Nate Silver has been the man about town lately. Famous within baseball circles for his groundbreaking statistical work with Baseball Prospecuts, Silver broke out in a big way when he, on his site FiveThirtyEight, predicted a Barack Obama win to the electoral vote. When he analyzes, people listen.
Yesterday, in a Baseball Prospectus story syndicated on ESPN.com’s Insider, Silver examined the future career of Alex Rodriguez (subscription required). The outcome for Yankee fans is not a positive one.
First, Silver notes that A-Rod is not an easy man to analyze. PEDs or no PEDs, his career numbers to date have been at the top of or off the charts. As Silver notes, though, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.”
Yet, A-Rod has numerous factors in his favor. He’s very athletic; he is playing for $30 million in incentives; and he could end as he began his career with a bang. However, Silver notes that A-Rod also will suffer from age, an injury risk and the fact that, when push comes to shove, he might just not need that extra. His comparables through his current age include Ken Caminiti and Sammy Sosa as well.
The bad news for Yankee fans is this:
I took Rodriguez’s top 20 PECOTA-comparable players and averaged their performances over each remaining season of their careers…Comparables like Frank Robinson, who aged well, have a favorable effect on Rodriguez’s forecast, and players like Caminini just the opposite one.
PECOTA’s best guess is that Rodriguez will finish with 730 lifetime home runs, running out of steam after another three or four seasons and leaving him just shy of the marks established by Aaron and Bonds. Of course, there is a lot of uncertainty in this estimate. If Rodriguez follows the path charted by Aaron or Frank Robinson, he could finish with well in excess of 800 home runs (and possibly as many as 900). On the other hand, if he draws Albert Belle’s ping-pong ball, he might not top 600. Overall, the system puts Rodriguez’s chances of surpassing Aaron at only about four in 10 and of surpassing Bonds closer to three in 10.
One needs to remember the ways Aaron and Bonds finished out their careers were far from typical. At least as common are folks like Jimmie Foxx (before Rodriguez, the fastest player to 500 home runs), who hit just 34 home runs after turning 33. Only about a dozen players have hit 200 or more home runs from their age-33 seasons onward; Bonds and Aaron are the only two to have hit at least 300.
The worse news is Silver’s home run projection for A-Rod.
A-Rod is committed to the Yanks until 2017. Based on Silver’s projections, A-Rod and his contract will be dead weight by the start of 2013, and he’ll still have four more overvalued years left in the Bronx.
Of course, as we all know, baseball isn’t played on computers. Chemically aided or not, A-Rod will have his fair share of opportunities to prove the projections wrong, but history isn’t on his side.