You know what feels old school in today's world of baseball? Scoring. One week into the season, here is the tally of hits versus strikeouts (via Joe Sheehan):
Holy cow, right? There have been 91 games played so far, and teams are averaging 8.3 hits a game (a number Major League Baseball hasn't been below since 1917) … and 7.9 strikeouts (up from 7.7 last season, which itself was the highest in MLB history). You're nearly as likely to see a strikeout as a base hit! That is unprecedented in baseball history; these are numbers that are a lot stranger than the inflated home run totals of the Bonds/McGwire era.
The collective MLB ERA is 3.70, down from 3.74 last year, 3.87 in 2013 and 4.01 in 2012. That 3.70 total would be the lowest since 1978, when it was 3.69. Scoring is actually up by .1 runs a game, due mostly to an increased error percentage in the early going, to be expected in the first month of the season. Which is to say it will go back down. Like everything else in baseball.
It's a league of barren offense, which makes for taut, fiercely contested games featuring great defense, timely hitting and lots of extra innings. (Another thing we're seeing more than ever in recent years.) I tend to love this sort of baseball: Your runs should mean more by being rarer, and extra-inning games are the only thing free in this world anymore. But I understand: You miss the homers. I miss the homers sometimes, too.
Which is why, if you'll forgive me, I've been getting such a kick out of Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols this season. They've only hit three homers between them, but they've all been big, and historic. Pujols is off to a slow start (.182/.250/.545), but two of his four hits have been homers; A-Rod is probably the best hitter on the Yankees right now (.300/.417/.550), and he is making headlines via Barry Bonds (who says he'll cheer when A-Rod passes Willie Mays), which maybe isn't the best way to make headlines but sure beats the way A-Rod has been making headlines the last few seasons.
There is something charmingly retro about home run milestones. I'd missed them! There was a stretch where home run records were dropping in every direction, but now we've sort of forgotten about them. They're still happening, just not just at the very top of the all time lists. I think it means something to be among the top 100 home run hitters in a game where there have been more than 18,000 people to play it. To be among the top 100 all time is a massive achievement.
So let's play the career home run game among active players. Currently, No. 100 is Darryl Strawberry, at 335. Let's take a look at the top 15 active home run hitters, and see where they are on the list currently and where they might land by the time they retire.
15. Adam LaRoche, Chicago White Sox
Spot on all-time list: 216th (tied with Deron Johnson and Mickey Tettleton)
Hey, look at you, Adam LaRoche! Rare that you find a home run hitter not named Mike Piazza who plays for three teams in a season like LaRoche did in 2009, but he's always been underappreciated (he has never even made an All-Star team). He's a perfect fit for the White Sox, who have him signed for this year and next. It's not unreasonable that he will hit 50 homers the next two seasons, no, maybe more? Here's guessing LaRoche, when he retires, will end up as one of the quietest 300-home run hitters in baseball history.
Predicted final total: 305
14. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays
Spot on all-time list: 213th (tied with Vern Stephens)
Pretty solid for a guy who didn't have a home in his first 127 plate appearances. Bautista never made it above 20 homers a season until his age-29 season, when he went out and hit fifty-freaking-four. It's been 43, 27, 28 and 35 since then, and with that swing, more are coming. He started too late to make too much of a dent in the all-time list, but 300 seems a lock.
Predicted final total: 345
13. Adrian Gonzalez, Los Angeles Dodgers
Spot on all-time list: 182nd (tied with George Hendrick)
Well, this is the right way to start: Five homers in the first three games for A-Gone. He's batting a possibly-not-sustainable .609 right now. Gonzalez looks as lively as ever and is signed until 2018. That ballpark will still suppress some homers, but if he plays one year after that contract is signed, he'll need to average 26.6 homers a year to reach 400. I'm not sure he'll quite make it, but then again, I didn't see the guy putting up a .471 OPS-plus for the first week of the season either.
Predicted final total: 390
12. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals
Spot on all-time list: 174th (tied with Tom Brunansky, Raul Mondesi and George Scott)
Holliday hit 34 homers in 2006 and 36 in '07 thanks in large part to Coors Field, but he's never hit more than 28 anywhere else. He has also never hit fewer than 20 since 2005, barely reaching that number last year. He's really not a home run hitter as much as a guy who hits screaming line drives that have to stop eventually, and he's homerless so far this year. He's a Cardinal for this year and next, and you can almost see him finishing his career in Colorado after that. Holliday will get passed on this list by then, though.
Predicted final total: 315
11. Prince Fielder, Texas Rangers
Spot on all-time list: 147th (tied with Bobby Abreu, Del Ennis, Bob Johnson and Hank Sauer)
If he can stay on the field, Fielder should soar up this list, especially in Texas. But health is obviously the issue: He hit only three homers in 178 plate appearances last season, and he has zero in 32 so far this year. Fielder is still only 31 years old and bashed 38 homers as recently as 2011. Plus, he's signed through 2020 (sheesh!), which means there will be plenty of incentive to put him in the lineup every day. If he averages 20 home runs a season over the rest of the contract, he'll end up with 408 homers. I think he can get just above that. But four years ago, it looked like 500 was a cinch. If Fielder finds his old form, that's still a possibility. But that's rather wishful thinking.
Predicted final total: 414
10. Torii Hunter, Minnesota Twins
Spot on all-time list: 104th (tied with Hank Greenberg and Derrek Lee)
He's back for a "remember me" lap in Minnesota this season, but he's off to a wretched start, 3-for-21 on the season with no extra-base hits. He hit 17 homers last year with Detroit. Ten with Minnesota sounds optimistic, to be honest. Hunter only reached 30 homers once, in 2006, but he has been playing a long time.
Predicted final total: 340
9. Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
Spot on all-time list: 101st
It's sort of sad to write about Howard now, the former National League MVP Award winner whose team could literally not give him away for a bag of peat moss right now. In a full season last year, he still only hit 23 homers (and struck out 190 times), and he's 3-for-20 so far this year. The Phillies still have two more years left on Howard's deal -- they're almost there! -- and at this point, why not keep playing him? It'll help with the Draft picks. But the end is going to be as ugly as we all feared it would be.
Predicted final total: 375
8. Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees
Spot on all-time list: 80th
He has flashed a little of the old power this season, with two homers in his first five games, even if he only has four hits total. The Yankees are giving Teixeira more rest at first base than in years past, which may help his health, but won't help that HR total. Will he be out of baseball after his contract runs out in 2016? Maybe Teixeira could stick around as a Jason Giambi type, but I'm not sure he's going to make it to 400, something that seemed assured as recently as 2012.
Predicted final total: 390
7. Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
Spot on all-time list: 76th (tied with Todd Helton and Ralph Kiner)
No one has ever paid much attention to Ramirez, partly because he has played exclusively in the NL Central. (The Reds and Cardinals are the only teams in the division he hasn't played for.) He hit 38 homers back in 2006 for the Cubs, but was limited to 15 last season and doesn't have any home runs so far in 2015. Ramirez has already said he will retire after this season, so this is where it ends for him. Let's be generous and give him 15 more before he says goodbye. That would give a lifetime total greater than Larry Walker, Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk.
Predicted final total: 384
6. Carlos Beltran, New York Yankees
Spot on all-time list: 74th
Here's a guy who could use some elevated counting stats to further boost what I bet turns out to be a highly contentious Hall of Fame debate. He's getting plenty of at-bats so far for the Yankees, even if he isn't doing much with them, hitting .167 with no homers. But he's still Carlos Beltran, and he will eventually hit. The question is how much will he hit before he breaks down. Reaching 400 homers before his contract ends after next season will be key for any Hall of Fame debates. I'm guessing Beltran will make it, barely.
Predicted final total: 401
5. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
Spot on all-time list: 58th
He's still relatively young, even if he doesn't always look it, but more to the point: The massive contract extension Cabrera signed in March 2014 hasn't even kicked in yet. He has eight years, $240 million starting next year, which means we're going to be seeing a lot of Cabrera, for a long time. He has two homers in 2015 and leads the AL in RBIs and hits. It's all about health, of course. How many homers are you willing to project for him over the next nine years, on average, per season? He could hit 40 this year … but hit five in 2023. Let's be conservative and go with 24 a season for the next nine years, counting this one. That gives Cabrera … whoa.
Predicted final total: 608
4. Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers
Spot on all-time list: 55th (tied with Joe Carter)
Beltre's continued excellence has taken him from, "Are we sleeping on Adrian Beltre as a Hall of Fame candidate?" to "Oh, obviously Adrian Beltre is in the Hall of Fame" -- and he continues to play every day. He actually leads baseball in plate appearances so far. He seems very likely to be traded at the Trade Deadline this year or next -- his contract runs out after next season -- but a physical specimen like Beltre would seem to have four years left in him. He was down to 19 homers last year: 15 a year the rest of his career seems like a safe bet.
Predicted final total: 454
3. David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox
Spot on all-time list: 33rd
He's off to a slow start (.130/.259./.261), but he's Big Papi: He'll hit. His home run total last year, 35, was his highest since 2007 and probably isn't predictive. The Red Sox have $10 million options on him the next two seasons (along with some performance incentives), so I'd guess his last year will be 2017. His lowest total as a Red Sox player was 23 in 2012. So let's give Ortiz the benefit of the doubt and say 25 a year these last three years, and basically Larry Bird-type stats in Boston for life.
Predicted final total: 542
2. Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Spot on all-time list: 18th
Next up is Jimmie Foxx; he's 12 away. Pujols is only 14 behind Mickey Mantle and 24 behind Mike Schmidt. And oh yeah, Pujols is signed through 2021. Despite his decline in L.A., this is still one of the best hitters of in baseball history; even in a down year in 2014, he hit 28 homers, and the two bombs he has hit this year are a reminder of what he can do with proper rest and treatment. So. Seven years left. Can we guess, say, 20 a year over that time? That gives us enough wiggle room: Maybe Pujols can stay healthy and get above it, but there's still some crash potential at the end of the contract. Let's say 20 a year, counting this year but not counting the two he has hit already. That leaves us with … oh my.
Predicted final total: 662
1. Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees
Spot on all-time list: 5th
He's still here, and he still has that swing: That bases-loaded double Sunday was a thing of beauty. Assuming Rodriguez stays with the Yankees, he'll be around for three more years, and considering he's their best hitter right now, they might not want him gone, anyway. But how much can we reasonable expect, even with this resurgence? More injuries are coming, after all: It's A-Rod, and he's old. The Yanks would be ecstatic, I'd think, with an average of 15 homers a year these last three years. That strikes me as a little high -- and a little too fevered considering how he's hitting right now; he still only has one homer, after all -- so let's call it 13 per season. And then the A-Rod conversation will have only just begun.
Predicted final total: 694