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Adjusting the Homerun Clubs
by Asher B. Chancey, BaseballEvolution.com
April 10, 2009
Adjusting the 700 and 600 Homerun Clubs
Here’s the premise of this series of articles – many baseball fans erroneously use homeruns as a method of judging a player’s overall value. The best example is those who thought that Hank Aaron hitting his 715th homerun made him better than Babe Ruth.
I think homerun totals could be used in this respect, but I think we need to make an adjustment. So let’s do it.
You know what? Adjusting the 400 Homerun Club was so much fun, let’s keep it going. After all, the 400 homeruns club isn’t the only one with suspect members.
The 700 Homerun Club
No Pat Robertsons in this 700 Club. Only Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, and Barry Bonds.
Remember, Bonds haters, this isn’t about era and it isn’t about steroids. Yet.
Rather than going least to most, we’ll go first to last, starting with Babe Ruth.
Babe Ruth his 714 homeruns in his career. Until someone shows us that he hit 100 more homeruns at home than on the road, we don’t take anything away from him. But he was also the second best homerun hitter, per at-bat, of all time. Could a case be made for the 800 homerun club? The Babe played from the age 19 to the age 40, so you can’t argue he was deprived seasons. He did pitch for the first five years of his career, but he also led the league in homeruns with 11 in 1918 – I don’t get the impression he would have hit more than 20 homeruns in any of the seasons he played as a pitcher. He also had a couple of injury seasons, but nothing too horrendous.
Fact is, I think Ruth is the greatest homerun hitter of all time. I don’t see how I can add 86 homeruns to his total to put him in the 800 homerun club.
Hank Aaron ended up almost as perfectly in the middle of the 700’s as one can with 755 homeruns. He was both helped and hurt by his home parks during his career, and ended up with a 385/370 split. It is hard to find a player more solidly in their club than Aaron.
Barry Bonds is laden with issues – era, performance enhancement, general discontent. I won’t give the guy credit for not hitting homeruns at the beginning of his career because it was the 1980s, or for the season he missed in 2005 due to injury, because that’s what happens when you’re 40 sometimes. I’m also not going to give Bonds credit for being pitched around so much – if he didn’t have such an eagle eye, he may not have had the homeruns he did have.
Bonds ended up with 379 homeruns at home and 383 on the road – can’t take anything from him there. Could he have played in 2008, and probably 2009 as well? Yes, despite being 43 and 44 years old. Could he have hit 38 more homeruns had he played in 2008-2009? Probably. But I don’t think we can assume he would have automatically.
So, three guys with 700 homeruns, three guys in the 700 homerun club.
The 600 Homerun Club
This used to be known as “Willie Mays,” but the modern era of baseball being what it is, this is now a well-populated group comprised of Mays, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Sammy Sosa. We won’t lump in Frank Robinson and Mark McGwire here, but rather wait until we deal with the 500 Homerun Club.
Since Willie Mays has 660 homeruns, the first question we have to ask is – should Willie Mays be in the 700 Homerun Club? Here is the most compelling argument for Mays – he missed most of 1952 and all of 1953 due to the Korean War. In the year he returned he hit 41 homeruns, and then he hit 51 homeruns the year after that. Would he have hit 40 more homeruns had he not gone to war? Almost certainly.
Here’s the second argument for Mays – in 1965, he hit 52 homeruns at the age of 34. The following year, the National League went into a pitching dominated era that it wouldn’t recover from until 1969. That cost him some dongs, but I am less compelled to give him credit for this – I haven’t taken homeruns away from guys because they played in 1998, and I didn’t give any to Babe Ruth for playing in the remnants of the deadball era.
Besides, I think Mays gets his 40 homeruns on his war years alone, and I am putting him in the adjusted 700 homerun club.
The task with Sammy Sosa is easy – again, leaving aside steroids and era for now – because his ego has cost him at least two seasons – 2006 and 2008 – during which he almost certainly would have hit 15 to 20 homeruns each season. He played a nice long career, and he hit 609 homeruns, and I see no reason to take any away from him. He also played through a strike at a time when he was good for 35 homeruns per year, and only hit 25.
Sosa very nearly fails the 600 Homerun version of the Rocky Colavito Test – he hit 288 homeruns on the road to go with 321 on the road. This gives me pause. But not a lot.
Which brings us to Ken Griffey, Jr., who may be the most difficult homerun adjustment we have to make above to 350 mark. Before we break it down too much, here are the basic numbers – he began his career in 1989 at the age of 19, and is still playing today at the age of 39. He has 612 career homeruns, with a 319/293 split. Nothing, to this point, makes us think he should be knocked down into the 500 Homerun Club.
The question becomes – is there a way to give him 88 homeruns so he can be in the 700 Homerun Club? Let’s take a look.
As we all know, at the beginning of the 2000 season Griffey was a 30 year old with 399 homeruns. At that point, he was an honorary member of the 400 homerun club, but if we’d performed this exercise in 2000, we would have adjusted him upward. He played through the strike in 1994, and had 40 homeruns in 111 games; he probably was good for 20 more. He also missed more than half of the 1995 season and hit only 17 homeruns – good for 20 more there? Who knows? What we do know is that at the age of 30 he was firmly part of the 400 homerun club, and given another 10 years was on pace for 800 homeruns.
Assuming he would have hit 20 more homeruns in the strike shortened 1994 season, but giving no credit for the 1995 injury season, lets say that at age 30, he had 420 homeruns. In order to get to 700 homeruns, we’d have to give him 280 homeruns over the next nine years, or and average of 31 homeruns per season. So the question is, how many homeruns did Griffey lose due to injury.
In 2000, he hit 40 homeruns despite missing 17 games.
In 2001, he hit 22 despite missing 51 games.
In 2002, he hit 8 homeruns while missing 92 games.
In 2003, he hit 13 homeruns while missing 109 games.
In 2004, he hit 20 despite missing 99 games.
In 2005, he hit 35 while missing 34 games.
In 2006, he hit 27 while missing 53 games.
In 2007, he hit 30 while missing 18 games.
In 2008, he hit only 18 while missing only 19 games.
Can we divine any trends here? He hit 30 or more homeruns three times from 2000 to 2007, and each time they came in seasons in which he played 128 games or more. Besides those seasons, he hit 20 or more homeruns three times, and did it in seasons in which he played 111, 109, and 83 games.
The point? Even during his injury plagued decade with the Reds, with the exception of last season at the age of 38, Griffey was still a very good homerun hitter. If he could have averaged 130 games per season during that span, he would have averaged 30 homeruns as well. If he’d been healthy, it is hard to figure that he’d have not hit 88 more homeruns during that period, which only would have required an average of 11 more homeruns per year.
At the same time, let’s not get carried away. I wish Griffey had beat Bonds to 755 as much as the next guy, but he didn’t just miss 700 homeruns – he isn’t close. A case can be made, but that same case can be made again at the end of this season if Griffey stays healthy and hits 30 homeruns. Until then, the 600 Homerun Club is not a bad place to be.
So, before we tackle the 500 Homerun Club Beast, let’s look at what we have:
700 Homerun Club
600 Homerun Club
Ken Griffey, Jr.
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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