Thursday, July 5, 2007

How Safe are Various Career Baseball Records?

Over at the Discussion Boards, someone posed a question about the top ten lists for various major league career records. This made me think about how secure the top spot is for the various offensive and pitching categories. Here's my analysis.

Offense (Batting and Stolen Bases)

Batting average - Ty Cobb leads with .366; active leaders are Ichiro (.334); Todd Helton (.332) and Albert Pujols (.331). All these guys would have to average .400 for the rest of their career to get close. The best average hitter of our generation (Tony Gwynn) fell 28 points short at .338. Cobb's record is safe from all active players. With the emphasis on HR's and specialized pitching, Cobb's record is probably safe for a lot longer than that.

Runs - Rickey Henderson leads with 2,295; Barry Bonds is only 99 behind. Bonds will probably set a new record if he plays past this year.

Hits - Pete Rose leads with 4,256. If Derek Jeter plays for 10 more years (to age 43) and averages 200 hits per year, he'll get to about that number. Jeter has collected 200 hits in 5 seasons so far and will probably make it this year. Still reaching 4,256 seems very unlikely--the number of 200-hit seasons by players of 40 and older is exactly one (Sam Rice in 1930; the second highest total for a 40-year old is 175 by Ty Cobb in 1927). Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) is only 100 hits behind Jeter and 2 years younger, but he's only gotten 200 hits three times in his career. He'll be focusing on a more glamorous record by the time he gets to be 40. Ichiro would have had a fighting chance if he came to the U.S at age 22 instead of age 27 (or if his Japanese stats counted). He could reach 3,000 hits in 14 or 15 seasons. It's not far-fetched to envision another Rose or Ichiro coming along some day.

Home Runs - You know about this one. Hank Aaron's record 755 will do well to survive July 2007. A-Rod has a great chance to beat whatever figure Bonds retires with.

Stolen Bases - Rickey Henderson leads second place Lou Brock by almost 500 (1406 to 938). The only player I see with a glimpse of a chance is Jose Reyes, who has 198 at age 24. He would have to average 80 steals a year for 15 years to get close--unlikely, particularly since he has decent power, although Henderson hit 297 HRs to go with his SBs.

In order from most likely to least likely to be broken: HRs, Runs, Hits, SB's, Batting Avg.


ERA - In an age where the league leader for a single season struggles to stay below 3.00, a career ERA of 1.82 (Ed Walsh's record) seems safe until there's a cataclysmic change in the game. However, it's conceivable that a Koufax-like supertalent could come along, pitch 10 years with a sub-2.00 ERA and then retire.

Wins - Similarly, a pitcher could average 25 wins per year for 20 years and still be 11 wins short of Cy Young's 511 total. Not gonna happen in an era of 5-man rotations and pitch counts. Maybe if an extended war drafts all the good arms to battle to throw hand grenades, leaving one uber-talented pitcher with flat feet to pitch every third day.

Saves - There's no immediate threat to whatever number north of 500 (currently 506) Trevor Hoffman retires with (except perhaps Mariano Rivera, but I can't see him pitching until he's 45, which would probably be required to pass Hoffman.) Billy Wagner (340 at age 35) could also threaten if his career goes as long as fellow lefty John Franco. Among younger pitchers Francisco Rodriguez of LA Angels is intriguing with 130 saves at age 25. 40 saves per year for 10 years would put him over 500. This record is not safe past 10 years.

Strikeouts - Nolan Ryan fanned 5,714 batters, more than 1,000 ahead of the two closest pitchers, Rogers Clemens and Randy Johnson, both of whom are 43 or older. The youngest strikeout artist is Pedro Martinez, who has 2,998 at age 35, but a sore arm for his efforts. Johan Santana has 1,271 at age 28. 250 K's per year for 16 years (to age 44) would leave him 500 short of Ryan. Ryan amassed 300 K's in six individual seasons. Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Pedro have all the 300 K seasons for active players (Johnson's 334 in 2002 being the most recent). This record is apparently safe from all active players and probably from the game in its current state--though another freak of nature like Johnson could come along and get started earlier (unless Johnson is even more of a freak than we know and pitches until he's 50.)

In order from most likely to least likely to be broken: Saves, Strikeouts, ERA, Wins

Thanks to for the stats needed to do this analysis.

No comments: