When not discussing the Giants and the Yankees' completed off season moves with my sports-minded family this holiday a surprising topic came up: Alex Rodriguez. From my mother to many of my friends, everyone wanted to know what was up with him and Kate Hudson, and what I thought he would produce in 2010 (sadly, in that order).
My father and I went so far as to debate whether or not A-Rod would be able to break the all-time home run record. I argued yes, that he doesn't even need to average his current annual home run pace of about 40 and he'll do it with time to spare. Dad argued not a chance, that no one produces at that level for so long, not Mickey Mantle, not Willie Mays, certainly not Alex Rodriguez.
In my mind this raised a question that has nothing to do with left field that may be of interest to Yankee fans. What can we expect from Alex Rodriguez over the remaining 8 years of his monster contract?
Alex Rodriguez turns 35 in July next season. He'll begin the year with 583 career home runs and 1706 RBI. Throughout his career he has averaged 44 homers and 128 RBI per 162 games. Over the past 2 seasons he has averaged only 32.5 homers, 101.5 RBI but he has also managed to play on average only 131 games. Projecting those performances out to 162 games shows that A-Rod hasn't slowed much, despite what at first seem like two sub-par (for him) seasons. His production these past two seasons translates to 40 homers and 126 RBI over a full season. Even as he gets older, A-Rod is still mashing. He's still putting up 40 homer power, so long as he stays healthy for a full year.
According to Baseball Reference Alex's career numbers through the age of 33 (his age for most of last season) are most similar to Hank Aaron, followed by Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx. Looking at the numbers for Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx doesn't bode well for A-Rod. Ott posted strong numbers his age 33 season and then steadily faded from Baseball. Foxx was the 2nd fastest player to hit 500 home runs, but faded faster than Ott. His last productive season came at the age of 32. On the flip side, both of these guys played in the 1930s, before players wore batting helmets.
Hank Aaron's numbers tell a different story. The Hammer played until he was 42. Through the age of 33 he'd hit 481 homers and 1541 RBI. Through the age of 34 those numbers jump up to 510 and 1627. In the five seasons that followed his age 34 season, which will be next season for Rodriguez, according to Baseball Reference, Aaron hit another 203 homers and 410 RBI. That brought him through his age 38 season. Hank had four years left, and he hit another 82 homers and 260 RBI.
Baseball Reference also suggests that for each of the past 2 seasons A-Rod has performed most similarly to Hank Aaron, given his age in those seasons. Prior to that Alex was performing more like Ken Griffey Jr.
I take two things away from these numbers. First, controversy aside, A-Rod remain a once in a generation player whose performance is difficult to compare. He is most similar to a player who sits in the top 5 all-time in nearly every offensive category (its true, Aaron is 2nd all time in homers, 1st in RBI, 3rd in hits, 4th in runs scored, and ... you get the picture). The next two players most similar to Alex shouldn't actually be compared to him because they played in completely different eras. You've done something right on the baseball field when you can only really be compared to Hank Aaron.
2nd, if the Aaron comparison holds A-Rod has many years of good baseball in front of him. All of this assumes that A-Rod doesn't suddenly become injury prone, as he has been the last two seasons. But, if he doesn't (and I think he'll be fine) and he puts up roughly identical numbers to the Hammer, then Alex will have 786 homers and 2116 RBI through his age 38 season, with three more years on his contract. That's good enough for 1st in homers and 3rd in RBI. It would also leave Alex plenty of time to jump into 1st in RBI.
Granted, comparing a ball player to Hank Aaron is a lot like comparing a rock band to the Rolling Stones, but the performance projection isn't as far fetched as it may seem. A-Rod is ahead of Aaron at this point in their careers. Projecting his trajectory to follow Aaron's therefore bakes in some decline in his numbers, and mirrors his performance over the last 2 seasons.
For my part, I believe that A-Rod has it in him. I also think that next season may well be a monster year for him, now that he has so much pressure off his back.