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November 14, 2000

Ask Dave

All About Alex

by Dave Pease

I wondered if any of you had any opinion on Scott Boras's assertions that Alex Rodriguez will hit 778 HR. Rob Neyer pooh-poohed the idea in his column, but I don't think it sounds unreasonable at all in today's climate.

--DS

Well, as I'm sure you know by now, Rob has explained his take on Boras's projections in his column. If you haven't read it yet, head on over and check it out.

What's important here is the exact language Boras used in the report. For example, if Boras said the following:

Alex Rodriguez is the most probable of any player in MLB to break the career home run record.

Well, that's almost certainly true. I can't think of a player that has a better chance than Rodriguez. But what does the statement really mean? The best analogous statement I could come up with is " Ralph Nader is the most probable of any third-party candidate to win the presidency". When his chances are compared to the Pat Buchanans, Harry Brownes and John Hagelins of the contest, they look good. That isn't at odds with the fact that his chances are very slim indeed.

That's probably not what Boras was saying. If he was seriously positing that Alex Rodriguez would probably end his career with 778 home runs, it's a good thing that Boras doesn't make long-range projections for a living. Certainly, it's possible that Rodriguez hits that many home runs, but anyone who thinks that it is likely is on crack.

Let's take a closer look at the statement. Rodriguez currently has 189 home runs to his name, which means he needs 589 home runs to match that projection. He's still only 25 years old.

  • If he plays until he's 35, Rodriguez will need to average 59 home runs a year from now on.

  • If he plays until he's 40, he'll need to average 40 home runs a year.

I think we can agree it's far-fetched to think that Rodriguez will challenge the single-season home-run title every year for the next ten years; chances are, if he leaves the game before he's about 40, he won't make it.

A lot can happen in 15 years.

  • Rodriguez could miss some time. It's nearly as much a stretch to think that Rodriguez will play full-time for 15 years as it is to think he'll hit 40 home runs in each of those years. Injuries happen, and for every player with Cal Ripken's injury history, there are a bunch of players with Tony Gwynn's health problems. Baseball is a tough game, especially when you're a middle infielder; it's even more so when you near 40 years of age.

    Let's say Rodriguez misses a season. In the remaining 14 seasons, he now has to average 43 home runs to match the record. Missing time will add up.

  • Rodriguez could suffer a serious injury. Missing time is one thing, but every year careers are impacted by more serious injuries. Rodriguez is very healthy, but so was Don Mattingly when he was 25. So was Kirby Puckett. And nobody was in better shape at 25 than Bo Jackson. We might be talking about Mark McGwire's home run record, rather than Hank Aaron's, if McGwire hadn't had chronic foot and back problems.

  • Rodriguez could get tired of playing. I don't agree with the school of thought that today's players retire earlier because they get paid so well. Looking at the average age of major leaguers doesn't bear that line of thinking out.

    But there are some players who retire before they have to because they're ready to get on with their lives, and who knows whether Rodriguez will be one of those players? Over in football, Barry Sanders retired within shouting distance of Walter Payton's total yardage record because he just got tired of playing for the Lions. In basketball, Michael Jordan retired while he was still a great player. Rodriguez is in the same class as those two greats. And in baseball, Will Clark, coming off one of his best seasons in years, has retired. It wasn't that nobody wanted to sign him (otherwise known as the "Chris Gwynn retirement plan"). It was because he didn't want to play baseball any longer.

I'd agree with Boras when he says that if any player in baseball today has a chance to break the home run record, Alex Rodriguez is that man. But a career record as well established as that one requires that you both be very good and that you play forever. This early in Rodriguez's career, it's foolish to assume he'll be hitting bombs in 2015.

Of course, Boras is essentially a salesman, and a good one. It's his job to be on crack regarding his clients. He's going to say these things to get his client signed for an ungodly amount of money. I just hope nobody is taking him too seriously.

In case you're interested, here are Clay Davenport's Wilton projections for Alex Rodriguez's entire career. Unlike some of the goofier predictions that have been published lately, Clay has a few seasons in Rodriguez's future in which he manages to break a .300 average, which seems like a prerequisite of a sane prediction to me.

Year AB H 2B 3B HR BB SO SB CS AVG OBP SLG EQA EQR
1994 54 11 0 0 0 3 20 3 0 .204 .246 .204 .153 2
1995 142 33 6 2 5 6 42 4 2 .232 .264 .408 .225 13
1996 601 215 54 1 36 59 104 15 4 .358 .419 .631 .335 128
1997 587 176 40 3 23 41 99 29 6 .300 .351 .496 .289 94
1998 686 213 35 5 42 45 121 46 13 .310 .362 .560 .305 126
1999 502 143 25 0 42 56 109 21 7 .285 .362 .586 .303 93
2000 554 175 34 2 41 100 121 15 4 .316 .427 .606 .344 133
2001 568 192 30 2 51 79 109 27 7 .338 .419 .668 .352 140
2002 550 178 30 1 48 85 107 28 6 .324 .415 .641 .345 133
2003 551 184 32 1 44 94 107 28 6 .334 .432 .634 .352 137
2004 527 177 29 0 44 95 102 26 7 .336 .437 .641 .354 133
2005 505 165 24 0 44 93 98 19 5 .326 .431 .636 .350 125
2006 498 174 25 0 45 97 97 15 4 .348 .454 .669 .366 134
2007 477 162 21 0 42 91 93 17 3 .339 .445 .646 .359 123
2008 464 164 22 0 45 96 90 17 2 .354 .465 .694 .377 132
2009 447 150 18 0 40 89 87 6 2 .335 .445 .645 .358 114
2010 440 146 18 0 38 86 86 4 1 .333 .442 .635 .355 110
2011 422 136 18 0 33 85 82 3 1 .322 .436 .602 .346 101
2012 383 117 15 0 23 76 75 1 0 .304 .419 .525 .323 79
2013 345 93 13 0 17 68 67 1 0 .270 .390 .455 .296 60
2014 329 89 10 0 16 76 64 1 0 .270 .407 .445 .302 60
2015 299 76 9 0 12 72 58 0 0 .254 .398 .405 .289 50
2016 277 64 8 0 12 67 54 0 0 .232 .382 .387 .278 43
2017 266 56 8 0 10 63 52 0 0 .212 .362 .352 .260 36
2018 247 47 7 0 8 60 48 0 0 .191 .349 .311 .244 29
Tot 10721 3336 531 17 761 1782 2092 326 80 .312 .409 .577 .330 2329

If Rodriguez avoids serious injury and plays as much as projected, we think he'll beat the record by six home runs--not quite what Boras has projected, but something his new team will likely be pretty happy with.

Dave Pease can be reached at dpease@baseballprospectus.com.

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

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