Paul Konerko had Chicago White Sox fans watching his stat line in anxiety for 18 games before he hit the anticipated milestone, but he finally came through to hit his 400th home run on Wednesday. It took long enough for Konerko to reach 400, but the wait felt worthwhile as White Sox fans heard their favorite Hawk Harrelson phrase.
As Konerko rounded the bases after jacking the first pitch of the ninth inning off Oakland Athletics reliever Grant Balfour, White Sox fans were filled with ecstasy. For White Sox fans, it was hard to settle down after he bashed it over the fence.
Once the feeling had worn off, White Sox fans were left to wonder how many more the 36-year-old slugger might hit in his career.
The average baseball observer could write him off as being incapable of hitting 50 more home runs, partly due to age and partly due to his plans to retire after the 2013 season, as he said in January.
However, the notion that simply due to his age he won't hit too many more home runs is short-sighted. Konerko has had a mid-30s renaissance after experiencing two down years in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, he had a career year with 39 home runs (second in the American League), a .551 slugging percentage), a .393 on-base percentage and a .977 OPS (fifth).
He nearly matched that in 2011 with 31 home runs, a .388 on-base percentage (sixth), a .584 slugging percentage (fourth) and a .906 OPS (seventh).
Konerko has started his 16th season well, notching a .357/.423/.614 slash line through 18 games.
Also, Konerko has the demeanor to continue to knock a good number of balls out of the park. He's calm, healthy and isn't known to party much.
Konerko hits home runs at a nice rate. For his career, Konerko has hit a home run every 18.2 at-bats (17th among active players and 77th all-time). In 2011, he drove balls out of the yard once every 17.5 at-bats.
Taking into account some possible decline due to age, one could project Konerko to hit one every 18 at-bats this season and once every 20 at-bats next season. If Konerko collects 546 at-bats this season, as was his average for the last three seasons, then he would hit 30 home runs this season.
If he plays a fewer games in 2013 and ends up with 520 at-bats, then he would hit 26 home runs in what is expected to be his final season.
Interestingly, that would give Konerko 456 homes runs, including 449 with the White Sox, beating Frank Thomas' franchise record by one.
This is a rather moderate projection. It assumes that the White Sox won't have a first baseman waiting in the wings who they'd want to start for 40 games or more. Also, it assumes good health, which isn't guaranteed for someone who is in the latter part of his career.
Still, it's fair for Konerko, who has remained healthy for the last three years. Konerko's health and placid persona could be a great boost for him as he marches through the waning stages of his career.
White Sox fans love Konerko, and while it would be strange to see him unseat "The Big Hurt" as the franchise leader in home runs, it would be a welcome sight. Fans loyal to the team on the south side of Chicago want to see Konerko hit as many home runs as he reasonably can as his career comes to a close.
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