Saturday, August 3, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

If it were up to me, Alex Rodriguez would be playing baseball.

But since he's almost certainly not going going to be for a while...

There's every chance now that he may fall short of Willie Mays after all. It turns out? 660 is hard. Really hard.

For a long time after Mays and Aaron, no one really threatened to reach their neighborhood.

Mike Schmidt actually had a shot at it...he had 530 after his age 37 season, with a most recent three years of 33, 37, 35. Coming off a 142 OPS+. If he had averaged 25 a year through age 42, that gets him to 645...but in fact, he only had a year plus remaining, and 18 HRs.

That's when the real chances began, right after he retired.

Mark McGwire's monster full seasons were at ages 34 and 35. The next year was a half-season, 321 PAs, but he didn't tail off at all: 32 HRs, 203 OPS+. That gave him 554 HRs. Any kind of normal career tail-off would have pushed him close to 70 HRs, maybe more. Instead, only more year, more injuries, done.

Sammy Sosa probably wasn't good enough to get to more than 700, but 660 was well within his reach. His last Cubs year he had 35 HRs, age 35, to get to 574. Then a bad year with the Orioles, retirement, a comeback year with the Rangers, and that's it. He managed 21 HRs in that comeback year, giving him 609 through age get to 660, all it would have taken is to play in that retirement year and get 20, and then hang on a few years as a part timer. Didn't happen.

Ken Griffey finished with 630. He retired during his 40 year old season, and certainly played as long as he could -- even given a normal come down from his early peak, it's unlikely he could have played into his 40s. But of course his story is all about the injuries -- he only reached 500 PAs three times after age 30.

Did Jim Thome really ever have a chance? He ended up with 612, so we're talking about finding another 48 HRs. I sort of think he maxed out...sure, there were some injuries in there, but not all that many. He was 41 in his final season; he probably could have hung on a while longer if he got lucky, but he wasn't going to get more than 15 in a season any more, and even that is stretching it.

A Rod? If he's only going to miss this season, he'll still make it easily. But if he misses this year and next, who knows? He needs 13. He had 18 last year, at age 36, playing hurt. If he comes back reasonably healthy in 2015...well, he probably only has to hold a job for two seasons, maybe one. The 2010-2012 version was certainly able to do that, but there's really no way of guessing what two years off would do. Presumably, Aaron and Bonds are out of his reach...Ruth? Possible. But, again, possible he doesn't have 13 HRs remaining.

And then there's Albert Pujols. If he's done for the year, he's at 492 through age 33. That's plenty of time to get there -- guys as good as him can play through age 42, so if he averages only 20 a year for 10 years, no problem. But maybe he has five seasons remaining. Too early to count him out, but he sure is reminding everyone how hard 660 is.

That's not even thinking about the other flame-outs...Albert Belle was on pace, and so was, actually, Andruw Jones...I don't think Mo Vaughn was, but he wasn't that far off. I suppose you could also go back and talk about Mantle. Manny Ramirez was certainly on his way, with 527 through age 36.

No real point here, other than what Mays, Aaron, Ruth, and Bonds did was probably even more amazing then people realize.


  1. "No real point here, other than what Mays, Aaron, Ruth, and Bonds did was probably even more amazing then people realize. "

    One of these things is not like the other... If Ruth or Aaron had used the same PEDs Bonds did, they would have had 800+ HRs.

    As for Arod, if he gets suspended for a year or two and his Yankees contract voided, I doubt he makes it back into MLB. He could wind up playing in Japan or some place like that but any homers hit there wouldn't count towards 660.

    1. "If Ruth or Aaron had used the same PEDs Bonds did, they would have had 800+ HRs"

      Simply no way to know what happens if you put Ruth, Aaron, or Mays into 1990s conditions.

      It is true, certainly, that it was easier to reach 600 in the era Bonds played in. No question about that.

      But who knows? Among other things, 600+ HR hitters in the last decade stand an excellent chance of being blackballed out of the game. Maybe that happens to Aaron. Maybe his body breaks down, the way that McGwire's did.

      We don't know how Ruth would have done with the PEDs that Mays and Aaron used, either. But then again Ruth didn't have to deal with night games, air travel, or people who looked like Mays and Aaron. Or, for that matter, people from the Dominican, and from Japan.

      Oh, and odds are that Ruth and Aaron wouldn't take what Bonds (almost certainly) took, because being strong was considered bad for baseball players during their era. Which is most certainly more important, as far as era differences, than *how* 1990s players got strong.

      There's just no way to know how any of this stuff translate across eras. Nor, for that matter, do we have any real idea of how much of what anyone took, and for how long, and what effect (if any) it had.

    2. Yeah, I have to agree with Ron E. that I don't find what Bonds did amazing at all. The same way I don't think what Brady Anderson did was amazing.

      JB, I do wonder what your solution to the PED issue is. Your stance on the hall of fame is clear. You want Bonds (and I guess the other ones, but mostly Bonds in the HOF) You seem to have adopted the "it wasn't cheating because the rule wasn't on the books." But it also seems to be lumped in with the "well they cheated in the past and we let them into the hall of fame" argument, which doesn't whole-y ring true. Yeah Maris and Mantle were injecting horse stuff into their bodies, but the difference between that and anabolic laboratory-created steroids is significant. And taking Greenies also not the same as giving muscles to muscles.

      Regardless, my question is going forward what is the solution? Do you want it to be a libertarian utopia of use whatever you want or do you want there to be some regulation? Do you understand the unlevel playing field as an argument worthy of banning PEDs? Do you think the lack of testing technology is a reason to not test at all?

      Also, in my opinion all of the HR career stats mean nothing anymore, I'm not even sure why you continue to follow them. When 10 of the Top 25 played a baseball game in the last five years, you sort of take the history of the game and the HR with you.

    3. Solution? I'm OK with them banning whatever they want to ban -- assuming they do it properly, with agreement from the union. I'm OK with enforcing that with penalties...I'd probably set the penalties less severe, but whatever. What should be banned? Pretty much things that create collective action problems, which means anything that helps you play but also causes long term harm. In other words, things that are actually in the players' collective interest to ban.

      I think witchhunts beyond the rules are terrible. I think that marginal cheating around whatever rule they set isn't a "ruin the game" type of big deal.

      I don't understand how someone could be a baseball fan and not think that what Bonds did wasn't amazing.

      As far as career stats: as always, they need to be understood within a context.

    4. What Bonds did isn't amazing *at all*? Bonds played baseball in an era where dozens of players, many of them excellent sluggers, were using PEDs. Only one of those guys hit more career home runs than Hank Aaron and has the second highest career WAR of all time for a position player. Maybe it's not fair to compare Bonds with players of other eras (but of course, that's pretty much true of all eras). But it's certainly fair to compare him to his steroid using contemporaries, and he towers over all of them.

  2. Jonathan, what's your thought on the impact of relief pitchers (you left them out of your reconciliation to Ron E)? I don't know the particularls, but I recall colloquially that a large part of DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak was attributable to facing tired pitchers a third or fourth time, late in a game. Would the old-timers be willing to put an asterisk on DiMaggio's streak compared with Rose's, relief-era 44 game streak in 1978? Any takers? Crickets?

    I think the issue with Bonds is not so much that he (allegedly) took PEDs, but rather that he took PEDs to generate substantial improvement off an amazing base. I made the point the other day that Scutaro's 36 and 37-yo seasons were, like Bonds', about 50% better than his career average. Suppose the Giants clubhouse guy provided Bonds and Scutaro with the same, magic, "old guy 50% better than himself" beans.

    In Scutaro's case, those beans cause him to go from a below-average hitter to a very good one. For Bonds, they cause him to transition from best hitter ever to...something incomprehensible.

    A non-Giants fan can avoid Scutaro's achievements, if the fan doesn't like them. But Bonds' incomprehensible 35-39 yo years are impossible to avoid, its impossible for a stat fan to avoid their long shadow. It wasn't just that he allegedly used synthetics to be better than himself; its that he used them to be better than the best player ever. Awfully difficult to replicate that - and avoid those stats, if they make you uncomfortable.

  3. I'm among those who consider DiMaggio's hitting streak to stand above a given number of home runs, by season or career total. Joe had 91 hits in 56 games, batted .409, and struck out just five times. After Cleveland third baseman Ken Keltner made two outstanding backhanded plays to prevent hits on July 17, 1941, DiMaggio went on to hit safely in another 16 straight games.

    I couldn't find box scores or stats that show which time at bat or whether hits were against relievers and so on (as noted by brother CSH, above) but it is a logical assumption that during a penultimate or final time at bat, the crowd would be on its feet and adrenaline flowing not only in Joltin' Joe but in the reliever as well. If such advantage did exist, it would have also been available to contenders such as Pete Rose and Paul Moliter.

    As a die-hard Cubs fan I've never been an admirer of the Yankee empire or its stars, with the exception of Joe DiMaggio and I always felt his remarkable accomplishment should be recognized. Meanwhile ... Go, Cubs!

  4. So, you piqued my interest. In a never-ending quest to cement my status as the Biggest Geek Ever (TM), I went to the uber-awesome baseball-reference, from there to the play-by-play on, to see: did DiMaggio really benefit from tired pitchers in the late innings?

    I only got through games 37-56 of the streak, didn't have the geek cred to make it all the way to the first game, but those last 20 reveal some interesting data:

    Average opposing pitchers per game: 1.95 (no, they didn't complete every game in 1941).

    No. of DiMaggio 1-hit games from 37-56: 10 (out of 20)

    No. of 1-pitching opponent games, 37-56: 6

    No. of 1-pitcher (opponent) games where DiMaggio got one hit: 5.

    To the extent that a DiMaggio one hit game would tend to correlate with a Yankee loss, it would seem that pitchers completed games when they were doing well (i.e. no Mariano Rivera closer-type).

    And finally, when in those 10 one-hit games did DiMaggio get his hit? Once in the 7th inning, and once in the 8th innning, and the other 8 were 6th inning or earlier.

    Meme debunked. That was a lot of fun, if incredibly nerdy. I don't know what I ever did before these intertubes came along.

  5. Ted Williams gave up 5 years of playing to military service. If he had played those years and hit for his career average HRs per year(37) he would have had another 185 homers for a total of 706. Williams could have played another year I think as he hit .316t with 29 HRs in his last year.


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