Wednesday, May 12, 2010
BTF: Bonds' record will fall soon
By Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory
Nearly three years ago, Barry Bonds hit home run No. 756 off Mike Bacsik of the Nationals to pass Hank Aaron on the all-time homer list. Bonds was unable to sign with a team after the 2007 season, and while he still hasn't officially announced his retirement, his chances of adding to his 762 career homers are slimmer than a 2010 World Series in Houston.
It's no great shock that, given the explosion of offense in baseball between 1992 and 1994, someone would topple Aaron's record. What might be surprising is that Bonds was the only one to come within sniffing distance. This is a testament to what a difficult accomplishment 755 is, even at a time when it's a bit easier to hit homers. However, there are a few current players with a shot at the home run record, and we have enough data to set the odds on who has the best chance.
A big part of Aaron's success was his health. From 1955 through 1971, Aaron averaged 153 games a year. Thanks to simply being able to play in a lot of games, he managed to get the career record despite not having the most home runs before the age of 30 or after 30. While the 366 homers Aaron had through his age-30 season don't exactly make him the tortoise in this fable, he clearly was off the pace of the best before or since.
Even with better medicine and training regimens, age and injury knocked off most of Aaron's recent competition, except for Bonds, who slugged 292 through age 30 (and isn't among the leaders listed above) and 470 after, which is when he did most of his damage. Griffey, once the favorite to pass Aaron, has played in 140 games in a season just twice in the past decade and is at the end of the line. Mark McGwire was out of baseball three years after hitting 70 in a season, and Sammy Sosa struggled to clear 600. Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome can still get to 600, but neither has enough time to make it much further than that. So we can pretty much close the book on that generation.
So, of the younger generation, who could catch Bonds? A-Rod and Pujols are the obvious candidates. Rodriguez, despite a disappointing start, should finish this season with around 150 homers to go and seven years remaining on his 10-year, $275 million contract. Pujols is a good month from being halfway there and just turned 30 this winter. But what about everyone else?
To figure out the odds of Bonds' record being broken, I used the Monte Carlo method and aging probabilities derived from baseball history. In the end, I came up with 11 current hitters with an established chance at hitting 763 home runs.
Unsurprisingly, A-Rod and Pujols are the prohibitive favorites. After those two are a lot of players who should see their chances either increase or decrease sharply in the next few years.
If Justin Upton continues to develop into a 30- to 40-homers-a-year player, he could be clearing 100 by his 25th birthday. Ryan Howard and Adam Dunn don't seem like great candidates to age well, but if they age like Jim Thome instead of Mo Vaughn, they both can make serious runs.
Don't underestimate the effect that parks can have on these chances. If Adrian Gonzalez had stayed in Texas, for example, his odds would go up significantly. If Bonds or Aaron had played in the Houston Astrodome, we probably wouldn't even be talking about them as record holders right now.
Of the 11 players above, my model estimates a 70 percent chance that one of those 11 names will break Bonds' record, which is a good thing if you're not a fan of the controversial ex-Giant.
Dan Szymborski is the editor in chief of Baseball Think Factory.