Monday, July 27, 2015

Predicting the Future of the 500 Home Run Club

After looking at the future of the 3000 hit club last month, I began wanting to try my method out with other milestones. The natural next step was the other big milestone for hitters, 500 home runs. Would there be any difference in how early we could predict who would make each club? The Hall of Fame induction ceremony seemed like as good an excuse as any to look at a milestone like this (even if it was three 3000 strikeout guys and a 3000 hit guy getting inducted this year).

A quick refresher on the methodology: first, I went through the 26 members of the 500 home run club and looked at how many home runs they had at each age. I sorted them by totals, then split the club into the upper half and lower half. Next, I looked at how many hitters throughout history had more home runs than the lower half at the same age. Then, I just took a simple percentage of (upper half of the club) divided by (total number of retired hitters who had more homers than the lower half of the club at the same age). I expanded on what I did for the 3000 hit article, though; rather than just do the halfway point, the lowest, and the second lowest, I threw in the quartiles (the halfway marks of the halves). That way, I could estimate the odds for players above 25% and 75% of the 500 homer club.

In each grouping, I took out the players in the quartile above, so that I'm not double counting, say, the guys in the top quartile as in the second quartile as well even though they are above the mark needed to be in that group. This is to give a more accurate sense of how likely players in that quartile specifically are to reach the 500 mark; using the player with the most homers at that age to predict someone just over the halfway point seemed a little silly. This leads to a little fluctuation in the results (sometimes, the second quartile will have fewer players eventually making 500 home runs than the third quartile, for instance), but usually, the variations aren’t too significant.

These odds aren’t going to be super-precise for a variety of reasons; this is a very rough model, the game has evolved dramatically since when some of these players played, I’m not really weighting each player by where they are individually, and so on. However, I think it gives us a pretty good rough idea; it may be off, but it gives us a tangible, easy to visualize predictor for something that’s normally pretty difficult to predict. As an aside, I’d caution against using the “Lowest” number as a hard guideline, since that player was almost always an outlier; sticking to the “Second Lowest” benchmark and above should be more indicative. So, with that in mind, which modern players are on pace for 500 home runs?

Age 23: First Quartile-121 (80.00% of hitters with this many homers at this age go on to 500)
Second Quartile-65 (21.43% of hitters between this mark and the aforementioned first quartile mark reached 500 homers)
Third Quartile-39 (9.46%)
Second Lowest-20 (2.39%)
Lowest-19 (4.17%)
First, to answer your trivia question: the only inactive players to reach 121 homers by the age of 23 and not eventually reach 500? Orlando Cepeda (122) Juan Gonzalez (121), who each just barely made it to the cutoff. There’s an active player who’s made the mark* as well, though, and it’s (surprise!) Mike Trout. With 129 homers and counting, Trout is in good company, already seventh in homers through age 23, and he’s almost certain to move up a few spots before 2015’s end (Ted Williams, Ken Griffey Jr., and Frank Robinson are 2, 5, and 9 homers ahead of him). Trout has a 100+ homer lead on the rest of his age bracket.

Outside of Trout, Jonathan Schoop (23) and Joc Pederson (21) might hit the third quartile mark by the end of the year, which is a reasonably strong indicator (even if it isn’t as strong as the 121-homer mark). And it’s also worth mentioning 22-year-olds Bryce Harper (82) and Manny Machado (54), who have already made a dent on the mark for next year. With a performance like his first half, Harper might even become the eleventh player with over 121 homers before he turns 24.

*Well, three active players, but A-Rod and Albert Pujols already reached 500 homers, so I'm not counting them.

Age 24: First Quartile-165 (87.50%)
Second Quartile-84 (16.22%)
Third Quartile-65 (14.89%)
Second Lowest-49 (6.41%)
Lowest-33 (0.78%)
Compared to the 22- and 23-year-olds, the age-24 group is a little lagging. Leading the pack is Nolan Arenado with 53 homers and counting. He could easily work his way into the third quartile by year’s end, although the top half is probably a little out of reach. After him, it’s division-rival Yasiel Puig, who’s seen an injury cut into his chances this year. He stands at 41 homers as-is, so he can at least top someone other than the 500 club’s outlier. Speaking of the outlier, there are plenty of players with more homers or the chance to finish the season with more, but seeing the miniscule odds for the group, I’ll just mention that the next runners-up are Oswaldo Arcia and Mike Zunino (each of whom has 36, although I doubt either gets the 13 more they need to reach the second lowest’s total).

Age 25: First Quartile-201 (100%)
Second Quartile-127 (21.43)
Third Quartile-103 (26.92%)
Second Lowest-93 (25.00%)
Lowest-47 (0.45%)
Giancarlo Stanton would have finished above the top quartile mark if he hadn’t gotten injured. He stands at 181, and he might even reach the top 10 mark all-time for homers through an age-25 season after he returns (four more ties him with Andruw Jones for tenth, another four on top of that brings him even with Ken Griffey Jr.). Stanton has a huge lead on his age bracket; after him, it’s Freddie Freeman at 98, then Freeman’s ex-teammate Jason Heyward at 93. Anthony Rizzo might also reach the second-lowest cutoff assuming good health, currently sitting at 87.

Age 26: First Quartile-241 (100%)
Second Quartile-157 (20.69%)
Third Quartile-133 (36.84%)
Second Lowest-117 (16.13%)
Lowest-73 (0.65%)
No 26-year-olds have even matched the lowest mark among 500 homer players. Wilin Rosario (70) and Mike Moustakas (62) lead the way.

Age 27: First Quartile-275 (100%)
Second Quartile-197 (30.00%)
Third Quartile-171 (31.82%)
Second Lowest-159 (38.46%)
Lowest-95 (0.62%)
Justin Upton stands just shy of Giancarlo Stanton, with 180 homers. A trade to a hitters park might even get him over the halfway mark, although that’s probably a bit of a stretch. After him, it’s Paul Goldschmidt, and while he’s over the lowest 500 home run member’s total, he has a while to go before he comes close the second lowest; at 104 dingers, he’s 55 shy.

Age 28: First Quartile-306 (100%)
Second Quartile-228 (31.58%)
Third Quartile-207 (38.89%)
Second Lowest-180 (20.83%)
Lowest-132 (1.12%)
Top among 28-year olds is Jay Bruce, but his awful 2014 knocked him off the pace quite a bit. He went from above the median at 26 (164) to fighting upwards to the third quartile. He’s at 198 now, and if he really is on the block, a trade out of Cincinnati probably won’t do him a ton of favors in this regard. His early start gave him some room to work with, though. After him, it’s Andrew McCutchen (141), who probably just isn’t enough of a power hitter to challenge the milestone in the long-run, but he is ahead of at least one 500 homer guy. Also, Colby Rasmus (129) will almost certainly hit that same cut-off this year, but that’s about all he’ll do.

Age 29: First Quartile-342 (88.89%)
Second Quartile-273 (50.00%)
Third Quartile-235 (36.84%)
Second Lowest-202 (17.24%)
Lowest-155 (1.79%)
This is a big checkpoint in the quest for 500; half of the club was halfway there by the end of their age-29 season. Unfortunately, no one under 30 today is even at 200 yet. Evan Longoria is at 194 and Adam Jones is at 184, so they might reach the second lowest mark by 2015’s end. Chris Davis (178) and Carlos Gonzalez (154) pick up a mention for likely finishing the year above outlier Rafael Palmeiro (note: Palmeiro is the outlier from age-24 until age-33, at which point Ted Williams takes over for most of the way thanks to his military service). And that’s about it for this age…

And for those wondering, the one in the first quartile who didn’t make it to 500 is Andruw Jones, who snuck into a tie with Hank Aaron and Mel Ott after his age 29-season thanks to back-to-back 51- and 41-homer campaigns. He would fall behind their pace his next season and never recover, however.

Age 30: First Quartile-373 (100%)
Second Quartile-309 (50.00%)
Third Quartile-281 (53.85%)
Second Lowest-236 (17.24%)
Lowest-194 (1.79%)
The age-30 group is doing even worse than the age-29 group. Matt Kemp (193), Ryan Zimmerman (189), and Troy Tulowitzki (188) stand at the top, with a real chance of none of them making it to 200 before 2015 is done, depending on injuries and luck.

Age 31: First Quartile-403 (100%)
Second Quartile-347 (54.55%)
Third Quartile-313 (53.85%)
Second Lowest-277 (25.00%)
Lowest-233 (2.63%)
Prince Fielder is exactly 100 home runs shy of the top quartile with 303. He was among the upper half as recently as two years ago, but his injury-wrecked 2014 wiped out a lot of his margin for error. Now, he’ll either need to have another big season or two like in his 20s to make up ground, or stave off a decline from aging or injury, both of which seem a little less certain. Only two other active players are above Palmeiro: Ryan Braun (248) and Mark Reynolds (233). No one else seems likely to join them. Also, side note, Alex Rodriguez would reach 500 homers at this age, making him the youngest to the mark.

Age 32: First Quartile-445 (100%)
Second Quartile-390 (75.00%)
Third Quartile-344 (43.75%)
Second Lowest-315 (41.67%)
Lowest-271 (3.33%)
Even though he’s injured, Miguel Cabrera is still pretty well set in his quest for 500 homers. He reached 405 before his injury, so while he might not make the first quartile, he’s still in a good spot for his return. Plus, he’s signed for at least eight more seasons, so even if he missed the rest of 2015, he only needs to average about 12 homers per season (his career low, from way back in 2003) the rest of the way and he’s fine (and that becomes under 10 if his two options vest). Seriously though, I had totally forgotten that his 8-year, $240 million extension hadn’t even kicked in yet. Either way, he looks pretty safe (from the "reaching 500 home runs" perspective, if not the "wise investment" perspective).

No one else is particularly close. Edwin Encarnacion has 248; and while they’ve been fantastic, David Wright (231) and Robinson Cano (228) haven’t exactly been posting huge power numbers their whole careers. And more trivia: this was the old record for youngest 500 Club member, courtesy of Jimmie Foxx.

Age 33: First Quartile-477 (100%)
Second Quartile-435 (85.71%)
Third Quartile-370 (53.85%)
Second Lowest-324 (20.83%)
Lowest-314 (14.29%)
Only one 33-year-old has even 200 home runs: Adrian Gonzalez, with 283.

Age 34: First Quartile-505 (100%)
Second Quartile-463 (85.71%)
Third Quartile-404 (53.85%)
Second Lowest-361 (35.71%)
Lowest-337 (7.69%)
A quarter of the club had reached the milestone by this age. Unfortunately, no active players are even close to this pace. Jose Bautista leads the pack, and he’s only at 267.

Age 35: First Quartile-527 (100%)
Second Quartile-494 (100%)
Third Quartile-418 (42.86%)
Second Lowest-398 (100%)
Lowest-366 (5.88%)
It’s interesting that the second quartile mark falls at 494 homers, as no one has ever finished above 493 and not gone the rest of the way. Anyway, Albert Pujols leads the pack here, and he’s already reached the mark with 549 and counting. We can probably start his countdown to becoming the ninth 600 homer guy at this point. After Pujols, it’s Mark Teixeira at 387, who will need this season to be a sign of his health in years to come to have a good chance. At this point, I can see it going either way, to be honest; I’d wait to see if this year is a trend before betting on it, though. At the very least, his odds definitely beat the next on the list, Ryan Howard (352).

(Also, the numbers above might seem weird, but they’re right. By some strange fluke, everyone who finished in the fourth quartile above the outlier eventually reached 500 homers.)

Age 36: First Quartile-563 (100%)
Second Quartile-522 (100%)
Third Quartile-447 (50.00%)
Second Lowest-414 (55.56%)
Lowest-394 (16.67%)
Only one player at this age is even halfway to 500: Adrian Beltre, who just reached the 400 mark earlier this season (he’s now at 402). Given his recent downturn, though, his odds are probably quickly evaporating. Even getting back to his 19-home run level of last season probably wouldn’t be enough this late in his career, especially if he leaves Texas when his contract is up for a less hitter-friendly park. 

Age 37: First Quartile-587 (100%)
Second Quartile-536 (100%)
Third Quartile-474 (75.00%)
Second Lowest-441 (45.45%)
Lowest-418 (16.67%)
Aramis Ramirez leads all active 37-year olds with 380 homers, and given that he says he’s likely to retire after 2015, he probably won’t even reach 400 homers.

Age 38: First Quartile-600 (100%)
Second Quartile-542 (100%)
Third Quartile-498 (100%)
Second Lowest-458 (55.56%)
Lowest-456 (100%)
Carlos Beltran is tied with Aramis Ramirez at 380 home runs. Beltran might at least reach 400 homers since he’s at least penciled in to return next year. He seems to be running on fumes at this point, though. Also, at this point, the 500-homer club’s outlier is so close to the second lowest that it’s rather useless; I just kept it here on out for the sake of consistency.

Age 39: First Quartile-589 (100%)
Second Quartile-548 (100%)
Third Quartile-511 (100%)
Second Lowest-482 (71.43%)
Lowest-479 (100%)
I took out Alex Rodriguez’s career marks since he’s still adding to them, which shuffles the quartile marks a little. A-Rod is on pace to become the fourth 700-homer guy early next year, with 677 so far. That’s not too interesting, though, since it’s way above the milestone we’re looking at.

Thankfully, there’s actually another player worth talking about for our case here: David Ortiz sits at 485 home runs (edit: he hit 486 just after I wrote this sentence). I have to wonder, is there any way he doesn’t reach 500 at this point? I mean, I would have said that about Fred McGriff too, but I feel like this is still a safe bet. The only scenarios I can think of involve career-ending injuries. And I while don’t think he’ll reach the mark this season (he might, though), I can’t see him walking away from the game when he's that close. And even if the Red Sox decide they don’t want him back next season, surely someone will want to give him a try, whether as a short-term placeholder if he’s still playable, or just to market his limp to the mark if he’s not (in which case, maybe it’ll be the same team to take on Ichiro Suzuki as he searches for his 3000th hit). But given how he’s been playing so far, he should be closer to the former than the latter. In the end, I do think the most likely outcome is still him staying Boston until he nets number 500.

After Ortiz, Torii Hunter is next with 347 round trippers, so that’s obviously a no-go. Also, as a historical heads up, the only misses from this point on are Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff, each of whom finished at 493 homers.

Age 40: First Quartile-604 (100%)
Second Quartile-548 (100%)
Third Quartile-512 (100%)
Second Lowest-501 (100%)
Lowest-492 (33.33%)

Age 41: First Quartile-609 (100%)
Second Quartile-555 (100%)
Third Quartile-520 (100%)
Second Lowest-509 (100%)
Lowest-504 (100%)
The only active 40-year-old with even 100 homers is Ichiro (113), so I don’t think I’ll have to worry about updating these figures any time soon.

Overall, that’s fewer people on pace for 500 homers than I thought. While we aren’t seeing as many home runs today as we were ten or twenty years ago, home run rates are still relatively high. Even stranger is the lull in especially strong candidates in the late twenties. We definitely seem to have a young power surge, which might explain that and mean the likely candidates are mostly front-loaded. Nevertheless, we should see at least a few new members reach the big 5-0-0 in the coming years.

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