What Superstars Will Be Next to Hit MLB's 500 Home Run Milestone?
The sterling 14-year career of Albert Pujols has landed him among a valley of baseball giants in the 500 home run club. Upon Pujols' inclusion, 26 major league hitters have reached the milestone across the history of the game. From Ruth to Bonds to Sosa to Pujols, a litany of special power hitters share the same type of baseball immortality.
As usual, sports fans will digest the news and crave for the next big thing. In this case, a question emerges: Who will be the next sluggers to join Pujols in the illustrious homer club?
The answers might be harder than you would assume. With Pujols officially leaving the 400 home run club, behind, only five active players currently have between 400 and 499 career homers. Of those, only one is under the age of 35. Two are no longer everyday players.
For the first time in years, this type of projection is really difficult. Over the past two decades, it was easy to see future greatness in stars like Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. To be fair, there's at least a handful of hitters—if not more—destined for special careers.
Using a combination of gut feel and ESPN's Bill James Career Assessments projections, the future of the 500 home run club has emerged.
Statistics are from Baseball-Reference.com, ESPN and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. All contract figures courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. Roster breakdowns via MLBDepthCharts.com. Statistics valid entering play on April 22.
Adam Dunn, Chicago White Sox
Career HR: 443
Bill James Assessment: 97 percent
Adam Dunn has had a confounding career. On one hand, he's almost a lock to become just the 27th hitter to ever reach 500 home runs. Combined with a .366 career on-base percentage and an adjusted OPS better than 20 percent above average, a legitimate Hall of Fame conversation could be brewing around the hulking White Sox slugger.
Yet, it's not. Due to embarrassingly bad defense (-27.9 career defensive WAR), more than 2,000 strikeouts and a career batting average of .238, the anti-Dunn crowd has spent years wondering why he has been allowed to exist as a one-dimensional player for 14 seasons.
Regardless of where you stand on Dunn's career value and accolades, he's on the path to surpassing 500 home runs. Since becoming an everyday player in 2002, he's averaged 35 homers per season. With less than 70 to go before No. 500, the White Sox designated hitter could reach the feat before the end of the 2015 season.
Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Career HR: 367
Bill James Assessment: 97 percent
Unlike some members of the 500 home run club, Miguel Cabrera isn't thought of as simply an all-or-nothing slugger. Instead, the career .320 hitter is one of most prolific offensive forces in the history of baseball.
Despite never topping 45 homers in a single season, Cabrera's consistent excellence—fortified by back-to-back American League MVP awards—has put him on the path for immortality. Along the way, 3,000 hits and 500 home runs should become footnotes on Cabrera's career credentials.
After signing a massive contract extension prior to the 2014 season, Cabrera is tied to the Detroit Tigers through at least the 2023 season, with vesting options for both 2024 and 2025. Even if decline eventually hits the right-handed hitting dynamo, time is on Cabrera's side.
Heading into the 2014 season Cabrera needed only 135 homers to join the club. If he averages a paltry 13.5 long balls per season over the next decade, the mark will be reached. In reality, we could soon be talking about Cabrera joining Henry Aaron as the only players in baseball history with 600 home runs, 2,000 RBI and 3,000 hits.
Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers
Career HR: 287
Bill James Assessment: 38 percent
The landscape of baseball has changed in recent years. Due to a rise in young, dominant pitching and drug testing curtailing the use of performance-enhancing drugs, the game is no longer flush with hitters who are certain for the 500-homer mark.
Case in point: Beyond Dunn and Cabrera, Prince Fielder—with less than 300 career long balls—is next on this list. It's quite possible that the 2012-2013 Detroit Tigers had two future 500-homer hitters, culminating in back-to-back trips deep into October baseball. Of course, Fielder is no longer in Detroit after an offseason trade sent him to Texas.
That gives Fielder a chance to put together a special career. With a fresh start in a hitters park, Fielder has a chance to reprise the early-career power numbers that boosted him into consideration on this list. From 2006-2011, Fielder averaged 38 home runs per season for the Milwaukee Brewers.
If he can morph back into that type of hitter for the next four seasons in Texas, Fielder will enter his age-34 season with roughly 435 home runs. That figure would put him on the same trajectory Adam Dunn is today.
Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Career HR: 217
Bill James Assessment: 4 percent
As with most things surrounding Ryan Braun, this projection is complicated. In this case, it's important to remember that the Bill James Assessment is simply an algorithm based on age, consistency and statistics at certain junctures of every individual career. When Braun lost most of his 2013 season due to the Biogenesis fallout, he seemingly lost his shot at 500 homers.
How? Consider this: If the Bill James Assessment was conducted for Braun entering last season—adjusting his age, career homers and three-year track record—the results would look startlingly different. In fact, the figure would come in at 34 percent, roughly what his former teammate Prince Fielder currently sports.
Algorithms and stat-based assessments aside, it's hard to believe that one lost year cut Braun's chances at 500 homers by 30 percent. Based on what we have seen thus far in 2014—.584 slugging percentage entering play on April 23—the power is as good as it's ever been.
If Braun can finish the 2014 season with 250 career homers, he'll enter his age-31 season halfway to the club. That would profile as more Gary Sheffield at the same age. Sheffield went on to hit 273 homers after his age-30 season, ending with 509 for his career.
Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins
Career HR: 123
Bill James Assessment: 26 percent
Giancarlo Stanton is more than six months away from his 25th birthday, more than 75 long balls away from the 200-homer club and only in his first arbitration-eligible year. To say that the Miami Marlins slugger has a long, long way to go before reaching the heights Albert Pujols recently did would be an understatement.
While Stanton has a long, successful career to forge before truly entering the 500-club radar, he's more than on the path to greatness. In this history of baseball, Stanton's 117 homers through his age-23 season ranked 10th, per Baseball-Reference. Some of the names below the Marlins slugger on that list of young power-hitting monsters: Henry Aaron, Miguel Cabrera and Pujols.
If Stanton finishes the 2014 season with 160 homers, he'll need to average 34 per season for the next decade to reach the mark. Considering his light-tower power, health would be the only thing capable of stopping that kind of run of dominance.
For some players, 123 career home runs would be too far from 500 for true consideration. As baseball fans have come to understand, Stanton is rare talent worthy of special praise and projection.
Agree? Disagree? Which active players will one day enter the 500 home run club?
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