Saturday, July 28, 2007

A-Rod's road to becoming the Home Run King is harder than you think

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.



Free Pacman said...

I don't think A-Rod passes Barry Bonds, I'm not even sure he'll pass Babe Ruth. This is probably A-Rod's peak year in terms of power, so he'll see a decline HRs over the next couple of years. He hit 35 homers last, so I expect him to about 35-40 next year, then 30-35 the year after that. After that he won't reach 30 again.

As you mentioned, SS and 3B have short lifespans. You hardly ever see a SS or 3B play after the age of 35, but if he stays in the AL, he'll be able to DH as he gets older. He may reach Babe, but he won't reach Aaron.

I think the age that he retires depends on how much he wants to pass Babe. If he wants to pass him, I think he plays until he's about 49 and hits 725 homeruns. If he doesn't care he finishes at 38 with somewhere between 680-700 homers depending on how much he declines.

Anonymous said...

Not to sound overlly uninformed, but how do we know that Bbonds used steriods? Game of Shadows, aside, it's my understanding that Bond's never failed a drug test. Despite his suspicious change in body type over the course of his career, doesn't he desrve to be treated innocent iuntil proven guilty?

WCK, you seem to take for granted the fact that Bonds was a user. In light of the age in which he played, perhaps he was, but even if that's true, does it invalidate his records since according to some sorces in baseball "everyone was doing it" during the Bud Selig era? I'm certainly not condoning cheating, but it does seem like baseball was happy to have folks like Bonds McGuwire and Sosa filling seats back in the earlier part of the decade.

On another note, do you think the Commish should be present when Bonds breaks the record, and if so, should MLB plan any ceremonies around the event? Last night during the Giants game, ESPN commentators said that any ceremoneis would be run by the Giants and not by MLB. Is this a tacit indictment of Bonds by the league, and is that really fair given the fact that Bond's has never failed a drug test and the fact that MLB was probably complicit or at least turned a blind eye towards performing enhancing drugs during much of Bonds career.

Sooze said...

I whole-heartedly agree with you. It's gonna be way harder than people think, who's to say A-Rod's gonna play into his 40s, anyhow?

100% Injury Rate said...

Look, anon, I'm a Giants fan. You'll never find a bigger Bonds apologist than me. I was just going with conventional thought for the sake of the argument. I agree 100% with your take on McGwire and Sosa. We did a couple of posts on that exact thought of yours. But in leaked grand jury testimony Bonds (sort of) admitted taking steroids (unknowingly).

As for Selig, I don't think he has to be there. Why? Because the Commish hasn't been present at a lot of record breaking events. That's nothing against Bonds or Selig. I just think this Selig thing has been blown out of proportion. Who cares if he's there? It's not like the Commish has to be somewhere to validate a record.

Anonymous said...

What about the fact that A-Rod could DH for 2-3 years? Doesn't that help his chances? (Bonds seemed to never have that opportunity playing in San Fran).

Kyle said...


I think the fact that he admitted that he had been given and ingested "The Clear" while saying he thought it was flax seed oil is proof enough that he did steroids.

100% Injury Rate said...

The thoughts of A-Rod DHing are an interesting question. He might do it. He might not. Bonds has never really wanted to become a DH. He seems intent on breaking the record while being a full-time player. Trust me I know. The guy has a range of two feet in left field. I cringe at how much better my Giants would be without him in left field. I suspect A-Rod may feel the same way down the road. I've got to do this while playing full-time. Plus, if A-Rod drops off with his hitting, there's no guarantee anyone will want him to DH.

OESY0208 said...

Let's say A-Rod does break the record with around 800 home runs, if Bonds winds up with 780 or so, isn't that still more impressive? Sure, we can mention the performance enhancing drug issue, but don't we also have to look at the level of home run power from 1986-1992, and to a lesser extent, 1994-1995 (1993 was an expansion year)? In contrast, A-Rod has played his ENTIRE career in a VERY friendly era for batters, nothing close to 1988 or the early 1990s in the NL. True, the peak (1996-2002) is largely over, but A-Rod has still not faced anything resembling a pitcher's year. Until he was 28-29, Bonds played in an era utterly dominated by pitchers (exception: 1987) of his league, whereas A-Rod began his march to the Hall in the easy batting summer of '96. Yet, A-Rod plays a tougher position, so we should factor that in too. A parallel to A-Rod? Christy Mathewson, the Giant hurler who spent his heyday in the pre-corked ball era (1903-1911) and never faced the nastiness that defanged Walter Johnson in the 1920s.

Anonymous said...

I don't think its going to be as difficult as you guys are making it out to be. For one thing, the kid (Arod) is going to finish this year with around 515 bombs, the youngest player to reach that total. He will approach 50 this year and there is no reason to asssume he can't challenge 40 HRs for the next four-five years.

free is absurd to just assume A-Rod won't hit 30 homeruns after his age 34 season. That is just crazy. I am not sure how many guys have had 30 plus HR seasons over the age of 35, but I am gonna guess several have been documented and none by the caliber of player Rodriguez is.

A-Rod could easily hit 40 the next two years and settle into the 30-35 range until he turns 38-39, when he could still easily hit 20-25.

Assuming 40 the next two seasons (not an unreasonable guess) that would put him at about 600 bombs at the age of 34.

That is six more seasons to 40 years old and that lets him average 33 HRs a year from there to reach EIGHT HUNDRED!

Obviously, the next 3 years of his prime are huge, if he can hit 40 the next three years that will put him on a collision course to break the record.

To assume he won't requires a much higher burden of proof than saying he won't. This blog makes a good case in the negative< but put my in the category of those who thinks A-Rod's talent will get him over the edge.

Anonymous said...

I meant to say, assuming he won't continue on this pace requires a much higher burden on proof than assuming he will. History suggests he is a gooo player that will hit high numbers of HRs.

This also doesn't take into account the fact A-Rod is in excellent condition and players of this time (in all sports) are generally in much better physical condition than those of even 20 years ago. This could easily extend A-Rod's power prime into his mid to late 30's, all but assuring the record. If he could hit 40 a year until he was 36 that would make it almost a certainty to break the Bonds mark, whatever that is.

Assuming Bonds actually retires. He might DH until he is 57 and hit 1000. In that case....all bets are off!

Mevs said...

So, you guys have made deadspin every day for the past month. You guys could record a fart or sneeze, send it in, and your post is bearing witness on their site. You've replaced Kissing Suzy Kolber as the new Deadspin Darlings, at least for like a day.

mmw said...

lmd03: Don't forget park effectsat the Kingdome and in Arlington: a little more hitter friendly than Candlestick and Pac-Bell.

Anonymous said...

regardless whether bonds uses steroids or a rod will decline here is something to think about. babe ruth was and always will be the true home run king. yea i know what u are thinking with the numbers and all. but things were different when ruth played the game. ball parks were bigger. bats and balls were heavier. therefore it was much harder for the babe to do what he did. if babe ruth today he would easily fly pass these players of today.

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