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Thursday, January 03, 2002

The Race to 756

While Santa was checking his lists for the second time, Don was busy compiling a few HR lists.

Some Home Run Lists

OK, it?s a new year, and since most everyone?s resolution   seems to be to forget as much of the old year as possible, I thought I should   oblige by steering us away from all that nasty talk of ?spin? and ?contraction.?   Enough with the labor pains already?let?s talk about the game for a change.

And what better place to do so than to dash off a few home   run lists that can orient us in what this column somewhat breathlessly calls   ?the race to 756?, or the pursuit of Hank Aaron?s all-time record for   homers.

Now that Mark McGwire has retired, we?re down to two   candidates with imminent opportunity to challenge Bad Henry. (I?ll leave it   to those of you who enjoy such things to provide ?Favorite Toy? probabilisms   that add the presence of someone like Alex Rodriguez to the candidate   list; I?m only interested in looking at players whose chance of taking a run   at Aaron is something we?ll see in the next 4-7 years.)

And that means we?re looking at Barry Bonds and Ken   Griffey, Jr.

As I said, I leave it to others to provide the Favorite Toy   data for these two. I?m simply going to run some lists at you, make a few speculative   remarks, and then take my red cape and step aside.

Let?s start with Bonds. We know that Barry is now safely   ensconced in the Top Ten of all-time homer hitters, thanks in large part to   his amazing 2001 season. A better context for Barry?s position relative to what   his future final HR total might be, however, would be to look at a list of Most   Home Runs Hit by Players Through the Age of 36:


Babe Ruth
      Hank Aaron
      Barry Bonds
      Willie Mays
      Mark McGwire
      Harmon Killebrew
      Mickey Mantle
      Jimmie Foxx
      Frank Robinson
      Eddie Mathews


As we can see, Barry looks more like a contender on this list. However, with   189 HRs to go in order to catch Aaron, he?s going to have to hit 26 more HRs   after the age of 36 than Hank did. The average number of homers hit after age   36 by the players on this list is 55. Barry?s almost certainly going to exceed   that, but how many more he can likely hit is clearly lower than either the number   he needs to catch Aaron or the number Aaron hit from age 37 on.

Which brings us to another relevant home run list. Here?s   the Most Home Runs Hit by Players Aged 37 and Older:


Hank Aaron
      Darrell Evans
      Carlton Fisk
      Ted Williams
      Carl Yastrzemski
      Dave Winfield
      Babe Ruth
      Reggie Jackson
      Hank Sauer
      Willie Mays


So if Bonds cracks this list, he?ll at least wind up #3 all-time   in HRs. That certainly seems to be the likely minimum, barring any unforeseen   circumstances.

Now let?s turn to Junior. Moving to Cincinnati has apparently   put a damper on the Griffey juggernaut, but going into 2002, Junior still ranks   second on the list of Most Home Runs Hit by Players Through the Age of   31:


Jimmie Foxx
      Ken Griffey Jr.
      Eddie Mathews
      Mickey Mantle
      Frank Robinson
      Hank Aaron
      Mel Ott
      Harmon Killebrew
      Willie Mays
      Babe Ruth


Of course only one guy on this list actually hit more HRs   after the age of 31 than he did through the age of 31. (Yes, that?s the Babe,   and he just barely did it, with 358. We?ll see the top ten list for that in   a minute or so.)

One more quick digression: Bonds ranks fourteenth on this   list, with 334 HRs through age 31.

The average number of homers hit by the players on this list   over the balance of their careers is 177. If Junior hit that average on the   nose, it would mean two things: first, that average would likely whimper with   pain; second, Junior?s lifetime HR total would wind up at 637.

Seriously, home run hitters don?t tend to age well. Beefy   they may well be, but they?re more like chardonnay than cabernet sauvignon.   However, there?s any number of guys who?ve hit more than 200 homers after the   age of 31. (Well, it?s not any number; it?s actually eighteen.) Here?s   the list of Most Home Runs Hit by Players Aged 32 and Older:


Babe Ruth
      Hank Aaron
      Mark McGwire
      Willie Mays
      Reggie Jackson
      Stan Musial
      Darrell Evans
      Hank Sauer
      Mike Schmidt
      Barry Bonds
      Carlton Fisk
      Willie Stargell
      Dave Winfield
      Ted Williams
      Andre Dawson
      Graig Nettles
      Willie McCovey
      Cy Williams


*still active

If Junior cracks this list, he?ll have at least 662 HRs,   which would put him past Willie Mays. He?d still be ~90 short of Aaron, however.

If Bonds matches Aaron and Ruth in post age-31 HRs, he?ll   add about 125 HRs to his current total, which brings him in somewhere in the   low 690s. In order to break Aaron?s mark, he?ll have to hit 422 HRs from age   32 on.

If he does that, he?ll join Ruth as the only player with   300+ HRs by age 31 to hit more homers after age 32. In order to get to that   point, he has to hit another 102 HRs from here on out.

As I said, I?ll step aside and let the readers provide Favorite   Toy projections for this (and feel free to include them for any intermediate   steps, such as matching Mays? 660 or the Babe?s 714 should that seem sufficiently   interesting). What these lists appear to tell us, however, is that it?s far   likelier that Bonds and Griffey will catch Mays than they will Aaron (and, for   that matter, the Babe).

One last list, as a small hommage to Mark McGwire.   Here are the Most Homers Hit by Players Aged 32-36:


Mark McGwire
      Babe Ruth
      Barry Bonds
      Wille Mays
      Hank Aaron
      Mike Schmidt
      Harmon Killebrew
      Stan Musial
      Andre Dawson
      Reggie Jackson


What an amazing run, eh? Notice, though, that Bonds pulled   himself up to #3 on this list. And it will be interesting to see if Junior cracks   it, because that will tell us more about his eventual place on the all-time   list. And there?s one more slugger to keep an eye on: Sammy Sosa, with   64 homers last year and a five-year total of 279. To show you what a daunting   task is ahead of even Sammy, however, consider that he has to hit 214 HRs in   the next four years to pass McGwire on this list. That?s more than 53 HRs a   season for the next four years. You number crunchers might want to calculate   the odds on that, too, while you?re at it.

Don Malcolm Posted: January 03, 2002 at 05:00 AM | 6 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. JimMusComp likes Billy Eppler.... Posted: January 03, 2002 at 12:20 AM (#604655)
Does anyone have any numbers/opinions on Andruw Jones's chance of catching any of these guys?
   2. Robert Dudek Posted: January 03, 2002 at 12:20 AM (#604657)
According to Mark's odds, there is a 78.3% chance that at least one of the guys listed (Sammy, Junior, Barry, AROD or Vlad) will break the record.
   3. Don Malcolm Posted: January 04, 2002 at 12:20 AM (#604661)
Sorry for the brain cramp on Sammy?s position on the Age 31 list. Let's make up for it by posting one more list, which is the <u>Most Homers Hit by Players Through Age 32</u>:

 Player               HR
Jimmie Foxx         500
(Ken Griffey Jr.   460)
Mickey Mantle       454
Sammy Sosa          450
Eddie Mathews       445
Hank Aaron          442
Frank Robinson      418
Babe Ruth           416
Mel Ott             415
Willie Mays         406

You have to put Junior on this list, because this is where he?d rank even if he missed the entire 2002 season. Sosa may be ten HRs behind Griffey right now in raw numbers, but Junior will almost certainly be perennially ?ahead? of Sammy because he?s a year younger.

The eight retired players on this list averaged 164 HRs for the balance of their careers. Should Sammy hit that average, he?d wind up at 614 for his career, While it appears unlikely that he?ll taper off, keep in mind how rare it is for home run hitters to retain their peak skills. Bonds? 2001 season is about as singular as you can get.

Babe Ruth held the record for most HRs at age 33 (Sammy?s age in 2002) for sixty-nine years with 54, until Mark McGwire hit 58 in 1997. Mark holds the record at ages 34 and 35, of course, and Bonds has it at 36. Hank Aaron has the record for age 37 (with 47 HRs; the only other two players to crack 40 at that age are Ruth and Hank Sauer); Darrell Evans holds the record at age 38, with 40 HRs, which is the same number Aaron hit at age 39.

It?s also a fact that the number of players at this age hitting 30+ homers tapers off very quickly and dramatically. Thirty-four hitters hit 30+ homers at age 33, while only nine did it at age 37.

Thanks for the Favorite Toy data, Mark. Now if someone can translate those percentages into an actual career-end estimate for Bonds, Griffey and Sosa, we?ll have some great talking points to kick around for the next several years.
   4. Don Malcolm Posted: January 04, 2002 at 12:21 AM (#604670)
OK, Larry Shiman has sent along an email pointing out a second brain cramp on the <u>Most Homers Through the Age of 31</u> list, which involves the omission of Juan Gonzalez:

 Player              HR
Jimmie Foxx        464
Ken Griffey Jr.    460
Eddie Mathews      422
Mickey Mantle      419
Frank Robinson     403
Hank Aaron         398
Juan Gonzalez      397
Mel Ott            388
Sammy Sosa         386
Harmon Killebrew   380

That should be the correct current Top Ten.

Very interesting stuff on the Toy vs. Brock2?exactly the kind of material I was hoping to see here. My recollection is that there?s a later version of the
Brock tool that Bill James never made available to the general public which is the basis for what STATS uses these days. The old Brock2 is very sensitive to yearly context, which is why Bonds does so well after hitting 73 HRs and Griffey does so poorly after hitting only 22.

Research in career projection tools is an area that needs a lot more work, and a lot more ?open source? effort (to use a phrase recently applied to baseball research by Jim Furtado. Some of you guys who are demonstrating a lot of profiency with these HR projections might want to consider widening your sights?you might well come up with something that opens up some serious new ground.
   5. Jason Posted: January 08, 2002 at 12:21 AM (#604676)
My money is on Sammy, i for no other reason than a) he seems to be an ever-growing monster, sure to peak in the near future, but a monster none the less (unlike the apparently fragile Griffey), and b) the man will have no problem being a 45-year old DH.
   6. Bill Posted: January 08, 2002 at 12:21 AM (#604679)
I don't care if one of them DOES pass Aaron and Ruth. You all know as well as I know that home runs come awfully cheap these day. As far as I'm concerned, baseball has turned into a big joke as far as home runs are concerned. So Aaron will continue to be the home run champ and Ruth will continue to be in second place, NO MATTER WHO passes them with cheap home runs.

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