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Albert Pujols Finds Center Field

Big news in Los Angeles of Anaheim these past couple days: Albert Pujols has hit home runs in back-to-back games. Just as after Pujols hit his first homer of the season back on May 6th, one question rules Angels-related discourse: is Albert back? Pujols did hit in six of his next eight games following that first home run, but the result was just a .265/.285/.265 line. Is anything different this time around? Can Angels fans finally start to believe? A quick look at where these home runs fell suggests yes, a rebound should be here soon for Pujols.

First, see the first home run, hit off Drew Hutchison of the Blue Jays:

Pujols hit it well, but it was more about how strong he is than the quality of the swing. He was out leaning and just used his massive frame to get the ball over the left field fence. This has been a problem for Pujols the entire season — his approach has been so extremely pull heavy that according to our splits, he was pulling over 70% of his balls in play heading into Wednesday’s action. Pujols is typically a pull hitter, with 47% of his balls in play going to left field (and, for reference, dead pull hitter Ryan Howard, one of the most often shifted-against players in the league, is at 51% to pull) for his career (I detailed this elsewhere earlier this month.)

Now, observe where Pujols’s last two home runs fell, particularly in comparison to the rest of his hits this season, via TexasLeaguers.com:

Just four of Pujols’s outfield hits came farther towards the right field line than Pujols’s second homer, and only one more was to the right of his third home run. It’s understandable why Pujols would be looking to pull the ball — 256 of his 448 home runs have come to left field and he owns a .499 wOBA on balls hit to the pull side. But in trying to pull everything — even balls that should be hit to center or the other way — Pujols has had horrible results on balls hit to left. He owns just a .215 average and .312 slugging percentage to left field and a career high 25% IFFB on pulled balls in play.

Pujols is more than adequate when he goes up the middle or to the opposite field — he owns a .416 wOBA to center and a .332 wOBA to right. If Wednesday’s and Thursday’s home runs were indicative of an approach moving away from pulling everything in sight and back to one where he hits the ball where it’s pitched, the old Albert Pujols — the one the Angels signed to a $245 million contract — should make his presence felt shortly.