Saturday, June 30, 2018

The Unremembered Greatness of A-Rod

Maybe it's just me. I don't consume a lot of baseball media, but it doesn't seem like he enters conversations about great home run hitters very often. This impression of mine might also result from the fact I'm not a fan of his. I have called him Pay-Rod and Pay-Roid. I've booed him in Seattle and NY. I wouldn't vote for him to be in the Hall of Fame because of the PED mess he was caught up in though I've mellowed over time about him abandoning Seattle for a divisional rival and an enormous paycheck.

But what can get lost in all the weirdness and oddity that was his career, including a girlish slap at a glove attempting to avoid being tagged out, shouting to distract infielders going after a pop-up while running the bases, and ending his career feuding with the team that employed him and the MLB, is how insanely he could mash a baseball.

Few players were as major-league ready at such a young age and few had greater ability at the end of their career. In his penultimate season, they started him as a DH and bounced him around the bottom of the batting order for the first ten games. After which, hitting .344 with 4 HRs and 11 RBIs, they moved him to bat third for the rest of the year. He hit 33 HRs that year at age 39. That's...not common. It's only been done by 6 players. David Ortiz managed it twice and A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Steve Finley, Darrell Evans, and Hank Aaron all did it once. (While we're on the topic, it's worth noting that Ted Williams hit 29 at age 41 in only 113 games. At that pace, he'd have cleared 33 well before reaching a full season even with only 154 games a year.)

So the old A-Rod finished pretty strong, what about the young A-Rod? Well, he started his first major-league game at 18. He's the second or third youngest player to get to 100 and 200 career homeruns. (Mel Ott, who played in the majors starting at 17(!) is the youngest to each of those milestones.) A-Rod was the youngest player to hit 300 HRs, no one else has reached 300 before the age of 28. He was the youngest to hit 400 HRs, no one else has done it before 30. He was the youngest to hit 500 HRs, just after turning 32. He was the youngest to hit 600 HRs, barely a week after turning 34.

He finished his age 34 season with 613 HRs. By way of comparison, let's look at how many HRs each of the people ahead of him on the all-time list had when they finished their age 34 season.

Babe Ruth, 714 HRs - Age 34, 516 HRs
Hank Aaron, 755 HRs - Age 34, 510 HRs
Barry Bonds, 762 HRs - Age 34, 445 HRs

Bonds is a clear outlier, hitting over 40% of his total after the age of 34. But Ruth hit nearly 200 more and Aaron hit nearly 250 more. Rodriguez could have done less than both, 187 more and been the first man to reach the 800 HR mark. But, injury, suspension, and scandal took their toll, and he fell just 4 HRs shy of joining the elite trio of 700 HR hitters.

With Bonds it's a lot clearer where the cheating started and how big of a boost it gave his career. With A-Rod it's a lot more obscure. He clearly had great talent, but the rumor is that he was cheating from almost the very beginning. He might not have chased 800 without the pharmaceutical help, but he would have still been a star to remember. In an odd way, he might have been even more memorable too, because then there wouldn't have been nearly so many things about him that we wish we could forget.