Baseball fans witnessed history Saturday night when Albert Pujols blasted his 600th career home run into the Angel Stadium seats. You already knew that.
But if you’re ready to chalk up the Los Angeles Angels slugger’s milestone as a relatively cool achievement and move on with your life (as many apparently have), we’d advise you to reconsider.
Why? Because you might not see another player reach 600 homers in your lifetime.
First of all, we understand home run milestones don’t carry the same luster as they once did. That’s an unfortunate byproduct of the Steroid Era, which saw guys like Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa bash their way past 500 homers in the early 2000s and make a once-improbable goal appear commonplace.
But 600 home runs is a different story. Only nine players — Pujols now included — are members of the 600-homer club, and no player had reached that threshold since Jim Thome in 2011. So, who will be the 10th member? After all, six of the nine players in the exclusive club passed that mark within the last 15 years, so surely there are others knocking on the door, right?
Well, not quite. Here are the top three active home run leaders after Pujols and their respective ages:
Miguel Cabrera: 451 homers, 34 years old
Adrian Beltre: 446 homers, 38 years old
Carlos Beltran: 428 homers, 40 years old
No other active player has more than 400 homers. In addition, the top 14 active homer leaders all are 33 or older, and the player under 30 with the most dingers is 29-year-old Justin Upton at 232.
In the immediate future, Cabrera is the biggest threat to reach 600. It’s certainly plausible — if he plays until he’s 40, he’ll need to average just over 24 long balls per season over the next six years. Yet that’s a tall task for a guy who’s popped up on injury reports with increasing frequency over the last few seasons. Stats legend Bill James’ “Career Assessments” tool, which predicts the probability of a player reaching a certain statistical goal, gives Cabrera a 35 percent chance of reaching 600 and projects he’ll finish at 577.
After Cabrera, it gets dicey. Beltre would need to play well into his 40s to reach 600 — he’d need 30.8 homers per season if he plays until age 43. Beltran already passed the 40-year mark and has 18 fewer homers than Beltre. You get the picture.
What about the next wave, you ask? Giancarlo Stanton is a prime candidate with 223 homers at age 27. Then there’s the incomparable Mike Trout, who already has 184 blasts at 25, and Bryce Harper, who’s right behind his contemporary at 136. But even this group of young sluggers would have to average about 30 homers per season while playing until almost 40 — Stanton would need 11-plus more seasons of 30-homer ball to hit 600, Trout would need nearly 14 and Harper would need 15 and a half.
Again, that’s not to say that kind of pace is impossible. But it’s pretty darn hard, especially considering today’s players hit far fewer home runs than they used to — only one player has reached 50 homers in a season in the last five years (Chris Davis in 2013).
That’s part of what makes Pujols’ achievement so incredible. “The Machine” hit 37 or more homers in each of his first 11 seasons and has topped 40 homers in seven different campaigns. Even at that remarkable pace — which very well might not be duplicated ever again — it took Pujols 17 years to reach 600.
What we’re trying to say is that hitting 600 home runs in the major leagues is very, very hard, and it only will get harder as better pitchers come through the league. So, do yourself a favor and watch Pujols’ historic dinger one more time, because you might not see another one like it for quite a while.
H/t to SB Nation
Thumbnail photo via Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports Images