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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Sports Illustrated’s 400-Homer Balderdash

On CNN/SI recently, David Sabino, in his Diamond Digits column, suggested the fact that some recent sluggers have 400 home runs with less than 2000 hits was evidence of the taint of the steroid era.

The first thing that comes to mind is that Sabino was pretty lazy and actually looked at career totals.  Sabino actually seems amazed that a player with 400 home runs would have fewer hits than a player with 500 or 600 home runs.

So, how many career hits does a player typically have when they hit their 400th home run?  This would be the natural question raised, but the author may have been too busy loudly proclaiming the preconceived point he set out to prove in his best, strident, talk radio tone of voice, to take on the dual role of being a responsible analyst.

To take a quick look at this, I took all the 400 club members and their career hit totals on the day they hit their 400th home run.  Where game logs aren’t available, I calculated a rough estimate based on their end-of-season totals.

Player       Date       Career Hits through Milestone Game
Stan Musial     5/07/59     3136  
Cal Ripken     9/02/99     2969
Carl Yastrzemski 7/24/79     2961
Dave Winfield   8/14/91     2653
Billy Williams   6/22/75     2562
Eddie Murray   5/03/92     2527
Andre Dawson   4/15/93     2515
Rafael Palmeiro 9/23/00     2317
Mel Ott       6/01/41     2299
Hank Aaron     4/20/66     2272
Lou Gehrig     7/10/36     2255
Chipper Jones   6/05/08     2206
Darrell Evans   9/20/88     2158
Ted Williams   7/17/56     2117
Gary Sheffield   7/27/04     2115
Jeff Bagwell   7/20/03     2071
Duke Snider     6/14/63     2027

————————SABINO’S STEROID TAINT THRESHOLD———————

Fred McGriff   6/02/00     1998
Willie Mays     8/27/63     1997
Frank Thomas   7/25/03     1995
Frank Robinson   9/09/67     1989
Mike Piazza     4/26/06     1942
Ernie Banks     9/02/65     1916
Jimmie Foxx     6/27/38     1910
Willie Stargell 6/29/77     1903
Barry Bonds     8/23/98     1876
Jason Giambi   5/23/09     1841
Reggie Jackson   8/11/80     1824
Mickey Mantle   9/10/62     1801
Alex Rodriguez   6/21/05     1792
Manny Ramirez   5/15/05     1791
Juan Gonzalez   6/05/02     1754
Ken Griffey Jr.  4/10/00     1746
Eddie Mathews   4/16/63     1699
Carlos Delgado   8/22/06     1678
Babe Ruth     9/02/27     1664
Sammy Sosa     5/16/01     1640
Jose Canseco   4/14/99     1614
Willie McCovey   7/15/73     1602
Jim Thome     6/14/04     1550
Mike Schmidt   5/15/84     1535
Dave Kingman   8/10/85     1415
Harmon Killebrew 4/27/69     1385
Mark McGwire   5/08/98     1234

So, where does Giambi fit?  As it turns out, slightly lower than the middle-of-the-pack.  Clearly, with 8 of the 17 hitters finishing their careers before the current offensive era (and 7 of 17 playing large chunks of their careers in the 60s and 70s), the number of hits 400-homer hitters have seems to be a very poor way toidentify eras tinged with a steroid taint.

Looking at the lists order, you essentially have a list of players ranked on their “raw power” from lower-power 400-club members to higher-power ones.  Of course, that’s hardly surprising - if you had me and an Olympic sprinter both run a mile and count how many breaths we each took, I will have taken in a lot more oxygen than the sprinter, simply because it took me a lot longer.  That wouldn’t be proof that Olympic athletes don’t take in enough oxygen vis-à-vis overweight guys who drink too much beer, that would be proof that faster things are faster.  Duh.

If Sports Illustrated wants to remain relevant, they need more Posnanskis and less Sabinos.

Dan Szymborski Posted: May 27, 2009 at 05:17 PM | 20 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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Reader Comments and Retorts

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Statements posted here are those of our readers and do not represent the BaseballThinkFactory. Names are provided by the poster and are not verified. We ask that posters follow our submission policy. Please report any inappropriate comments.

   1. Barnaby Jones Posted: May 27, 2009 at 07:41 PM (#3195828)
What I take from this is that Eddie Matthews is awesome. Even though he is a filthy stinking steroid cheat.
   2. Famous Original Joe C Posted: May 27, 2009 at 07:51 PM (#3195848)
What I take from this is that Eddie Matthews is awesome. Even though he is a filthy stinking steroid cheat.

How can we look at Willie McCovey or Mickey Mantle's stats without questioning how they were achieved again?
   3. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 27, 2009 at 08:08 PM (#3195878)
There go Dave Kingman's HOF chances.
   4. Random Transaction Generator Posted: May 27, 2009 at 08:21 PM (#3195920)
I'm hoping you submitted this rebuttal to their letters/comments section.
You might as well disembowel him publicly.
   5. Edmundo got dem ol' Kozma blues again mama Posted: May 27, 2009 at 08:43 PM (#3195997)
What I take from this is that Eddie Matthews is awesome.
I remember marvelling at his 1958 card -- through 6 seasons / age 25 he had 222 HRs. I remember trying to figure out how to project his and everyone's career totals. After a couple of years of perusing baseball cards, I settled on 3 times career totals at age 27 and 2 times at age 30. By extrapolating out to age 27 (74 more HRs from his average to date), I had Matthews finishing with 888 HRs. He must have dropped off the juice somewhere along the line.
   6. cardsfanboy Posted: May 27, 2009 at 08:51 PM (#3196024)
stuff like this is what I was asking for on the call for help thread. It doesn't have to be a full article, but original content, in response to some balderdash msm claim.
   7. Northpaw Posted: May 28, 2009 at 01:19 AM (#3196518)
If Sports Illustrated wants to remain relevant, they need more Posnanskis and less Sabinos.


A Szymborski would help a lot too.
   8. Obama Bomaye Posted: May 28, 2009 at 01:47 AM (#3196615)
original content, in response to some balderdash msm claim.

Well often such things are done in the context of a comment in response to said article.
   9. Fancy Pants Handle doesn't need no water Posted: May 28, 2009 at 12:30 PM (#3197019)
A Szymborski would help a lot too.

Unspellable last names are the new market inefficiency.
   10. Ray (RDP) Posted: May 28, 2009 at 03:03 PM (#3197198)
Good piece. I love pieces like this.
   11. Stevens Posted: May 28, 2009 at 07:58 PM (#3197734)
Unspellable last names are the new market inefficiency.

So 10 million to Jeff Samardzija was the right move!
   12. Repoz Posted: June 02, 2009 at 01:24 PM (#3203005)
Thanks for this, Dan.
   13. Jolly Old St. Nick Still Gags in October Posted: June 02, 2009 at 01:47 PM (#3203032)
Good compilation, Dan, and it's speaks well of your approach that you began with a question, not an answer.

My favorite example of "taint" is Babe Ruth, who only wound up with a .342 lifetime BA in spite of having only 1664 hits at the time of # 400.
   14. David in Toledo Posted: June 03, 2009 at 05:05 PM (#3205029)
More Posnanskis and FEWER Sabinos (Sabinos are countable).

Babe Ruth wound up with ONLY a .342 lifetime BA. . . (He didn't ONLY wind up; he wound up, he threw, he switched positions, etc., etc.)
   15. Dan Szymborski Posted: June 03, 2009 at 05:13 PM (#3205040)
David, I can understand taking on the role of the grammar police for the article itself, but I don't think comments should be fair game!
   16. Shock Posted: June 03, 2009 at 05:19 PM (#3205050)
I think his second part was meant to be a joke, though I'm not sure.

Anyway, SI is junk.
   17. Jeff K. Posted: June 04, 2009 at 05:44 AM (#3205974)
Well now, wait a minute. I'm not defending the guy's point, how he went about it, or the validity of the measurement, but I'm not really seeing the great evisceration here. Let's take a look from the bottom up:

Steroid era, accused
Archetypal big slugger (not SE)
Ditto
Schmidt (not SE)
Steroid era, not really accused, but would have been Killebrew 40 years ago
McCovey (not SE)

and then

SE, admitted user
SE, accused, suspected, however you want to phrase it (and however unfair it may be)
Ruth
SE
Mantle
Reggie
SE, "admitted"
SE, Bonds
Mathews
SE
SE, accused
SE, busted
SE, admitted
Mantle

I don't see how this is disproving the guy's point.
   18. Jeff K. Posted: June 04, 2009 at 05:47 AM (#3205976)
What the hell happened there?

SE, admitted user
SE, accused, suspected, however you want to phrase it (and however unfair it may be)
Ruth
SE
Mathews
SE
SE, accused
SE, busted
SE, admitted
Mantle
Jackson
SE, "admitted"
SE, Bonds
   19. Jeff K. Posted: June 04, 2009 at 10:52 PM (#3207007)
Just to note, what I'm saying is that after you get past the top 6 which has three of the all-time archetypes for the category, of the next 13 names, *9* are from a 10-12 year span. On the surface, I don't see this as disproving the notion that this particular stat shows steroid usage.

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