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The Next Members of the 500 Home Run Club

Miguel Cabrera became the 28th member of the 500 homer club last Sunday with a solo shot off Toronto’s Steven Matz. Approaching 40 and about five years removed from being one of baseball’s most feared sluggers, his 500th homer looks to be one of the last big highlights on his résumé; his 3,000th hit is coming as well, but he’s running out of calendar on that one, and it’s likely he’ll end 2021 about 20 or so hits shy of joining that exclusive society.

For a long time, Cabrera looked as if he had a chance to hit 600 or more homers. He had the 12th-most before his age-30 season, bopping 321 through his 20s, with the last ones coming in his Triple Crown season of 2012. But while his 30s got off to a roaring start with 44 homers added to the tally in 2013, it’s taken him nearly eight more seasons to add another 136 to his line — a rather paltry 17 per year — thanks to a combination of injuries and slowing bat speed.

Hitting 600 homers now looks out of reach for Cabrera, who could theoretically remain a Tiger for at least four more seasons, though that would require a shocking reversal of fortune for Detroit to pick up the option years of 2024 and ’25 that are unlikely to vest because of 2023 MVP votes. The most likely scenario is that he plays out the last two seasons and retires with an Old English D on his cap, followed by Hall of Fame induction five years later. While 500 homers may not be as impressive a feat as it once was, it’s still a viable path to Cooperstown; every eligible hitter who’s reached that mark is in the Hall unless they were connected credibly to the use of steroids. Albert Pujols won’t be the exception to that rule, and neither will Cabrera.

Either way, I hope you enjoyed this 500th home run, because it’s actually going to be a decent wait until we see another one. Baseball has an impressive stable of young phenoms, but being young phenoms, they don’t yet have impressive quantities on their career lines. Since Babe Ruth became the first 500-homer hitter in 1929, the average wait for a new member has been a scant 3.4 years. Despite the widespread belief that the relative ease of joining this club is a recent development, it’s actually been happening quite regularly since 1960. When Ted Williams hit his 500th, it had been 15 years since Mel Ott’s 500th. From Williams to the increase in league homer rate in the early 90s, the average wait was 2.7 years. Since then, the typical interregnum has dropped to 2.4 years, and since Eddie Murray in 1996, there hasn’t been a wait of more than five seasons.

Over the next couple of seasons, it looks like Nelson Cruz or bust, and though he has aged wonderfully, time always wins in the end, and it’s not a given that he gets the 57 home runs he needs. Cabrera and Cruz are the only active 400-homer hitters in baseball, and it’s a big jump until the next players in the ranking, Giancarlo Stanton and Robinson Canó, who are tied at 334. Of baseball’s six active 300-homer guys after Cruz, only two, Stanton and Mike Trout, appear to be in a convincing approach path. Thanks to COVID-19 and unrelated injuries, neither are a mortal lock, either; Stanton has only 29 homers since 2018, and Trout no longer has that veil of invincibility he appears to possess from 2013 to ’16 or so.

So, who will hit 500 homers (and a few other milestones)? I had ZiPS rerun the numbers as of Wednesday morning. Included in this chart is everyone who either currently has 200 homers or at least a 1% projected chance at 500 homers; an empty space in the chart represents a less than 1% chance at the specific milestone listed.

ZiPS Projections – HR Milestones
Player Current HR 500 HR% 600 HR% 700 HR% 762 HR%
Albert Pujols 677 100% 100% 2%
Miguel Cabrera 501 100%
Mike Trout 310 85% 15% 2%
Fernando Tatis Jr. 73 46% 17% 1%
Nelson Cruz 443 42%
Juan Soto 89 36% 16% 2%
Ronald Acuña Jr. 105 35% 15% 1%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 60 30% 15% 3%
Giancarlo Stanton 334 26% 2%
Bryce Harper 255 26% 2%
Rafael Devers 103 22% 7%
Manny Machado 245 14% 1%
Cody Bellinger 132 11%
Pete Alonso 97 10% 1%
Francisco Lindor 149 8%
Eloy Jiménez 51 8% 1%
Freddie Freeman 267 6%
Ozzie Albies 82 5%
Joey Gallo 149 4%
Justin Upton 324 3%
Carlos Correa 126 3%
Nolan Arenado 260 2%
Mookie Betts 172 2%
José Ramírez 156 2%
Yordan Alvarez 53 2%
Alex Bregman 112 1%
Shohei Ohtani 87 1%
Gleyber Torres 71 1%
Robinson Canó 334
Joey Votto 323
Evan Longoria 314
Ryan Zimmerman 282
Paul Goldschmidt 268
Andrew McCutchen 264
J.D. Martinez 261
Carlos Santana 257
Anthony Rizzo 246
Josh Donaldson 243
Kyle Seager 236
José Abreu 224
Khris Davis 220
Todd Frazier 218

Overall, it’s a very young list. For the rest of the 2020s, the 500 homer candidates are basically Cruz, Stanton, and Trout, none guaranteed, with the current phenoms — at least the ones that survive — not threatening membership until the early 2030s. All around baseball, ZiPS projects only 4.4 future 500-homer hitters over the next 20 years. This isn’t counting players not yet in professional baseball, but averaging 25 homers a year over 20 years has never been an easy task, so they’d have to go pro fairly quickly. That means new members at about half the rate of admittance since Ruth.

I looked at this a decade ago for ESPN, and there were more players with good shots for 600 homers at the time, with ZiPS projecting 588 for Cabrera and 577 for Stanton, but both now look likely to fall well short of those totals. Nor has anyone established solid odds to make a run at Ruth, Hank, or Bonds; the troika of Juniors on the list and Soto have plenty of promise, but a lot can happen between now and their very expensive souvenirs. Hitting 500 homers is still hard, and Cabrera’s achievement will have a proud place on his likely Cooperstown plaque sometime in the late 2020s.

FanGraphs Baseball