In light of Barry Bonds's recent comments that A-Rod isn't as good as he is, more people than usual are starting to come out of the woodwork to take shots at Bonds. This is obviously because they aren't happy Bonds used steroids. Fair enough.
But the main taunt at Bonds is this: A-Rod is definitely going to pass your eventual home run record down the line anyway.
Really? When did this become set in stone? Because from where I'm sitting, the odds of this happening don't seem to be nearly as good as some people think. And there's data to back me up.
In 2006, Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projection system, which uses comparisons to similar players throughout history, weighing factors such as statistics, age and major league service time, defensive position and body type, did a breakdown of what the all-time home run list would look like in 2020.
Guess who was at the top? Barry Bonds. Guess who had an estimated 678 home runs? That's right, Alex Rodriguez.
Now you're probably up in arms about this estimate. And I agree with you. Right now, it looks like A-Rod will play until he's at least 40. If he manages to stay healthy and hits on average a little more than 30 home runs a year - which is a lot when you stop and think about it, he'll probably pass Bonds (since there's a question of whether Bonds plays another year).
Ok, but what about the eventual decline with age, since we're assuming A-Rod won't turn to steroids like Bonds did and start hitting 73 homers at age 36.
Well, The James Lincoln Ray Sports Page just recently did that for us. Factoring in decline due to age and everything else, they projected A-Rod to hit 788 home runs by the time he turns 40. And remember, since A-Rod's birthday is in July, he'd likely hit a few more before the end of that season - if he's still playing. If A-Rod played until he was 41 or 42, he'd likely hit over 800 home runs.
That's great, but let's think about this rationally for a moment. Bonds wants to play another year to reach 3,000 hits. If he does play, and hits say 25 home runs, then Bonds will in all likelihood be very close to 800 home runs himself.
And as Baseball Prospectus's estimate showed us earlier, we probably need to take into account things like what positions Bonds and A-Rod play. Bonds played left field, A-Rod shortstop and third. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Bonds has played a position that has likely helped him extend his career while A-Rod has played positions that would shorten his career.
There's also the example of Ken Griffey Jr. Everyone thought he was going to challenge Hank's record. Instead he started falling to pieces at age 33. There's no gaurantee A-Rod won't have the same thing happen to him. By the way, Prospectus picked Griffey to end with 637 home runs, which seems to be a real good guess - and maybe even a bit optimistic.
The truth is that as players get older, their skills can often drop off dramatically in the blink of an eye. Bonds (and I would argue Clemens as well) managed to escape this by using performance enhancing drugs. They are literally the only two guys in baseball history to be better after turning 35 than when they were during the normal peak years of players (25-29; according to Bill James).
People seem to think A-Rod can keep up a high level of production like Bonds and Clemens did, but it simply won't happen if he decides not to use steroids. And if Bonds retires with close to 800 home runs, it's going to take an awful lot for A-Rod to surpass that.
There is some hope though for A-Rod. The one and only Hank Aaron had quite a productive conclusion to his career. And almost like Bonds, Aaron had his most prolific home run season at age 37 when he hit 49 home runs. But considering there has only been one man not on steroids who was that productive a power hitter that late in his career, the odds probably aren't in A-Rod's favor.
Another thing that could help A-Rod is if he decides to become a DH. But who knows right now if he'll do that. Bonds has actively made it a point to break Aaron's record as a fulltime player. A-Rod may choose to do the same thing. There's also no gaurantee A-Rod will even be the kind of hitter at 40 that a team would want as a DH.
A-Rod might do it, provided his body doesn't breakdown, but it just sure as hell won't be as easy as some people hope it will be.