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Adjusting the 400 Homerun Club
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 10, 2009
Adjusting the 400 Homerun Club
When I was a kid, the 400 Homerun Club was a big deal. I began watching baseball in 1987, and at that time there were twenty-one baseball players who had hit over 400 homeruns, including active players Reggie Jackson, Dave Kingman, and Mike Schmidt. By the time I turned 16 years old, that list also included Darrell Evans, Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield, and my childhood hero Andre Dawson, though it notoriously did not include Dale Murphy, who left the game after 42 homer-less at-bats in 1993 stuck at 398. We consider him an honorable mention.
Obviously, though, when we are discussing the 400 Homerun Club, implicitly we are talking about guys who did not hit 500 Homeruns. This is because, in baseball, 500 homeruns is the Golden Ticket. With 500 Homeruns, you get the keys to the kingdom, you are royalty, and all others will bow before you or perish where they stand. Players who hit 500 homeruns know where they stand in baseball history. 400 homeruns is harder to know what to do with.
Different Eras, Different Players
As of 1993, the year of the first 1990’s expansion and the beginning of the current era as we know it, there were 12 players with more than 400 homeruns but less than 500, including Honorable Mentions Al Kaline (399) and Dale Murphy (398).
Since 1993, that list has doubled, if you assume as I do that Gary Sheffield will hit the one more homerun he needs to get to 500, but that Jason Giambi and Vlad Guerrero will each hit the number they need to get to 400 (four and eight, respectively). This list also include Honorable Mentions Andres Galarraga (399) and Joe Carter (396). Other than Sheffield, no one is in danger of leaving the list in 2009 (Delgado sits at 469), and other than Giambi and Guerrero no one is in danger of joining the list (Jim Edmonds is within 20, and Andruw Jones is within 30).
For me, the 400 Homerun Club presents two questions that the 500 Homerun Club does not. The first one is:
Why didn’t this player hit 500 homeruns?
And the second one is:
Why was this player able to hit over 400 homeruns?
Any Willie Horton, Ron Gant, or George Foster can hit 300 homeruns. And the greatest power hitters of all time don’t even look upon 500 homeruns as a big accomplishment. But the 400-500 homerun range is such a small window, and so few players have landed there, that it makes me wonder what it is about these players that got them there.
To begin with, we can throw out the idea that there is any single unifying principle among these guys. The reason Duke Snider finished with 400 homeruns is very different from the reason Dave Winfield did.
The Fundamental Issue
Perhaps another way to look at this is:
Which members of the 400 Homerun Club are really 500 Homerun Hitters in disguise, and which members of the 400 Homerun Club are really 300 Homerun Hitters in disguise.
Adjusting the Pre-1993 400 Homerun Club
For the pre-1993 crew, this is a pretty simple exercise. Of the 12 members, three guys right away stand out at 500 homerun caliber players who were hampered into the 400 club. Had Lou Gehrig not ended up with that terrible disease, he would have easily hit the seven more homeruns he needed to get from 493 to 500. Stan Musial, with 475, is certainly a 500 homerun caliber player when one considers his other extra base hits – 177 triples, most of which were hit in his prime, and 725 doubles – and his missed 1945 season due to World War II. And Willie Stargell, with his 475 homeruns, is clearly a 500 homerun caliber hitter when one considers that he never once played 150 or more games in his 21 seasons, and only played over 130 games ten times during that period. Had he managed to play 15 more games per year, he more than likely would have been taking aim at 550 homeruns.
This may be controversial, but I would also make the case for Dave Winfield, who finished his career with 465 homeruns. This is a hard case to make, because Winfield didn’t lose time to any wars, or to injury. In fact, Winfield pretty much reported straight to the Padres after being drafted – he was the fourth overall pick in 1973 and played in 56 games that season. Then he played until he was 43, which is hardly a short career.
Nevertheless, consider the following:
First, Winfield hit 247 homeruns during his career on the road, compared to just 218 at home. This is a shocking number. What if he’d played for the Braves in the 1970s and 1980s? He’d have 600 homeruns. What if he’d played in a neutral park? 494 homeruns?
Second, Winfield played through two strikes. During his prime, in 1981, he played 105 games and hit 13 homeruns. Was he good for eight more that season? Then, in 1994, he played in 77 of the Minnesota Twins 113 games, and he was healthy when the strike began, with 10 homeruns. Was he good for five more than season?
I don’t think it is a stretch to say the guy was good for 35 more homeruns if he’d played in neutral ballparks and had not missed time due to two strikes.
The Rocky Colavito Rule
At the other end of the list, there are four players who are clearly 300 homerun caliber hitters in disguise at 400 homerun caliber hitters. Maybe we could call this the “Rocky Colavito Rule.” Colavito hit 374 homeruns in about 14 full seasons during his career. He had 193 homeruns at home, and 181 homeruns on the road, about what you’d expect. So what is the difference between Rocky Colavito and, say, Dale Murphy? Well, as it happens, Murphy also hit 181 homeruns on the road, but managed 217 homeruns at home. And those 24 homeruns at home make up the difference between Murphy, an honorable mention 400 Homerun Clubber, and Colavito, who is pretty much the quintessential 350 guy.
Guess who else had 181 homeruns on the road? Billy Williams, who is not Honorable Mention but rather all up in the 400 Homerun Club with 426. The homefield advantage makes up the difference for Williams as well.
Of course, we don’t need Rocky Colavito to see through Duke Snider. The Duke hit 40-plus homeruns four years in a row playing for the Dodgers in Ebbet’s Field, a notorious hitters’ park. The Dodgers moved to L.A. when Duke was 31, and he only hit over 16 homeruns one more time during his career. If not for Ebbet’s Field, Duke may not even be a member of the 300 Homerun Club.
We also don’t need Colavito to see through Al Kaline. I love Al Kaline, and take nothing away from him. Indeed, I have always considered his 399 homeruns maddening. No need. During his career at Tiger Stadium, Kaline hit 54 more homeruns at home than on the road (226/172). He would not have finished anywhere near 400 without the boost.
Quintessential 400 Homerun Club Guys
After eliminating those four players, on top of the four at the top of the list, we are left with just four remaining members of the 400 Homerun Club from pre-1993 – Carl Yastrzemski (452), Dave Kingman (442), Andre Dawson (438), and Darrell Evans (414).
It is tempting to want to bounce Yaz, but 452 homeruns is solid. He clearly benefited ridiculously throughout his career from his home park (.904/.779 OPS split), and would not be a Hall of Famer if not for Fenway. But he hit 215 homeruns on the road – neutralize that and you still get 400. Plus, he played right through the most hitting depressed period of the modern era (1964-1968) and lived to tell about it.
It is also possible to attack him on longevity lines. I don’t think that’s fair – longevity is part of the game, and some guys last a longer than others. Now, Yaz probably would have retired way before 1983 if not for Fenway making his numbers look livable, but he still would have had 400 homeruns if he’d retired four years earlier.
Yaz didn’t sneak across the line – he put the line away.
Kingman is also on this list. If he’d managed himself better, he would have played a lot longer and had more success, but he may have had fewer homeruns. You can’t take anything from him as a homerun hitter – his power was pure. But I’m can’t see a way to give him 58 homeruns either. If he’d played in 1987, the year after he’d retired, and hit 30 more homeruns, it would be interesting at 472. If he’d played until he was 42 like some of these other guys and trickled his way into the 490’s, it would have been interesting. He’s probably right where he is.
I expected Dawson’s numbers to be home-skewed, since he enjoyed some homer-happy years at Wrigley Field, but he actually hit more on the road. I also expected to want to give him a boost based on injury and era, but I don’t really see anywhere that he was robbed of significant homeruns. Like Winfield, he also played through two strikes, but adjustments probably bring him to 450, maybe 460. In my opinion he is just one tier down from Winfield as a homerun hitter, a quintessential 400 Homerun Club guy.
I initially counted Darrell Evans amongst the “300 Homerun Clubbers in Disguise,” and a fair argument could be made. At the end of the day, he’s really just like Yaz – he played forever, which is allowed, he hit 195 homeruns on the road, which is reasonable. He didn’t slam dunk 400 homeruns, but I think he earned it.
Adjusting the Post-1993 400 Homerun Club
We will leave aside era for the time being, because I would argue away that none of the contemporary 400 Homerun Cub members could hang with the pre-1993 crowd, but that is not what this is about. So, same analysis as before.
First, which of these guys is actually a 500 Homerun Clubber in disguise?
Off the top of the list, three guys immediately stand out (remember, Gary Sheffield at 499 has already been moved ahead). The first is Fred McGriff, who is tied with Lou Gehrig at 493. Why? First, seven homeruns is negligible over a 20 year career. Second, he had 34 homeruns when the 1994 strike broke out – I think he would have managed seven more that season alone. And third, he hit 252 career homeruns on the road – neutralize that and you’ve got a 500 homerun hitter.
The next guy that stands out on the list is Jose Canseco. Say what you will about Jose and his antics, his steroids, his ego, and his off-the-field behavior – in a vacuum, this guy was an elite homerun hitter. He finished his career with 462 homeruns, with a 219/243 split. He played in 154 games in 1991, then managed to play just one more full season from 1992 to 2001 before retiring at the age of 36. If he manages to make two of those seasons complete, or if he manages to not get blacklisted late in his career, he gets 38 more homeruns just by showing up with a bat.
Then there is Carlos Delgado. He is currently 37 and has hit 30 or more homeruns in all but two full years of his 16 year career, including 38 last year. He currently has 469, and in this day and age, he will hang out until he gets 500 if he has to play six more years.
There is one more player I am going to bump up into the 500 homerun category, but you need to brace yourself because I am about to drop some drama – Mike Piazza, and his 427 homeruns, are in the 500 homerun club. Craziness, right? Well, not exactly.
Piazza, in my opinion, is the single most home-field disadvantaged player of all time. He has a home/road OPS split of (.880/.960); the number of players with a .960 OPS on the road period you can count with two hands. Plus, playing catcher, he pretty much stopped playing full seasons after the age of about 33, long before his homerun hitting ability left him. Not only is Piazza a 500 homerun caliber player, but I would put him ahead of many of the players on the 500 homerun list.
The bottom of the list is a really difficult exercise, because there are so many players that you could say “If he hadn’t played in the 1990s, he wouldn’t be on the list.” But again, that’s not the point, or at least isn’t yet.
Joe Carter, who is only on the list as an Honorable Mention, fails the Colavito test, with 183 career homeruns on the road. He too played through the 1994 strike, but that balances his home/road, if anything. Plus, Joe Carter sucked.
Andres Galarraga fell short of 400 by one, but unlike Kaline, he had a 202/197 home/road split so he doesn’t get disqualified there. He also played through the strike in 1994, and had 31 homeruns, so he almost certainly would have hit his 400th homerun, and probably his 410th homeruns. Plus, he missed all of 1999 due to cancer, after three straight years of 40-plus homeruns, so he probably would have hit another 30-40 there. Dude’s a 400 Homerun Clubber, and may even be a 500 guy if you really got me started.
Obviously, Galarraga benefited from Coors Field, and we have to take that into account. But we did – he only hit five more homeruns at home than on the road in his career.
Quintessential 400 Homerun Clubbers from After 1993
I can’t really take anything away from the rest of these guys – Cal Ripken, Jr. (431) played every single day forever and did so in, at best, a neutral park; I’d say he earned it. Chipper Jones has spent his career in a park not known for giving up homeruns, and has been injured often. Juan Gonzalez makes a better case for the 500 homerun club than the 300 homerun club – 237 homeruns on the road (vs. 197 at home); missed the strike year; played his last full season at the age of 31. He also has steroids written all over him, but that’s a different matter – this guy is Ralph Kiner of the modern era.
So tallying up the score, and making the correct adjustments, we redistribute the 400 Homerun Club as follows?
500 Homerun Club
400 Homerun Club
Cal Ripken, Jr.
300 Homerun Club
I am very interested to hear the thoughts and comments of anyone reading this – not as to premise, but as to adjustment.
Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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