For his final season, Albert Pujols returned to his home state from his high school and college days and to the team for which he enjoyed his greatest successes. Probably both Pujols and the Cardinals expected his season to be largely a farewell tour, at most platooning at DH, giving first sacker Paul Goldschmidt an occasional day off his feet, and providing a bat off the bench when a pinch-hitter was needed. It turns out that Pujols must have taken a side trip to St. Augustine FL en route to St. Louis, as his season has become much more than he or the Cardinals might have expected, turning in one of the better seasons ever at his age, with some of the best rate stats of the back half of his career. More after the jump.
Pujols started his season in “farewell tour” mode, appearing in only 42 of the Cardinals’ first 81 games, and starting only three games in the field in that span. But, things changed after an eventful All-Star break at Dodger Stadium, where Pujols spent the better part of last season, contributing enough to earn a spot on the Dodger post-season roster. Pujols credits that Dodger experience with rejuvenating him, and it seems he got another jolt of rejuvenation at the All-Star break, making a surprising entry in the home run derby and, even more surprisingly, besting likely NL home run champ Kyle Schwarber in that competition.
Since the All-Star break, Pujols has been on fire, with second half ranks (min. 150 PA) including 2nd in the majors in SLG, OPS and OPS+ (behind you-know-who), and 3rd in HR. With that level of production, Pujols has become a fixture in the St. Louis lineup, playing (as of Sep 25) in 28 of the Cardinals’ last 29 games, including 20 starts over that period. Pujols’s season SLG, OPS and OPS+ are his best in more than a decade, since the final season of his first stint in St. Louis. His 1.6 season WAR is his best since 2015, and better than his 2016 to 2021 seasons combined (thus becoming the first player with positive WAR in an age 40+ final season that exceeds combined WAR over 1500+ PA for the 6 prior seasons).
For historical comparison, here are the best WAR seasons by players aged 42 or older (min. 50 games and 100 PA).
Among this group of seasons, Pujols trails only Bonds in HR, SLG and OPS+, and ranks 5th in XBH and 8th in TB. With his second half power surge, Pujols joins Ted Williams as players with 20+ home runs in the first and last seasons of a career. (Quiz: which other two retired players have done this? Hint: both were active within the past decade). Pujols has had no fewer than four multi-HR games this season, twice as many as any other age 42+ player (before this season, there had been a total of only 9 such games, by 7 players). Pujols also becomes the oldest player with a final season including three multi-HR games in his team’s last 50 games of the season (Quiz: whose record did Pujols break? Hint: the previous record holder retired before age 35). With his 21st season with at least 17 home runs (missing only in the abbreviated 2020 season) Pujols passes Barry Bonds for the most such seasons.
With his surprising success in his final season, Pujols has reached a number of notable career milestones.
- 100 WAR – now ranks 30th among all players, and 20th among non-pitchers
- 3000 Games – has moved up 8 spots this season to rank 5th, and should pass Rickey Henderson for 4th
- 13000 PA – has moved up 4 spots this season to rank 6th
- 700 HR – passed Alex Rodriguez this season to rank 4th
- 1400 XBH – passed Stan Musial this season to rank 3rd
- 2200 RBI – maintained 3rd place ranking; needs 6 more to tie Babe Ruth for 2nd
- 1900 R – passed Tris Speaker and Lou Gehrig this season to rank 12th
- No milestones this season, but here are Pujols’s rankings for some other metrics.
While Pujols’ final regular season is drawing to a close, a final post-season awaits. Among 96 players with 50+ post-season games, Pujols ranks 1st in OBP, 2nd in BA and OPS, 3rd in SLG, 5th in HR, XBH and TB, 7th in R and RBI, and 8th in H and BB. Don’t bet against some more post-season heroics to come.