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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Will the 500 Home Run Club Go Inactive for a While?

So, my last piece on Paul Konerko and 500 home runs got me thinking about the future of the 500 home run club. I know how the club expanded to the point where a lot of people have said that no one will care about 500 home runs anymore. I don’t know if that’s necessarily true; people are unpredictable, as are the Hall of Fame voters (see, it’s funny because I implied they aren’t also people). Maybe 500 home runs will continue to stand as a testament to power, maybe it won’t. I think it will for at least a little longer because a) the next round number up is 600, and not enough people have reached it yet (and let’s be honest, people are lazy; we aren’t making a 550 home run club to tide ourselves over); and b) baseball has a connection to its past, more than any other sport. Of the eight 600 home run players, five of them achieved it after 2000. That group just seems like too recent a group for most fans to just accept as historic. We can’t even get everyone to agree on using replay, there’s no way we’ll get a unanimous consensus on the superiority of something modern.

In any case, though, I think the 500 home run club looks like it may soon fall on leaner times. Over the span of a just under a decade (August 5, 1999-April 17, 2009), ten new players joined. Before then, there were only fifteen members to speak of. You can see why people would be a little unsure what to make of it. But I see no way that growth continues over the next decade or so. I can even imagine scenarios where two or fewer people join between now and 2020 or so.

Let’s just look down the active leaders board. Alex Rodriguez and Jim Thome are both in the 600 home run club. After that, Chipper Jones is third place with 459. He’s said he’s retiring after this season, though, so unless he has a 46 homer year in him this season, he’s not likely. For the record, his previous high is 45, back in 1999. If you can’t tell, it’s not happening.

Albert Pujols is fourth on the list, and he’s unusual in that he’s both close to the mark and young enough that he’s very likely to make it (despite his power outage in 2012 to date). He sits at 445 home runs at the age of 32, meaning he’ll have to average 5.5 homers per year over the length of his new contract. Even if he’s no longer an MVP-level player, I think he can manage that.

Jason Giambi is next. Except he’s a 41-year old bench bat on the Rockies who still needs 71 home runs. Also not happening.

Andruw Jones falls at sixth place. He’s 35, so he’s still relatively young, but he’s looked done for a while now. He’s more or less a bench role at this point, and he still stands 77 bombs away. If he could succeed in locking down a starting DH role (preferably in a hitters park) for a few years, I would feel better about his chances. But, since that doesn’t seem feasible at this point, I’d mark him as very unlikely.

Then there’s Paul Konerko. I just went over his chances, and I guess it could happen. One of my concerns, though, now that I’ve seen some of the players on this list, is that he’s 36. That may not seem too old, but how many players randomly saw their power decrease due to age or injury or other factors? Jason Giambi and Andruw Jones were both good for a long time, until they suddenly weren’t. Albert Pujols and Adam Dunn have recently hit mysterious walls. Other players with higher peaks saw their power totals sharply decline as age came out of nowhere to blindside them like a unsuspecting catcher in a home plate collision. He may age gracefully and hold on long enough to make it to 500 home runs. He may also see a sudden power outage next season, or break his wrist later this year, or a million other things that would cause him to fizzle out at 430 or 450 or 470 and so on. He definitely has better odds than most other players at the top of this list, though.

After that, we fall below the 400 home run barrier. David Ortiz sits at 384 home runs, but like Konerko, he’s 36. The only real advantage Ortiz has on him is that he was a better hitter at his peak, so he has more room to fall off. That doesn’t really overcome the 18 homer difference between him and Konerko, though.

Adam Dunn is next, and he actually looks like a viable candidate, provided 2011 was a one-time thing. He’s only 32 and he has 374 homers (including 9 this year), so he may force his way into the conversation (which, given his career and his negative defensive value, would make for an interesting Hall of Fame discussion).

Just to speed things up, here’s every remaining player with 300+ homers, with their age.

Lance Berkman, 358 (36)
Todd Helton, 351 (38)
Carlos Lee, 351 (36)
Alfonso Soriano, 340 (36)
Mark Teixeira, 318 (32)
Aramis Ramirez, 317 (34)
Adrian Beltre, 315 (33)
Carlos Beltran, 312 (35)
Scott Rolen, 310 (37)

That’s a good list of players. I would say that four or five of them are Hall of Famers, even. But Teixeira’s the only one with even some sort of real chance at 500*, and even then, he’s still a ways off. Note that he’s the same age as Dunn, with 60 fewer homers.

*And even then, I still would say he isn’t one of the Hall of Famers-he’s closer to Paul Konerko than he is Todd Helton and Lance Berkman. And of those two, while I would call them both Hall of Famers, it's going to take some freakish circumstances for either of them to make it to the mark.

In any case, long story short, there will be more 500 home run members in the future. 1999-2009 was an anomaly, though. It’ll slow done to 1 or 2 for the next 5-7 years. It might pick up again after that, but I doubt it (this may require a more in depth look, though).

2 comments:

  1. I was surprised that Miguel Cabrera only has 284 career homers. He just turned 29, so if he keeps himself in shape, he could be the next to 500, after Pujols (and maybe Dunn). He has a teammate who turns 28 today and has 235, so Prince might be next, again if he stays in shape. And at 4 HR per game, Josh Hamilton will get to 500 by mid-August.

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  2. I was going to say that I doubt Fielder makes it, but I suppose he's more or less guaranteed playing time for the next decade regardless of how his performance slips.

    Cabrera's a very safe bet, I think. But he's still several years off.

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