After a June to remember, Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels opens July as the American League leader in home runs with 24 and will face the New York Yankees, whose starting rotation allows the highest opponent slugging percentage in the American League.
Below is a look back at what fueled Pujols’ strong June and a look ahead to Wednesday’s Angels-Yankees game (7 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN).
Handling the heat
Headlined by 13 home runs, Pujols had his best month in an Angels uniform in June. Compared with his early-season hitting, Pujols thrived last month against fastballs and against pitches in the upper half of the strike zone.
Nine of Pujols’ June home runs came against fastballs – more than any other hitter in baseball in June and more than all but six other players hit against all types of pitches that month.
He also excelled on pitches in the upper half of the strike zone. He hit six of his June home runs on pitches in the upper half, tied for the most in baseball. His OPS on such pitches was 1.402, and his hard-hit average was .317.
Beginning with the start of June, Pujols has shown increased plate discipline against pitches in the upper half. During the month, he walked nine times and struck out twice against pitches in the upper half. In the two months prior, he walked five times and struck out seven times on such pitches.
Pujols, 35, had a .303 batting average in June. The Elias Sports Bureau says he and Babe Ruth are the only players in the live ball era (since 1914) age 35 or over to hit .300 with at least 12 homers in June. Ruth hit .392 with 15 home runs at age 35 in 1930.
Assuming he maintains his career-long batting average, Pujols – with his next stolen base – will join Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only players with 500 home runs, 100 stolen bases and a career .300 batting average.
The only team in baseball that scores a higher percentage of its runs via the home run than the Yankees this season is the Houston Astros.
Yankees starting pitchers have the third-highest ERA (4.43) in the AL this season, and no starting pitching staff has allowed a higher slugging percentage (.439).
Yankees starter Adam Warren (5-5) has allowed a total of 10 earned runs in his losses and has a 2.87 ERA in those five games.
Warren is throwing his fastball more frequently as a starter in 2015 than he did as a reliever in 2014, and hitters are having much more success against it. Opponents have a .522 slugging percentage against his fastball this year (.424 last year) and a miss percentage of 14 percent (20 percent last year).