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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 AngelsJose 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.

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