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It's been said that baseball is a game of numbers, which is pretty silly when you actually think about it.

It's just that we keep track of some of the endless number of events that comprise each game. We count 'em, and add 'em all up. And if that's not sufficiently enlightening, we get into long division and stuff like that.

I want to stick to counting and adding for the most part. My purpose here is to look at six key career counting stats, and see what are the chances that some of the players now active have of cracking the tops of these lists. I decided that the top 25 in each of these categories was sufficiently rarified territory.

It works out rather nicely. There are exactly 25 players with 500 career homers; there are 25 players with more than 3000 hits (there's a 26th with exactly 3000 - it's a tough group if 3000 hits doesn't make the cut.)

And so, with the Top 25 as my cut-off mark, I've set the bar for career runs scored at 1690 and career RBIs at 1599 (it would be nice if someone poring over a 1907 game account could locate just one lost RBI for Nap Lajoie).

For pitchers, I'm going to look at career strikeouts (the line is drawn at 2562) and for career wins... well, career wins by pitcher is complicated because we have half a dozen pitchers in the top 25 who threw underhand from 50 feet away when it took nine balls to walk a batter. While I'm sure Hoss Radbourne and Tim Keefe were pretty good in their day, I can't pretend they have any relevance to puzzling the future path of C.C. Sabathia. I think I'm stretching it by keeping Cy Young and Pete Alexander in the mix. But more of that later.

This is Installment One of Six, and I'm going to begin with an examination of the career leaders in a strangely unappreciated category - runs scored.

I think most of us are aware that Rickey Henderson recently established a new career mark, and most of us probably realize that the previous record holder was Ty Cobb. Henderson's feat did not go unnoticed, but it drew nowhere near the attention Pete Rose attracted when he overtook Cobb's other ancient mark, for career hits. Yet it should be obvious that Henderson's was much the greater accomplishment - and, after all, what is more fundamental than scoring runs?

So. Here are the twenty-five players who have scored the most runs in their careers. Two of these men - Barry Bonds and Craig Biggio - are still working on their totals, which as given here do not include the current season. Bonds may be able to vault into third place by the end of 2006, but at this moment he still trails Rose by 59. Biggio, however, has already moved past Willie Keeler andJesse Burkett and has drawn even with Jim O'Rourke - he should pass Paul Molitor before the season ends, and might even catch Ted Williams.

                                 Best        Number  of      Age during First   Age during Last
Name Total Season 100 run seasons 100 runs season 100 run season
1. Rickey Henderson 2295 146 13 21 39
2. Ty Cobb 2246 147 11 22 40
3. Babe Ruth 2175 177 12 24 37
4. Henry Aaron 2174 127 15 21 36
5. Pete Rose 2165 130 10 22 37
6. Barry Bonds 2078 129 12 25 39
7. Willie Mays 2062 130 12 23 34
8. Cap Anson 1996 117 6 32 37
9. Stan Musial 1949 135 11 22 32
10. Lou Gehrig 1888 167 13 23 35
11. Tris Speaker 1882 137 7 24 35
12. Mel Ott 1859 138 9 20 33
13 Frank Robinson 1829 134 8 20 33
14. Eddie Collins 1821 137 6 22 37
15. Carl Yastrzemski 1816 125 2 27 30
16. Ted Williams 1798 150 9 20 32
17. Paul Molitor 1782 136 5 25 36
18. Charlie Gehringer 1774 144 12 24 37
19. Jimmie Foxx 1751 151 11 21 32
20. Honus Wagner 1736 114 6 26 34
21. Jim O'Rourke 1729 119 5 32 39
22. Jesse Burkett 1720 160 9 23 32
23. Willie Keeler 1719 165 8 22 29
24. Craig Biggio 1697 146 8 29 37
25. Billy Hamilton 1690 192 11 23 34

Some fun facts - Ty Cobb and Sam Rice are the only men to score more than 100 runs in a season after turning 40. Rice made the majors as a pitcher, and didn't become a full-time outfielder until 1917, when he was 27 years old. He then lost most of the next season to the First World War. It's about the latest start to a Hall of Fame career ever. He finished with 2987 hits and scored 1514 runs. He might be a little more famous if he'd become an outfielder when he was 22.

Ott, Williams, and Robinson are just some of about a dozen players who scored more than 100 runs at age 20 - the most ever by a 20 year was the 141 scored by Alex Rodriguez in 1996. Some of the other 20 year olds who distinguished themselves are Al Kaline, John McGraw, Vada Pinson, and Buddy Lewis. Lewis is the only man to score more than 100 runs as a teenager - his unfortunate fate was to lose three full seasons to the second world war.

It is helpful to have 25 career paths to look at if only because there's a remarkable amount of variety to them. Obviously, each of these men was a very good player for a very long time. However, not all that many of them have a nice clean, logical career path. Stan Musial does, but not everyone is as consistently great as Stan Musial. Hell, hardly anyone is as consistently great as Stan Musial.

Some of the variations we encounter include :
a) players who probably played beyond their Best Buy date: Rose, Henderson, Yastrzemski;
b) players with full seasons missing from their prime: Mays, Williams;
c) players who got off to a slow or late start, but just kept coming and coming: Wagner, O'Rourke,Molitor;
d) players whose production drops off sharply at a comparatively young age: Ott, Foxx, and, especially, Gehrig. If Lou Gehrig hadn't become ill, I am certain that Rickey Henderson would be a distant, distant second.

And we can toss in the special case of Cap Anson, who played half his career when the season was barely half what it is now - he was 32 years old before he played 100 games.

One other note - the overall level of offense has hardly been constant over the 130 some seasons covered by these players' careers. Some of these players were active during great offensive periods (Gehrig, Foxx and Gehringer in the 1930s, Keeler, Burkett and Hamilton in the 1890s) - while Honus Wagner's entire career was played during one of the worst offensive epochs ever (the 1900s and 1910s). Despite that, and despite the comparatively late start to his career he made the cut anyway - after all, he was Honus Wagner, dammit. One of the two or three greatest baseball players who ever lived.

What I'm going to do is mix some active players into the mix, and see where they would fit in this company. Most of the following active players have a chance, if all goes well, to crack the Top 25 in this category someday - although for many of them, while they may appear to have a chance, it's not going to happen. But they're all ahead of someone in the current Top 25 at their present age, even if it's usually Honus Wagner, who didn't get started until he was 23.

The active players I think worth looking at, in aphabetical order, are: Carlos Beltran, Adrian Beltre, Hank Blalock, Miguel Cabrera, Carl Crawford, Johnny Damon, Carlos Delgado, Adam Dunn, Rafael Furcal, Shawn Green, Ken Griffey, Vladimir Guerrero, Todd Helton, Derek Jeter, Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, Albert Pujols, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmy Rollins, Gary Sheffield, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Tejada, Frank Thomas, and Jim Thome.

How to assess their chances? Well, Carlos Delgado just completed his age 33 season. He's scored 970 runs. Ten of the active players being examined here had scored more runs through age 33, and Delgado is also behind 23 of the men on the all-time Top 25 through age 33 (everyone but Anson and O'Rourke). So he's ranked 34th for his age group. If the only players you're ahead of Cap Anson and Jim O'Rourke, there's simply no way you're going to crack this particular list. Carlos will do better when we get around to home runs.

On the other hand, Alex Rodriguez just completed his age 29 season. And when we look at all of these players - the guys in the Top 25 and the active ones who've made it this far - where does A-Rod stand among them?

He stands second. That does not necessarily mean that Rodriguez has scored more runs through age 29 than any player who ever lived, with the exception of Mel Ott. It means only he's scored more runs through age 29 than any of these players.

Although, now that you mention it, Rodriguez has in fact scored more runs through age 29 than anyone in history except Mel Ott. (Rodriguez is actually tied with Mickey Mantle, but I much prefer the condition of Rodriguez's knees going forward....)

So... let us proceed.

Alex Rodriguez (1245 through age 29 - 2nd) - Barring some unimaginable calamity, A-Rod is going to plant himself pretty high on this leader board. He's ahead of everybody in his age group except Mel Ott, who just barely inches past Rodriguez, 1247 to 1245. And by the time this season is over, Rodriguez will probably be on the best pace of anyone - the leader through age 30 is Jimmie Foxx, with 1355. Rodriguez needs to score 111 runs this year to move ahead of the Beast's pace, and he has crossed the plate 49 times already. He'll have almost 200 more runs scored than Rickey Henderson did at the same age, which makes him a very viable candidate to score more runs than any player who has ever lived.

Albert Pujols (629 through age 25 - 6th) - It's early enough that very little can be ruled out. He's ahead of everybody on the current list except Ott, Cobb, Foxx, and Keeler. Ott, Foxx, and Keeler did not age particularly well, but Albert is still behind Cobb who stayed ferociously effective into his 40s. He's also behind Rodriguez at the same age.

Miguel Cabrera (246 through age 22 - 11th) - There have never been all that many people who could hit major league pitching with authority when they were 21 years old. Cabrera does appear to be one of them, but before we get too excited - so was Ruben Sierra. I set a minimum of 400 career games for active players, and Miguel just crossed that bar (David Wright may be just as good a candidate as Cabrera, but it's way, way too soon to even begin to think about it.) Cabrera is nowhere near the Top 10 of runs scored for his age, and most of the guys ahead of him would fall by the wayside. So he's obviously got a long long way to go. But, still, this is a great way to get started. Two of the players ahead of Cabrera's pace are also active (Griffey and Andruw Jones). Of the current Top 25, Cabrera is ahead of all of them except Ott, Williams, Foxx, Cobb, Robinson, Aaron, and Henderson. I might mention that Honus Wagner had scored ZERO major league runs when he was Cabrera's age.

Andruw Jones (855 through age 28 - 14th) - Andruw has a chance to post some very impressive career numbers. Just wait til we get to home runs. He started young, he's always been healthy, he's always been productive, and it's all starting to add up. He's ahead of Collins, Williams, Speaker, Bonds, Ruth, Mays, Yastrzemski, Rose, Gehringer, Molitor, Anson, Wagner, O'Rourke, and Biggio.

Carl Crawford (308 through age 23 - 14th) - Like Cabrera, he started counting them up quite young. So far he's shadowing Stan Musial, which is pretty nice company. Which means that Crawford is ahead of Anson, Bonds, Speaker, Yastrzemski, Molitor, Collins, Gehrig, Burkett, Mays, O'Rourke, Hamilton, Rose, Ruth, Gehringer, Biggio, and Wagner. Crawford's been getting better every year...I think we still have no idea what kind of player he's going to become. He could get 215 hits and steal 85 bases; he might hit 35 HRs and drive in 110. It's pretty exciting....

Derek Jeter (1159 through 31 - 15th) - The Yankee captain is positioned smack in between Ted Williams and Willie Mays on the list of 31 year olds. There is a major caveat - Mays had lost almost two years to military service, and Williams had already lost three (and was about to lose a couple more). But Jeter has made excellent progress no matter how you slice it. Jeter is ahead of Mays, Ruth, Bonds, Speaker, Collins, Yastrzemski, Rose, Gehringer, Molitor, Biggio, Wagner, Anson and O'Rourke.

Ken Griffey (1405 through age 35 - 19th) - Like Sheffield, Griffey was a teenager when he made his debut - unlike Sheffield, Griffey came out of the gate blazing. The three fastest starters in this category are Ott, Cobb, and Foxx , but through age 24, it was Griffey who had the fourth best pace. The strike season and an injury set him back, but still, the only men on this list who had scored more runs before turning 30 were Ott, Cobb, Foxx, Aaron, Gehrig, and Keeler. Alas, his injury-ridden early 30s have dropped him well back into the pack. He's still ahead of Williams, Yastrzemski, Biggio, Molitor, Wagner, Anson, and O'Rourke.

Johnny Damon (1073 through age 31 - 19th) - I'm actually a little surprised to find him here, but he's doing fine. He's scored more runs than another fella who used to patrol centre field at Fenway - guy by the name of Tris Speaker - had at the same age. Damon is sort of a Lou Brock type of player, isn't he? A speedy left-handed leadoff hitter with a little pop and no arm. He's quite possibly a little better than Lou was. Damon's ahead of Speaker, Collins, Yastrzemski, Rose, Gehringer, Molitor, Biggio, Wagner, Anson and O'Rourke.

Vladimir Guerrero (860 through age 29 - 21st) - Vlad is ahead of where Rose, Yastrzemski, Gehringer, Molitor, Wagner, Biggio, Anson, and O'Rourke were at his age. However, he's probably the first clear-cut example of a pattern we are going to see repeated - the players he is ahead of all played an exceptionally long time, and kept tacking on additional runs long after they turned 40. Jim O'Rourke is behind everybody at almost every age - but he kept playing and playing and playing. The same with Cap Anson. We remember Rose and Yaz and Molitor playing, and playing pretty well, when they were in their 40s, and Honus Wagner was one of the greatest old players of all time.This is an easy group to get ahead of, but a tough group to finish ahead of.

Manny Ramirez (1179 through age 33 - 22nd) - Ramirez stands 22nd in his own age group - his problem is basically the same as Vlad's and Manny's not doing quite as well in his own bracket anyway. He's nestled in between two guys who played until everyone was tired of them (Rose and Yastrzemski - well, we never got tired of Yaz), and there are some younger players who will probably pass him by as well. Manny is still ahead of Yastrzemski, Biggio, Molitor, Wagner, Anson, and O'Rourke. Manny is such a great hitter that he could probably DH until he's 44 , if he wants.

Gary Sheffield (1411 through age 36 - 22nd) - Sheffield was staying in the hunt, and this season he ran his total up to 1430 - however, his wrist injury may now keep him out until September and it deals a serious blow to his chances. He had been slightly ahead of the pace set by Yastrzemski and Biggio. The only players whose pace he'll be ahead of next spring are Wagner, Anson, and O'Rourke - each of whom was scoring significant quantities of runs when they 42 years old. Somehow, I can't see Sheffield sticking around that long.

Carlos Beltran (699 through 28 - 24th) - Beltran has scored exactly the same number of runs through age 28 as Carl Yastrzemski had. He's ahead of Rose, Gehringer, Molitor, Anson, Wagner, O'Rourke, and Biggio. Which means he's ahead of the Great Old Players, which is not the ticket he needs. What he really needs to do is throw up a few more years like 2004 if he's really going to get into the hunt.

Adrian Beltre (525 through 26 - 24th) - I don't think much of his chances at all - but he started so young that he's been able to get a good head start. If he ever has another season like his contract year... or two, or three... he'll go rocketing up the list. Shouldn't his peak still be ahead of him? Who knows with this guy. At the moment, he's ahead of the usual suspects - Molitor, Yastrzemski, Rose, Anson, Gehringer, O'Rourke, Wagner, and Biggio.

Adam Dunn (420 through age 25 - 24th) - He's ahead of Mays, Yastrzemski, Anson, Rose, Ruth, O'Rourke, Gehringer, Wagner, and Biggio. The usual suspects, plus Willie Mays and Babe Ruth. Now Mays was in the army, and Ruth was pitching - neither got off to a great start in this category. But Dunn is still very young, and can still raise the bar for his own level of performance.

Jim Thome (1125 through age 33 - 25th) - He's ahead of Biggio, Molitor, Wagner, Anson and O'Rourke. He's young enough and good enough to catch some of the people ahead of him, but he'll doubtless be overtaken himself.

Frank Thomas (1327 though age 37 - 27th) - The only reason he still ranks this high is because the younger players simply haven't caught him and passed him yet. The only retired player he's ahead of is O'Rourke, and that means he has no chance whatsoever.

Chipper Jones (1101 through age 33 - 27th) - He's ahead of Molitor, Wagner, Anson and O'Rourke. That's not good enough. He could end up passing Billy Hamilton, and some of the others at the bottom of the current Top 25, but by the time he does, it won't be the Top 25 anymore.

Jimmy Rollins (503 through age 26 - 27th) - Rollins has a chance to play for a long time, and get lots of hits and score lots of runs. He's only ahead of Yastrzemski, Rose, Anson, Gehringer, O'Rourke, Wagner, and Biggio at the same age, but there's upside here. I don't think anyone would be all that surprised if he ran off five straight 200 hit, 100 run seasons.

Todd Helton (924 through age 31 - 28th) - He's ahead of Molitor, Biggio, Wagner, Anson and O'Rourke. He's basically in the same boat as Chiipper Jones. He's following a couple of years behind Chipper, and he's marginally ahead, but he'll likely end up in around the same place.

Miguel Tejada (770 through age 29 - 28th) - He's ahead of Gehringer, Molitor, Wagner, Biggio, Anson, and O'Rourke. Those are not the people you need to be in front of if you want to make yourself a place on this list. He'll probably do better in the HR and RBI categories

Hank Blalock (292 through 24 - 28th) - An early start is a big deal. Blalock is tied with Gary Sheffield through age 24, and Sheff was able to fight his way up to a spot little higher up the list. Blalock is ahead of Molitor, O'Rourke, Rose, Ruth, Gehringer, Biggio, and Wagner.

Shawn Green (994 through age 32 - 30th) - He's ahead of Molitor, Wagner, Anson, and O'Rourke. Which is the wrong group. Green fits squarely in the middle between Todd Helton and Chipper Jones.

Rafael Furcal (554 through age 27 - 32nd) - He's ahead of Molitor, Anson, O'Rourke, Wagner, and Biggio. He's a year older than Jimmy Rollins, and not maintaining quite as impressive a pace. Like Rollins, though, he has a chance to play for a long, long time and he'll probably be at the top of most of his lineups. Lots of hits and runs are very possible. But he's also got a lot of work to do.

Carlos Delgado (970 runs through age 33 - 34th) - He's on the list because he's still ahead of Anson and O'Rourke. We know about Anson and O'Rourke by now.

Mark Teixeira (279 through age 25 - 44th) - At this stage, he's only ahead of Wagner and Biggio - but he's obviously nowhere near his peak and if he stays in Texas he could put up some pretty monstrous numbers over the next five years. He will definitely improve his position..

So - of these 25 players, which ones will elbow their way onto the Top 25? It's going to require at least 1700 career runs, quite possibly something like 1750.

I think that three of these players - Rodriguez, Jeter, and Andruw Jones - are as close to a mortal lock as one could hope for. I think the only way they won't get there is if they suffer some career-altering catastrophe.

I would extend that to Albert Pujols, with the caveat that he still needs to score more than 1000 runs to get to where he needs to go. There's an awful lot of baseball still to be played. Frank Thomas would have looked like just about as good bet for this list around 1993 as Pujols is now, and Thomas is not going to crack this group. Granted, Pujols certainly looks like the type of player who should age better than the Big Hurt.

If I were forced to choose just three more guys, they would be Johnny Damon, Carl Crawford, and Jimmy Rollins. In that order.

OK, that was Scoring the Runs - next time, who are the all-time champs at Driving Them Home.

You all know who has the most RBIs in history, right?
Chasing the Big Numbers, Part 1: Runs Runs Runs | 4 comments | Create New Account
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Mike Green - Friday, June 09 2006 @ 08:07 PM EDT (#148618) #
What's interesting about the top 25 list in runs scored list is the absence of the great leadoff hitters Raines and Brock.  Brock is just off the list, and Raines had the misfortune to spend most of his career with little support on the Expos. 

It would be fun to project back from Ichiro!'s career in North America to see where he might have been vis a vis the career leaders in runs scored had he come here at age 22, say.

Magpie - Friday, June 09 2006 @ 10:10 PM EDT (#148619) #
Brock also had the misfortune to spend his prime years in one of the lowest-scoring eras of the 20th century. And, while he was certainly an outstanding player, he didn't get on base quite as often as the truly great leadoff hitters,  Henderson and  Raines. Again, though the enormous strike zone of the mid-60s had a lot to do with that. When the zone expanded in 1969, Brock promptly posted new career highs in walks three straight years.
Chasing the Big Numbers, Part 1: Runs Runs Runs | 4 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.