning to peak form during the final three months of the regular season. This was the comeback within the comeback.

4. Inspired by the Pujols comeback and the farewell seasons of Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina, the fans came back to Busch Stadium in huge numbers. The Cardinals finished second to the Dodgers in the majors for home attendance, drawing 3.321 million for an average of 40,994 per game.

5. Pujols made a big comeback to the big stage, arguably drawing more attention nationally than he had since the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011.

6. Not that he was entirely forgotten, but in 2022 Pujols made a comeback that reclaimed his stature as a preeminent presence in baseball. He completed a historically profound career, reaffirming his esteemed place among the all-time greats by becoming the fourth man in MLB to hit 700+ career home runs.

7. And as a baseball player Pujols came back to life to cap his brilliant career with a set of astonishing all-time rankings in MLB history: 4th with 703 homers, 2nd with 2,218 RBIs, 2nd in total bases (6,211), 3rd in extra-base hits (1,405), 5th in doubles (686), 10th in hits (3,384) and 12th in runs scored (1,914.)

Only two players in MLB history have hit 700+ homers and drove home 2,000+ runs: Hank Aaron and Albert Pujols.

And how about this? Pujols is the only man in major-league history to attain 700 homers, 2,000 RBI and multiple league MVP awards. Pujols had three MVPs. Aaron, surprisingly, had one.

How great was Pujols? In the Similarity Scores at Baseball Reference here are the two players that had careers most similar to Pujols: Aaron and Willie Mays.

Having the 42-year-old Pujols in a St. Louis Cardinals uniform for his 22nd and last big–league season was a precious gift that we’ll always treasure. He created new memories to co-exist with old memories, and introduced himself to a younger generation of fans who weren’t old enough to witness and savor his first round of greatness as a Cardinal from 2001 through 2011. His at-bats at Busch Stadium were singular events that compelled the crowd to stand in love and unison to watch the grand performance of an artist who would never pass this way again as a competitor. He fired up the fans, often responding to their pleas by delivering a special moment as if on cue. Cardinal fans gave Pujols their hearts to inspire him in a way that gave him the power and the will to overcome his advancing age, fatigue, slumps and pressure. For his part, Pujols gave the fans everything they could have hoped for – and then some.

Earlier in this series of Redbird report cards, I said I didn’t give out an A+ grades. I think they’re hokey and unnecessary.

Well … to heck with that. I spoke too soon. Sometimes you just have to make an exception.

Understanding that his final season was a lot more important than just the standard baseball part, Pujols gets an A+ for 2022.

Pujols was an A+ for his St Louis career, ranking first on the franchise leaderboard in slugging percentage (.614) and OPS (1.032) among Cardinals with a minimum of 4,000 plate appearances. Pujols ranked second to Stan Musial in franchise history in homers, RBI, doubles, extra-base hits, and total bases. Pujols was second to Rogers Hornsby in OPS+ (170). Pujols had several top-five rankings in other categories including batting average (.326), onbase percentage (.417), hits (2,156) and runs scored (1,333.)

Here’s a review of Pujols’ final season:

The Slow Start: In his first 47 games (including 33 starts) through July 9, Pujols strained at the plate with a .198 batting average, .291 OBP, .333 slug and .624 OPS. He was 21 percent below league average offensively in park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+). Pujols reached his low point in June, batting .158 overall and .130 when facing right-handed pitchers. Pujols had only 42 plate appearances in the month of June – a direct result of manager OIi Marmol’s decision to reduce the number of Pujols at-bats due to the future Hall of Famer’s poor performance at the plate. Over the first three months of season, only backup catcher Andrew Knizner fared worse than Pujols offensively among Cardinals.

The Rising: Right before the All-Star break – July 10 to be exact – Pujols found his swing and tuned his timing after making adjustments to his stroke. And in 203 plate appearances from July 10 to the end of the regular season, Pujols batted .320, posted a .384 OBP, slugged .702, generated a 1.086 OPS, and was a whopping 102 percent above league average offensively in wRC+.

From July 10 through the end of the regular season Pujols had 20 homers and 50 RBI – hitting a home run every 9.05 at-bats. And over this time Pujols was third in the majors in home runs – and only Aaron Judge had a higher slugging percentage, OPS, and wRC+ than Pujols among MLB hitters.

Pujols Goes Off: Albert peaked during a seven-game stretch that began Aug. 14 and ended Aug. 22. In only 21 at-bats he jacked six home runs, knocked in 12 RBI, and batted .571. The Cardinals won all seven games. At the start of Pujols’ molten-lava hot streak, the Cardinals led the Brewers by a half-game in the NL Central standings. By the end of the seven games, the Cards led the Brewers by five games and Milwaukee never got closer than that in the standings.

Pujols Continues His Electric Charge: From the start of his eruption on Aug. 14 until the finish of the regular season Pujols batted .310, slugged .730, cranked out a 1.108 OPS, slammed 16 homers and drove home 42 runs. His home runs were struck in only 126 at-bats, meaning that Pujols hit one every 7.87 ABs over his final 44 games. In the closing stretch of games that began Aug. 14, Pujols led the majors in RBI and slugging percentage and was tied with Mike Trout and Aaron Judge for most home runs. Just amazing.

Dramatic Improvement vs. RH Pitching: When the Cardinals signed Pujols, the unofficial plan was to platoon him with most of his at-bats coming against left-handed pitching. Simple reason: Pujols had declined, dramatically, in his performance against right-handed pitchers from 2017 through 2021. That pattern continued during the first three months of the 2022 season, with Pujols hitting .137 with a .233 slug and .509 OPS against righties. But it was a much different story the rest of the way; over the final three months Pujols roughed up RHP for a .275 average, .558 slug and .889 OPS. Per wRC+, Pujols was 42 percent below league average vs. RH during the first three months – and 49 percent above league average vs. RH during the final three months. From the start of July, Pujols homered every 13.3 at-bats vs. righties Remarkable.

A Brief Slump … Then History: Pujols hit a two-run, game-winning homer in the ninth inning to beat Pittsburgh 4-3 at PNC Park on Sept. 11. That gave him 697 career home runs and intensified the countdown to 700. Pujols idled for a while, going 7 for 31 (.225) with one homer over his next 10 games. That homer, No. 698, came against the Reds at Busch on Sept. 16. Pujols went quiet for the next five games, including all three contests played at San Diego before the Cardinals headed to Dodger Stadium for a weekend series. Pujols got the job done in the first game, blasting two homers on Friday, Sept. 23 in a 11-0 win over LA. Pujols hit No. 699 in the third inning, a two-run shot off lefty Andrew Heaney to give the Redbirds a 2-0 lead. Pujols struck again in the fifth, rocking a three-run homer off righty Phil Bickford for the majestic No. 700, a blow that increased STL’s lead to 5-0.

Thrills. Chills.

“Every night, you want to check the box score, and when he hits a home run, everybody’s talking about it,” said  Trout, Pujols’ teammate for nine-plus years during his time with the Angels. “It’s crazy. When he was here and passing all the big-name guys, you had to pinch yourself sometimes just to be able to witness it. Seven hundred is a lot of homers. But the way Albert works, the time he puts in, the preparation, the dedication … you just can’t bet against him.”

Timely Home Runs: Pujols hit 24 homers in 2022, his most in a season since 2016. A good percentage of his big flies were important. Pujols hit four game-tying home runs, four homers to break a tie, and one HR to give the Cardinals the lead when trailing. He hit home runs off 20 different pitchers, and in nine ballparks.

Pujols and Busch Stadium: He hit 10 of his 24 homers at home this past season, and had a much higher slugging percentage on the road (.604) than at Busch Stadium (.490). But Pujols certainly had an enjoyable time at Busch Stadium in 2022 … and he loved hitting at Busch during the seven seasons he called the place home. (From 2006 through 2011, and again in 2022.) In his 508 regular-season games as a Cardinal, Pujols batted .326 with a .428 OBP, .602 slug and 1.031 OPS. He clouted 120 homers there as a Cardinal – and added one as an Angel and one as a Dodger.

Most Homers Hit By a Player at Busch Stadium III: Pujols 122, Matt Holliday 88, Yadier Molina 68, Matt Carpenter 68, Paul Goldschmidt 61.

Most Home Runs In A Season By A Right-handed Hitter Age 42 Or Older: Albert Pujols, 24, in 2022. The record for most homers in a season by any player age 42 or older is 28 by Barry Bonds in 2007.

The Beautiful Bottom Line: Pujols exceeded even the most optimistic expectations in 2022. His .270 batting average was his highest in a season since 2014. His .345 OBP was his best since 2011. His slugging percentage (.550) was his biggest since 2010. His .906 OPS was his finest since 2011. And his 154 OPS+ – 54 percent above league average offensively – was his most impressive since 2010.

Happy Thanksgiving, Albert.

You provided a feast in 2022.

And thanks to all of you for reading these columns at “Scoops” and I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

–Bernie

Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the show podcast at 590thefan.com or the 590 app which is available in your preferred app store.

Follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz

All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant, Brooks Baseball Net and Spotrac.

 

Bernie Miklasz
Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.