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03/18/2004 Archived Entry: "MLB News: Will there ever be a 50-50 player?"

MLB News: Will there ever be a 50-50 player?
By Michael Toeset

Not too long ago, the baseball world wondered if it would ever see a player produce a 40-homer, 40-steal season. A handful of players had come tantalizingly close, and the final near-misses to establish the new benchmark took place in 1987 when Eric Davis clobbered 37 home runs and stole 50 bases and Darryl Strawberry homered 39 times and stole 36 bases. Before them were the failed attempts of Ken Williams (39-37 in 1922), Willie Mays (36-40 in 1956 and 35-38 in 1957), Bobby Bonds (39-43 in 1973 and 37-41 in 1977) and several others who settled for the 30-30 club. There had been enough near-misses that it seemed like the baseball gods had decreed that no player would ever establish a 40-40 club.

Then along came the hulking Jose Canseco, who in 1988 went crazy on the basepaths and created the club with a 42-homer, 40-steal season. It was eight years before another player would join Canseco, that man being the only member of the 500-500 club, Barry Bonds. Bonds posted identical numbers to Cansecoís with a 42-40 year. And two years after Bondsí remarkable season, a third member was initiated: Alex Rodriguez, who hit 42 home runs and stole 46 bases.

Since A-Rod in 1998, there have been nine 30-30 seasons, but nary another 40-40 year. So why even contemplate a 50-50 player? Because there are players who easily swipe 50 bases a year, and there are players who can swat 50 home runs Ė itís not inconceivable that a player will be able to combine those stats. Case in point is Brady Anderson. Before 1996, he already had a 50-steal season under his belt, and in that magical year, Anderson crushed 50 home runs. He only stole 21 bases, though, but the homer feat shows 50-50 is a distinct possibility. The likelihood of it happening, however, appears slim Ė incredibly slim Ė for myriad reasons.

Everything would have to fall perfectly into place: No nagging injuries or trips to the disabled list; management that lets the player run free; the ability to get to first base; enough steal attempts; a decent lineup that forces the pitcher to throw to the homer-hot player Ö and so on.

Perhaps the most difficult portion of 50-50 to obtain is the steals. First, history shows a hitter whoís capable of slugging 50 home runs isnít likely to attempt anywhere near 50 steals. Secondly, the player would obviously, have to have a high success rate. Of the 40-40 club members, Bonds had the best percentage, successfully getting the steal 86 percent of the time; Rodriguez had a 76 percent rate, and Canseco was at 72 percent. Assuming a player would be more Canseco-like than Bonds-like, he would have to attempt 69 steals. In todayís game, not many players are free to attempt that many steals: In 2003, only three players did Ė and none of them had more than five home runs.

The real question may be, are there any players in the majors now who appear capable of even 40-40? Actually, there are several. The following is a run-down of the short list of potentials. Granted, these players are more likely to be elected president than have a 50-50 season, but thatís what people were saying about Mark McGwireís chances of breaking Roger Marisí record in 1998. So if youíre a gambler, place your bet now Ė and donít forget to send 10 percent of your winnings to Baseball Guru.

ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Yeah, he doesnít run much anymore, and now that heís batting in the middle of the Yankees lineup heís not likely to attempt even 20 steals, but heís still only 28 years old. If he decided to take a shot at the 50-50 club (and if George Steinbrenner let him), he could make the 40-40 club again. But 50-50? Donít put it past him.

VLADIMIR GUERRERO: Heís only 28 also, but back problems may signal the end of his running days. If heís healthy and fearless, though, he could top his seasons of 34-37 and 39-40. He only attempted 14 steals last year in an abbreviated season, and the Angels arenít going to want their All-Star pickup to hurt himself stealing bases, so the odds that Guerrero can even post a 30-30 year arenít all that good.

ALFONSO SORIANO: A better bet than A-Rod. The past two seasons heís hit 77 home runs and stolen 76 bases. And heís only 26 years old. If heís as happy as he claims to be in Texas, heíll join the 40-40 club this year. The Ballpark in Arlington is the fifth-best homer stadium in baseball, so if Soriano gets enough steal attempts, 50-50 isnít out of the question.

CARLOS BELTRAN: We havenít seen awe-inspiring power out of this 26-year-old, but heís at an age when a spike in homers is possible. The past three seasons heís averaged 26 homers and 36 steals, and with a healthy Juan Gonzalez and Mike Sweeney hitting behind him, he could get better balls to hit. As with the others, itís pretty much up to management how much they run, but Beltran has proven to be the most successful base-stealer in baseball: Heís only been caught stealing 12 times while averaging those 36 steals. If heís free to run, he could easily swipe 50.

And keep an eye on COREY PATTERSON, 24, and MARLON BYRD, 26. We havenít seen enough of these two yet, but they both have 30-30 potential Ė and possibly more.

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While researching this article, I came across a remarkable similarity: The first three full seasons for Eric Davis and Alfonso Soriano are nearly identical.

Davis: .281 AVG, 298 R, 264 RBI, 358 Ks, 90 HR, 165 SB
Soriano: .287 AVG, 319 R, 266 RBI, 412 Ks, 95 HR, 119 SB

If Soriano stays healthy, perhaps weíll know what a healthy Davis would have been like. Ö

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