— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Wednesday, February 12, 2003
500 Homerun Club Braces For a Flood
Who’s heading for the milestone?
It has now been ten years since baseball?s offensive surge began. In an era when 40 homeruns in a season has become almost as common as 30 homerun seasons were in the previous era, it was apparent by the late 1990?s that the 500-homerun club would see a flood of new members.
We stand now at the edge of that flood. Four players can make it this coming season and, barring an extended strike, look for five to ten others to reach 500 homers by 2012. Let?s start by taking a brief look at the history of the 500 club.
The initial member of the 500 club was, of course, Babe Ruth, who hit his 500th homer in 1929. Lou Gehrig figured to be next, but he was stopped short at 493 in 1939. Soon after, Jimmie Foxx hit #500 in 1940 and Mel Ott followed in 1945.
There was a long gap after this. WW-II sabotaged any shot at 500 for Joe DiMaggio (361), Johnny Mize (359), and Hank Greenberg (331). Finally, Ted Williams overcame his 4+ years missed to military service and hit #500 in 1960.
Meanwhile, a group of young sluggers was surging to 500. The cozy club of four would welcome seven new members from 1965 to 1971: Willie Mays (1965), Mickey Mantle (1967), Eddie Mathews (1967), Hank Aaron (1968), Ernie Banks (1970), Harmon Killebrew (1971), and Frank Robinson (1971).
The pace for new additions to the 500 club slowed to a trickle after that. Willie McCovey joined in 1978, followed by Reggie Jackson (1984), Mike Schmidt (1987) and Eddie Murray (1996). This brought club membership up to 15 players.
Murray retired in 1997. Before that season I wrote of the coming flood in an unpublished article: "With 40-homer seasons now commonplace, a player joining the 500 club could become an annual event in the first decade of the next century."
Concerning Barry Bonds (334 HR then) and Mark McGwire (329) I wrote: "One of these two will be the next to 500, perhaps as soon as the year 2000." That forecast wasn?t quite accurate, as McGwire began hitting dingers at an unprecedented rate and joined the club in August 1999. Bonds became the 17th player to hit 500 in April 2001.
Ran Out of Gas
That article six years ago identified 13 other players on the road to 500. Seven of these are still good candidates: McGriff, Palmeiro, Griffey, J. Gonzalez, Sosa, Sheffield, and Thomas. Let?s look first at the six who have fallen by the wayside.
Albert Belle: Six years ago Belle was the game?s top slugger with an established level of 51, and he had just become baseball?s first $10 million man. Even three years ago he was still slugging along, projected to hit #500 in 2003. Then his hip went bad and his career was over, just like that, at age 34. Final total 381 homers.
Jose Canseco: From a young age, Jose was projected to hit over 500 homeruns. He shows up on the age-26 list below with ARod and Vlad. Three years ago, at age 35, he needed only 69 more for 500, coming off seasons of 46 and 34 homers. For some reason, teams became increasingly reluctant to hire Jose and his career petered out with 462 as his final total.
Mo Vaughn and Cecil Fielder: Six years ago I wrote, "Both need to maintain their high established levels until their late 30?s. However, these big-body types historically lack such longevity." Cecil?s career collapsed at that point, and he was done by age 35 with 319 homeruns. Mo is now 35; perhaps he?s not the guy for Mets fans to hang their hopes on. A biceps injury that caused him to miss the 2001 season all but ended his shot at 500 homers. Vaughn is 175 away from 500; his estimated chance stands at 3%.
Matt Williams: Six years ago I wrote, "He was hit by injuries the last two years after a 61-homer pace in 1994. The rule of thumb says halfway there at age 30 puts you in the running, so he?s doing OK." He added a couple more 30-homer years, but was injured too much. He?s now 37 years old and 126 homers away, with an established level of 15.5.
Jay Buhner: His career got off to a slow start; Jay didn?t play regularly until age 26. Five years ago, after hitting the 40-homer mark three straight years, he had about as good a chance for 500 as Rafael Palmeiro (who?s one month younger). Anyone who establishes himself as a 40-homer man has a shot at 500, but Buhner got hurt and never played full time after that. He retired in 2001 with 310 homers.
The Head of the Pack
Current candidates for the 500 club can be divided into three groups: four players who can make it in 2003; eight players who project as four to six years away; seven players who seem about seven to nine years away. Many young players also have a chance, but it?s usually too early to seriously speculate about players less than one-third of the way to a target.
Numbers in parentheses are: age at 7/1/03, career HR opening 2003, and established HR level. The estimated chances are figured using a modified version of Bill James? "Favorite Toy" formula.
Barry Bonds (38.9, 613, 50.7) ? Entering the 2000 season, he was not a candidate to challenge Aaron?s record. He was 35 years old and 310 homers away. Now Barry?s had his three best years with 49-73-46. (Aaron likewise had his best three-year stretch from ages 35 to 37.) If his production declines to his late 90?s HR level of 37, he?s four years away from Aaron. Estimated chance for 755: 22%.
Sammy Sosa (34.6, 499, 55.1) ? He averaged 48 HR from 1993-2002 (adjusting for the strike) and in the past five years he has a record 292 homers. If he averages 43 HR for the next six years, he?ll pass Aaron before he?s 40 years old. Est chance for 600: 95%. Est chance for 755: 34%.
Rafael Palmeiro (38.8, 490, 43.8) ? He wasn?t much of a slugger in his younger years, hitting his 100th homer at age 28. Then Raffy hit his stride and averaged 41 HR 1993-2002 (adjusting for the strike). He has a decent shot at the 600 HR mark, and is also 366 hits away from 3000. Est chance for 600: 27%.
Fred McGriff (39.7, 478, 28.9) ? Four years ago I had written off his chances for 500. McGriff was 35 years old after his fourth straight year of a decline in HR rate. He was still 142 homers short, coming off years of 28-22-19, and seemed to have one foot out the retirement door. However, he found the power switch and just bashed 30+ homers at ages 37 and 38, joining Babe Ruth 1932-33 and Hank Aaron 1971-72 as the only players to accomplish that feat. Now he?s away from the friendly confines of Wrigley Field (the Dodgers have him), he?s not yet a lock for 500. Est chance for 500: 90%.
Ken Griffey, Jr. (33.6, 468, 28.7) ? Three years ago he looked like the best bet to challenge Aaron?s record. Early in the 2000 season, at age 30, he became the youngest man to reach the 400 mark and was averaging 52 HR per season. However, he?s been injured most of the past two seasons, his training regime has been questioned and his shot at 755 seems all but gone. He needs to average 36 homers for the next eight years to catch Aaron when he?s 40 years old. Est chance for 500: 97%. Est chance for 600: 46%.
The Next Wave
The eight players in this next group are about four to six years away from 500 homeruns.
Juan Gonzalez (33.7, 405, 25.9) ? Like Griffey, his prospects have taken a sharp downturn in the last three years. Still, it would be a big surprise if he doesn?t reach 500. In fact, 600 is still possible, requiring him to average 28 homers for the next seven years to make it before he turns 40. Est chance for 500: 69%. Est chance for 600: 10%.
Jeff Bagwell (35.1, 380, 37.7) ? Escaping from the Astrodome after 1999 was just the boost he needed. Although he seems to be in decline now (last three years 47-39-31), he should hit #500 in 2006 or 2007. Est chance for 500: 64%. Est chance for 600: 13%.
Frank Thomas (35.1, 376, 24.2) ? Five years ago he was flying high, averaging more than 40 homers per year and had just passed the halfway point before his 30th birthday. Now, at the three-quarters mark, we wonder if he can make it. At his current pace he won?t hit #500 until he?s 40 years old. Est chance for 500: 21%.
Mike Piazza (34.8, 347, 34.8) ? No catcher has ever hit 400 homers, let alone 500. He needs to average 25.5 HR for the next six years, which seems doable. I think his chances would improve if he could move to first base or DH. Est chance for 500: 36%.
Gary Sheffield (34.6, 340, 32.8) ? His up and down career needs to stay up for 5+ years for him to make 500. If he averages 27 HR for the next six years he?ll make it before he turns 40. Est chance for 500: 30%.
Jim Thome (32.8, 334, 45.0) ? He?s reached the 30-homer mark for seven years in a row. After hitting 101 homers in the last two years (only Sosa, Bonds and ARod have higher established levels) he?s in position to make a run at 600. If he averages 33 for the next eight years, he?s there by age 40. Est chance for 500: 82%. Est chance for 600: 32%.
Manny Ramirez (31.1, 310, 37.5) ? If he maintains his current pace, he can hit #500 in 2007. He is in about as good a position for a run at 600 as his ex-teammate, Thome. Manny?s halfway there at age 30 and needs to average 32 for the next nine years to reach 600 before he turns 40. Est chance for 500: 63%. Est chance for 600: 24%.
Alex Rodriguez (27.9, 298, 50.8) ? He and Sosa are the only players to hit 40+ homers in each of the last five seasons. Most career HR thru age-26 season:
A.Rodriguez	298		O.Cepeda	222
J.Foxx		266		H.Aaron	219
E.Mathews	253		J.Gonzalez	214
M.Mantle	249		J.Bench	212
M.Ott		242		V.Guerrero	209
F.Robinson	241		J.Canseco	209
K.Griffey	238		J.DiMaggio	198
Compare him to Griffey, Foxx and Guerrero at the same ages:
age	A.Rod	Junior	Jimmie	 Vlad
19	 5	 16	 3	 —
20	 36	 22	 13	 1
21	 23	 22	 33	 11
22	 42	 27	 37	 38
23	 42	 45	 30	 42
24	 41	 40	 58	 44
25	 52	 17	 48	 34
26	 57 	 49	 44	 39
27	 —	 56	 36	 —
To mention one possible scenario, he can catch Aaron by averaging 38 homers for 12 years. Est chance for 500: 89%. Est chance for 755: 31%.
On the Road
Let?s also look at seven other candidates who are seven to nine years away from homer #500 (at their current paces):
Carlos Delgado (31.0, 262, 37.5) ? His HR total declined for the third straight year, but he extended his streak of 30-homer years to six. Est chance for 500: 41%.
Chipper Jones (31.2, 253, 33.5) ? Like Delgado, he was 30 years old at the halfway mark. He just needs to keep hitting 30 homers to get to 500 in eight years. Est chance for 500: 27%.
Shawn Green (30.6, 234, 40.5) ? Solidified his place as one of today?s top sluggers, topping 40 HR for the third time in four years. Est chance for 500: 41%.
Jason Giambi (32.5, 228, 39.7) ? He got off to a slow start, exceeding the 20-homer mark for the first time at age 27. As we said for Buhner, anyone who establishes himself as a 40-homer man has a shot at 500. Eight years averaging 34 HR gets him there before his 40th birthday. Est chance for 500: 23%.
Vladimir Guerrero (27.4, 209, 39.1) ? See listing under ARod. It will be interesting to see to what level he and Alex can rise through their upcoming prime-age years. Est chance for 500: 51%. Est chance for 600: 26%.
Todd Helton (29.9, 186, 38.6) ? He suffered a major power outage last season, declining from 49 to 30 HR. Est chance for 500: 28%.
Andruw Jones (26.2, 185, 34.8) ? He?s had three straight years in the mid 30?s for homers. Can he take it to the next level? Est chance for 500: 39%.
One more candidate who is in good position early on for a run at 500:
Troy Glaus (26.9, 148, 36.6) - Estimated chance for 500: 31%.
As we saw earlier, a lot can happen on the road to 500. Players who seem headed for the club can be permanently detoured by injury. The odds say that about four or five of the eight "Next Wave" players and only two or three of the last eight will eventually join the club. So in the next ten seasons, we should expect the 500 club to increase from 17 to about 28 members.
Notes on Formulas
I employ a subjective approach to the application of the formulas. IMO, I get more accurate results that way. After all, it?s called The Favorite Toy, so it?s meant to be played around with. To those who are curious, or prefer to make different calculations, I provide this explanation.
Rem Yrs = 24.9 - (.6 * Age)
James said that anyone still playing full-time was assumed to have at least 1.5 remaining years. I upped this to 2.06 years for Bonds and 2.0 for Palmeiro in the calculations. For McGriff I used the 1.1 years that the formula calculated.
(Proj HR / Need HR) ? 0.5
James said to figure a 3% chance per year of a sudden career end. So we multiply the previous result by: .97^Years Needed.
For an example, let?s figure Barry Bonds? estimated chance for 755 homeruns. He now has 613. In the past five years he hit 37-34-49-73-46.
.97^2.8036 = .91815 * 23.5% = 21.6%
No doubt, many will think his chance is much greater than 22%. Clearly, the assumptions I make have everything to do with Bonds? estimated chance. If we figure his Established Level based on the 3-year formula, he?s at 55.5 and his estimated chance is 28.2%. Or, if we assume three full Remaining Years, his chance is 52.3%. If we do both of these, his chance is 62.2%.
IMO, those are unreasonable assumptions. I tend toward conservative estimates. I think the odds are very much against Bonds catching Aaron. The formula says he only has 1.6 years left to play while needing 2.8 years to catch Hank. IMO, he has more time remaining than that, but he?s unlikely to maintain the 50-homer level.
It?s easy to see what Bonds needs to do, there?s no question he?s capable of doing it, and he has four more years on his contract. In the past four years he?s hit 202 homers, so you might think that hitting 142 would be easy. But no player his age has ever hit nearly that many homers in their remaining career. That?s asking for four years something like this: 41-38-34-29. History shows that at his age, it can be over very quickly. Just ask McGwire, for one.
If Bonds cruises past Mays (660) with 50+ homers in 2003, his chances become much more realistic; to go from 142 homers away to 90 closes the gap significantly and would justify optimism in his chances. However, at his age there?s little margin for error. If injuries make him miss the 25-homer mark in ?03 or ?04, his shot at 755 is pretty much over.