‘My Favorite Toy’ can project just about any baseball stat you’d like

If you want to know Jose Abreu’s chances of reaching 400 career home runs, there’s a formula for that.

SHARE ‘My Favorite Toy’ can project just about any baseball stat you’d like
Bill James’ career assessment calculator gives Jose Abreu a 12% chance of reaching 400 home runs in his career.

Bill James’ career assessment calculator gives Jose Abreu a 12% chance of reaching 400 home runs in his career.

Bruce Kluckhohn/AP

Right up until the Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera singled Saturday against the Rockies, the career assessment calculator at ESPN.com listed him with a 97% chance of reaching 3,000 hits.

Why so low? The calculator uses a formula Bill James has called ‘‘My Favorite Toy’’ since its introduction in his 1980s ‘‘Baseball Abstract.’’ The chance of reaching a target is limited to 97% in one season. There’s the chance of an injury or other career-ending event before the milestone is achieved.

With adjustments for expected career length, the annual ‘‘Bill James Handbook’’ listed Cabrera’s chances at 98% entering the season.

‘‘My Favorite Toy’’ isn’t reserved for major milestones such as 3,000 hits. Let’s run some numbers for the White Sox’ Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson and the Cubs’ Jason Heyward and Willson Contreras.

To calculate Abreu’s chances to reach 400 home runs, we would subtract his 228 through 2021 from 400. He needs 172 over the rest of his career, including his two so far in 2022.

A projected number of remaining seasons subtracts 0.6 times the player’s age, as of last June 30, from 24.

An expected level of production per season adds three times the most recent season, twice the previous season and once the season before that. That total is divided by six.

The number of seasons times the projected production per season yields a projected remaining total. From that projection, subtract half the production needed, then divide by the number needed to get the percentage chance of reaching the goal.

Abreu, who was 34 last June 30, has four estimated remaining seasons and, with 30, 19 and 33 homers in 2021, 2020 and 2019, has a projection of 26.8 homers per season.

Running that through the calculator shows Abreu with a 12% chance of reaching 400 homers and a 97% chance of reaching 300.

If 100 players of Abreu’s age had Abreu’s production, you would expect 12 to reach 400 and 88 to fall short.

Anderson was 28 last June 30 and entered 2022 with 800 hits. Can he reach 2,000?

With totals of 163 in 2021, 67 in 2020 and 167 in 2019, Anderson’s projected chance at 2,000 is 27%. What if we adjust for the short season in 2020 by using 160 hits instead of 67? You can’t add hits to his total, but for the sake of a projection going forward, assuming a more normal total in 2020 would raise his chance of reaching 2,000 to 45%.

Heyward, who was 31 last June 30, had 1,394 hits at the start of this season and a 13% chance at 2,000. The Cubs years have been tough on Heyward. Through 2015 with the Braves and Cardinals, he had 804 hits and a 61% chance.

Contreras, who was 29 last June 30, had 95 homers through 2021 and a 61% chance at 200.

As for Cabrera, the future Hall of Famer is one of seven players with at least 3,000 hits and 500 homers. He needs one more double to reach 600. His chances? Why, 97%, of course.

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