Every baseball season brings milestones big and small. The biggest this season came June 4, when the Angels’ Albert Pujols became the ninth player in major-league history to hit 600 home runs.
Also this month, we’ve seen a couple of lower-level milestones: The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw struck out his 2,000th batter and the Cubs’ Jon Lester won his 150th game.
One coming attraction: The Rangers’ Adrian Beltre entered play Monday 35 hits away from 3,000.
Milestones are more fun than meaningful. For example, you wouldn’t want to judge a career by whether a player has 3,000 hits or 2,999. But for those who enjoy speculating on who might reach those nice round numbers, the Favorite Toy can help.
Bill James introduced the Favorite Toy calculation in his Baseball Abstracts in the 1980s. To see how it works, let’s take a young veteran, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and calculate where his chances stood entering 2017 of reaching 1,500 career RBI.
Step 1: Find how many RBI Rizzo needed to reach the goal. He had 425 RBI through 2016, leaving him 1,075 away from 1,500.
Step 2: Project how many seasons he has remaining in his career. The formula is 24-(.6 x age). Rizzo was 26 at the end of last season, so that’s 24-(.6 x 26) — or 24-15.6. That comes to 8.4 seasons, including 2017.
Step 3: Calculate an established performance level, focusing on the last three seasons. Add three times his 2016 RBI total, twice his 2015 RBI total and once his 2014 RBI total, then divide the sum by six.
In Rizzo’s case, that’s (3 x 109) + (2 x 101) + 78 — or 607 — divided by six for an established level of 101.16 RBI per season. We can round down to 101.
Step 4: Project the rest-of-career total by multiplying remaining years by performance level. For Rizzo, that’s 8.4 years times 101 RBI — or 848.4 RBI. We’ll round to 848.
Step 5: Calculate a percentage chance by taking the projected remaining total and subtracting half the needed total, then dividing by the needed total.
For Rizzo, that’s (848-537.5)/1,075, which comes to .2888. Multiply that by 100 to convert to percent, and Rizzo entered this season with a 28.9 percent chance of making it to 1,500 career RBI.
Rizzo is one of six active players with an established chance of reaching 2,000 RBI. The annual Bill James Handbook listed him at
1 percent, behind Pujols (76 percent), Miguel Cabrera (47), Nolan Arenado (11), Mike Trout (8) and Beltre (4).
Pujols (18 percent), Cabrera (9) and Arenado (3) even have established chances of breaking Hank Aaron’s career record of 2,289 RBI.
There’s never complete certainty in milestone chases. On the positive side, players reach new performance highs or prove durable and have longer productive careers than expected. On the negative side, injuries and early declines can torpedo milestone chances.
But the milestone races can be fun to watch, and the Favorite Toy can augment that.
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