The 40/40 Club: Who's Got Next?

One of my Christmas gifts this year was a calendar. Not a wall calendar, mind you, but a desk calendar that has a tear-away page for every day of the year. It was issued by FOX Sports, and each page has a different bit of sports trivia on it. It certainly wasn’t my flashiest gift, but it’s already proven itself to be surprisingly thought provoking. For example, yesterday’s fact stated that there are only four members of baseball’s 40/40 club: Jose Canseco (1988), Barry Bonds (1996), Alex Rodriguez (1998) and Alfonso Soriano (2006). While that may not be the greatest collection of baseball history’s talent, there’s no questioning the fact that it is exclusive company. I guess I never really thought about the fact that only four had done it, but it did get me thinking about who might next earn membership to this club.

After looking up stats over the past couple of years, I came up with the following cast of characters as being those with the most legitimate shot at reaching this mark:

Player HR SB FB% HR/FB ASD* Pull SB%
Beltran, Carlos 27 25 33.3% 15.7% 394.6 gap 89%
Holliday, Matt 25 28 32.7% 17.5% 408.4 center 93%
McLouth, Nate 26 23 46.9% 10.9% 389.2 line 89%
Ramirez, Hanley 33 35 36.7% 19.2% 405.5 gap 75%
Rios, Alex 15 32 38.3% 7.4% 389.7 line 80%
Rollins, Jimmy ('07) 30 41 44.2% 10.7% 375.3 line 87%
Sizemore, Grady 33 38 45.7% 14.5% 387.4 line 88%

* = Average Standard Distance; an average distance of homeruns, in feet, that neutralizes external factors like weather and ballpark

What strikes me about this list is that, with the exception of Holliday, these are not guys who are known primarily for their power, nor will they likely ever be known for their power. Beltran has been a prolific power hitter at times throughout his career, but I still think of him as a “speed” guy more than a “power” guy. This is worth noting because of the members of the 40/40 club, Soriano is perhaps the only guy I would think of as a speed-first type of player – and that’s only because Chicago continues to bat him lead-off. I’m sure some of my perception of them has to do with the fact that I’m more familiar with their later careers where their speed had waned significantly, but the list of 40/40 hopefuls certainly seems like a list of guys whose speed will hold up throughout their entire career.

Anyway, my original intent with this article is to see who might become the next member of the 40/40 club, let’s look through everyone individually. Beltran, who’s one of my personal favorites, certainly has the ability – he’s achieved 40 homers and 40 steals in different years, and he was 2 homers shy of the mark in 2004. Some worry about a decline in ability, but for someone who will be 32 next season, I don’t think a continued decline is imminent. His solid homerun distance and proven gap power bode well for this. However, only a third of Beltran’s batted balls were flies last year, which was really low for him. If this spikes like it did in ’06 and he gets more stolen base opportunities (his stolen base success rates have been consistently good), he could have a shot at it. Since the latter scenario is far less likely to happen at this stage in his career, however, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Holliday, as I stated before, is the oddball on this list because he has typically not been considered much of a speedster. 2008 was a bit of an anomaly for him in this regard, as he shattered his career marks for stolen bases and times caught stealing (meant he had less last year). Holliday could very well continue to be a 40 homerun threat even in Oakland, but don’t expect him to get anywhere near 40 steals. Oakland is not a running team, and I wouldn’t expect a middle-of-the-order guy to change that based off one good year.

Nate McLouth’s power helped establish him as a legitimate outfield threat last year, but his speed has always been a major asset of his. I honestly don’t think he’s likely to achieve either 40 homers or 40 steals, but he’s more likely to get closest in steals. McLouth hits an unusually high amount of flyballs, so it’s not as if he’s going to get any more opportunities for homers. Unless his HR/FB rate increases dramatically, then expect mid-twenties to be his ceiling level in regard to homers.

And then there’s HanRam. Ramirez can truly do it all, and his youth likely means that he has yet to realize his fullest potential. He’s had more than fifty steals twice, but his 33 homers from last year stand as his current career high. I would not at all be surprised to see this vault over 40 next year, though. With age, he has increased his HR/FB rate and his average standard distance for homeruns, and his spray chart proves that he has strong power to straight-away center as well as opposite field. And with a flyball rate of 36.7%, he could also see a marked increase here. Clearly, Ramirez has a more than decent shot at joining the 40/40 club. The only caveat I would issue for him is that he may get less stolen base opportunities as he becomes a stronger power hitter, and his stolen base percentage is far from stellar.

I included Alex Rios because many thought his power numbers would increase after his formidable 2007 campaign and were thus disappointed with his ’08 totals. His significant drop-off in both flyball rate and HR/FB rate account for this decline, but I don’t think he gets anywhere near 40 with his best possible power year. Like McLouth, he would need an uncharacteristically large jump in HR/FB rate for this to be possible.

You’ll notice that I used Rollins’ totals from 2007 instead of 2008. I chose to do this because his ’07 numbers are more reflective of what people believe he’ll do in the future. (It should also be noted that, while I only posted one year’s worth of stats, I looked at multiple years for all players and made note of trends in stats.) Although he came close in 2007, I don’t see him even getting that close again. Again, like McLouth and Rios, he’d need a better HR/FB rate. He’s also handicapped by his meager average standard distance, which was by far the lowest of this group.

Finally, there’s Sizemore, who’s one of my brother’s favorites. Honestly, I wasn’t sold on him for quite awhile, but the more I’ve looked into his numbers, the harder it’s gotten to resist him. Last year was a career year for him in many areas, and he’s young enough where he can continue to show improvement. I like his chances of 40 steals – his success rate has increased with his stolen base totals. He’ll still need to gather another 7 homers, but I think he’ll have a shot at this, as well. While his reliance on the pull-shot troubles me, the fact that his HR/FB rate appears to be on the rise may counteract some of this.

Overall, I think it’s very likely that we’ll see at least one more addition to the 40/40 club in the near future, and I think it may even happen this year. Ramirez and Sizemore are both already pretty close, and they’re both entering their prime talent years. I also wouldn’t rule out Beltran, even at his age. After all, two of the current members – Bonds and Soriano – had their 40/40 season while they were in their 30’s. Just a little something to watch for next year, because I know how much you love historical achievements.


Kincaid said...

I think your looking at Bonds as a power guy more than a speed guy is partially because of how he's aged. Bonds was always a big speed guy in his early years. Look at the photos of him from his days with the Pirates-he looks much more like a Sizemore/Ramirez type. He was in the top 10 in the NL in SB 9 times, triples 3 times, and times on base nearly every year of his career. Only once in Pittsburgh did he have more HR than SB, and even into his mid-30s when the SB totals were slipping, his SB% were good and he still had the speed to be a very good left-fielder. It wasn't until he had knee problems and got into his upper-30s and lower-40s that the speed was gone, and it wasn't until he started hitting 40 home runs a year that he was seen as primarily a power threat. At the stage of his career most of these guys are at, he would have been viewed similarly, just as a better player. Also, when any of these guys start hitting 40 HR, they will be viewed more for their power. It's already starting to happen for Sizemore and Hanley, and Beltran to some degree. It will be interesting to look back and compare how we view these guys in their late-30s if they get that far.

A-Rod was also somewhat of a speed guy-he didn't steal that many bases, but he was a quick shortstop with good range before he was a muscle-bound third baseman. Again, look at him with Seattle or even Texas. When he was still a shortstop, he made maintaining his speed a much bigger priority. Canseco, well, we know what happened with Canseco.

One big difference between the power and speed guys in that group is the age at which they did it. The power guys, A-Rod and Canseco, did it at 22 and 23 years old while they still had fresh legs and speed in them. The speed guys, Bonds and Soriano, each did it in their 30s, after they had already had multiple 40 steal seasons, once their power fully developed. I think that's why we're seeing more speed-type guys on this list-to do it as a primarily power hitter, you have to do it while you're young enough to have that kind of flash in your step, and so it would be someone who comes out of nowhere and doesn't have much history to analyze. By looking at guys who have been building up toward that milestone, it sort of selectively favours the speed-type players. Speed wanes through the 20s, while power builds, so if you don't have the speed to start with, you're not going to get it. If you don't have the power, it can come.

Of these players, I think Sizemore and Ramirez are the only ones with any shot. I think Beltran's window on 40 steals is rapidly closing-recent players with 40 SB kind of talent into their mid-30s are few-Rickey Henderson and Otis Nixon stick out, and Ichiro and Dave Roberts have done it recently at age 34, but each of them mostly get on at first base, and they each had SB numbers close to or above 40 in the recent years before 34 too. Beltran has been little more than a 20 SB guy since joining the Mets 4 years ago. I don't see Rollins as a 40 HR guy-he's got mostly double power in a small ballpark, and like you pointed out, he gets mostly cheap shots down the line in that bandbox. I don't see any way he gets even close to 40 without some serious muscling up that would be prohibitive of any more 40 SB seasons. Even hitting 30 again as he goes into his 30s is a lot to expect of him.

Jay said...

If I had to put my money on someone, I would put it on Ramirez. The other guy that would not shock me is Sizemore. I knew in the end, somehow, you would make a case for Beltran. If I had to pick a long shot, I would take Brandon Phillips if he can stay healthy. In 07 he had 30 hr's and 32 sb so it would not be huge stretch for him to get there.

Kincaid said...

Brandon Phillips definitely does not look like a 40-40 guy right now. It is a pretty big stretch to go from 30-30 to 40-40. One has been done 53 times, the other 4. Phillips doesn't have nearly the power to hit 40 HRs, and I doubt he has a 40 steal season in him. He doesn't have the kind of extra base numbers that can turn into more HRs as his power develops either. He's too far away from both to get to 40 in each at the same time. It would take too much sacrificing from the other to get close in one.

The 30-30 guy from 2007 who is more likely to do it is David Wright. He's 2 years younger than Phillips and already has the power to be consistently in the 30s. His power has been increasing the past few years, and unlike Phillips, he has a lot of doubles he could turn into homers-even with his increasing HR totals, he's stayed above 40 doubles each of the past 4 years. His SB took a big hit this year (as did Phillips'), but his career high is higher and the 2 years of age he has on Phillips make a difference.

My opinion, though, is that none of these guys is going to do it. They're all sleepers. Sizemore would be my first pick if I had to choose one, then Hanley, like I said before, but after that, I stop choosing at all. I just don't see how anyone else mentioned does it unless there is some seismic shift in his game.

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