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March 25, 2007

Every Given Sunday

The 500 Home Run Club

by John Perrotto

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  • The 500-home run club is about to become a lot less exclusive.

    Its doors have been opened to only 20 sluggers in baseball history. However, this season, as many as five players may hit their 500th homer.

    Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter Frank Thomas is the closest as he has 487 while Chicago White Sox DH Jim Thome has 472, Boston Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez has 470, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has 464, and Detroit Tigers DH Gary Sheffield has 455.

    However, two questions arise when it comes to the 500-homer club: do all the recent additions cheapen the honor, and is it tainted because of the steroid allegations that have swirled around the game in recent years? Thome certainly doesn't think so and looks forward to reaching the milestone at some point this season.

    "You understand how hard the work is to get where you're at," Thome told the Chicago Tribune. "It's not easy. It's definitely kind of neat. What's neat is the guys mentioned and the guys in that club. You know what good players they are. To be that close to an elite club like that is an honor in itself."

    White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko says there is no question that Thome will be remembered as a legitimate power hitter who did not cheat.

    "Jimmy's reputation around the league when he came here (last season in a trade from Philadelphia) was that there was nothing bad about him, that he was the best teammate, a great guy," Konerko said. "A lot of times you hear that stuff about guys, and you get let down when you play with them. He's better than advertised."

    PECOTA advises the White Sox not to make too many grand plans for a 500 celebration this season, as it projects Thome to hit only 25 home runs in 2007. That would leave him three short--but PECOTA projects him to hit 34 homers next season.

    PECOTA has Thomas and Ramirez joining the club this year with projections of 34 homers for Thomas and 33 for Ramirez. However, PECOTA expects Alex Rodriguez, like Thome, to come up just short this year with 34 homers, two shy of 500.

    Finally, PECOTA doesn't like Sheffield's chance of ever hitting the 45 homers needed for 500. It projects him for 11 this season, followed by eight, nine and seven before being out of baseball in 2011 when he would finish his career at 490.

  • The utility of spring training statistics has long been debated.

    Most baseball people believe they mean little in predicting regular-season performance. John Dewan, founder of STATS, Inc. has found that a spike in slugging percentage during exhibition play can be an indicator for a potential breakout seasons by hitters.

    Yet it still is jarring to see St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols hitting just .263 with no home runs in 57 at bats going into the final week of spring training. After all, he has hit .332/.419/.629 in his six-year career.

    "I don't look at the statistics," Pujols told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I look at quality at-bats and the balls I've hit hard."

    "Obviously, I don't feel good what I'm hitting. I don't feel I'm where I want to be. But I'm happy the way I'm swinging the bat because I'm driving the ball the other way when they're pitching me away. I'm staying back on the off-speed pitches."

    Pujols has generally had productive springs. He has batted over .400 twice and .300 twice in the last five exhibition seasons and hit six homers twice in that span.

    "It's always great to be over .300 because it gives you a little confidence in yourself," Pujols said. "The results could have been better. I know I could have had a couple of more hits here and there and there were a couple of balls that the wind has brought back. I could have been hitting .450 or .400.

    "Now, if I'm like this at the end of April, then I worry about it. And, even in April, I won't worry about it because it's a long season."

  • All-time stolen base leader Rickey Henderson continues his crusade to make the steal relevant again.

    A special instructor in the Mets' camp this spring, Henderson suggested earlier in the month that New York shortstop Jose Reyes could be the man to break his single-season record of 130 steals set in 1982 with Oakland. Now, Henderson wants Mets center fielder Carlos Beltran to run more often.

    "He needs to be aggressive," Henderson told the Newark Star-Ledger. "His percentage is real great. I think he just doesn't run enough. He has to put it in his mind when he gets out there, 'If I get a good jump, just take off."

    Beltran has been successful on 227 of his 259 career steal attempts. The .876 percentage is the best in history among players with 200 tries.

    Beltran stole a career-high 42 bases with the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros in 2004 but only a combined 35 in his two seasons with the Mets, 17 in 2005 and 18 in 2006.

    "I want to steal more bases," Beltran said. "But it's not about me trying to go out there and steal every single base. It's about when I have the opportunity to help the team, I would like to steal more. It's as basic as that.

    "I don't want to go out there and steal bases just because I want to steal 50 bases and get thrown out 30 times."

    Henderson, who had an .808 success rate on 1,406 of 1,741, has a different way of thinking.

    "It doesn't matter how many times you get thrown out," Henderson said. "A lot of times, when you steal a base, you're going to score a run. And the most important thing is how many times we can come across that plate and give the team an opportunity to win a ballgame."

  • A total of 51 percent of Cincinnati Reds left fielder Adam Dunn's hits have gone for extra base during his six-year career. He has 198 home runs, 151 doubles, six triples and 340 singles.

    However, Dunn says he has a new role model this year

    "I'm going to be Ichiro," Dunn told the Dayton Daily News, referring to the Seattle Mariners superstar center fielder. "I'm going to have 216 hits, 177 of them singles, six homers and steal 77 bags."

    Dunn is exaggerating but has spent the majority of spring training working on hitting the ball up the middle and to the opposite field in an effort to improve upon his .234 batting averages of last season. While Dunn has never been a high average hitter, with a .245 lifetime mark, he has made up for it with a .380 OBP and .513 slugging percentage.

    Reds General Manager Wayne Krivsky enjoys watching Dunn's new approach.

    "I love seeing those singles and the ball going to all fields," Krivsky said. "He's positive about it, too. I hope he stays positive because sometimes he is his own toughest critic."

    Dunn wants to be known as a complete hitter and has spent hours with new Reds hitting coach Brook Jacoby throughout spring training in an attempt to make it work.

    "I know I'm a good hitter because I've done it before," Dunn said. "It's down inside of me somewhere and I'm going to get it out of there."

    While PECOTA doesn't see Dunn morphing into Ichiro, it does project him to raise his batting average this season to .265 to go with 40 homers, 102 RBIs, a .386 OBP and a .568 SLG.

  • Three years ago, the Texas Rangers' "DVD" trio pitching prospects were being hyped as much as any in the game.

    However, lefthander John Danks, righthander Edinson Volquez and righty Thomas Diamond haven't exactly lived up to that hype.

    The Rangers traded Danks to the White Sox for Brandon McCarthy over the winter. Diamond underwent reconstructive elbow surgery March 20 and will miss the entire season.

    Volquez, meanwhile, is reportedly headed to Class A ball after going 1-6 with a 7.29 ERA in eight starts last season. Volquez is 1-10 with a 9.20 ERA in 14 career starts over the past two seasons.

    Just how bad is that?

    According to research by the Dallas Morning News' Evan Grant, of the 3,019 pitchers who have started at least 10 games since 1900, the only one with a higher ERA is Hayden Penn, who has gone 3-6 with a 9.31 ERA in 14 starts for the Baltimore Orioles over the past two seasons.

    The all-time worst pitcher in that category was Charlie Strecher, who went 0-10 with a 10.32 ERA in 10 starts for the 1890 Philadelphia Athletics. Rounding out the bottom five are two modern-day pitchers: Andy Larkin, who was 3-11, 8.86 in 39 games, 15 starts, for the Florida Marlins (1996-98), Cincinnati (2000) and Kansas City (2000); and Eric Ludwick, who was 2-10, 8.35 in 35 games, 12 starts, for St. Louis (1996-97), the Oakland Athletics (1997), Florida (1998) and Toronto (1999).

  • From the rumor mill: Look for the Chicago Cubs and right-hander Carlos Zambrano to agree on a five-year contract extension this week worth somewhere in $80 million-$90 million range...Arizona continues to push reliever Jorge Julio in trade talks and would also consider giving up reliever Juan Cruz. Florida is willing to deal left-hander Yusmeiro Petit for Julio but not unless the Diamondbacks come off their stance of being unwilling to pay any of his $3.6 million salary...Texas continues to look for a backup catcher and has targeted the Los Angeles Angels' Jose Molina and Philadelphia's Chris Coste and Carlos Ruiz in trade talks. The Phillies could be a partner as they need relief help and the Rangers would consider dealing Rick Bauer, Scott Feldman or Wes Littleton...San Diego could release infielder Todd Walker after losing to him in a salary arbitration hearing last month. If the Padres cut Walker by Friday, they would only have to pay one-fourth of his $3.9 million salary in severance pay, which works out to $975,000... Pittsburgh, apparently not entirely convinced that Salomon Torres can step up from set-up man to closer, has been scouting San Francisco's Armando Benitez for a possible trade.

  • John Perrotto is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and covers Major League Baseball for the Beaver County Times. You can reach John by clicking here.

    John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
    Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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