How Many Seasons Would it Take?

To match Barry Bonds' career Wins Above Replacement value? Thanks to new Historical WAR Data -- courtesy of BaseballProjection.com -- we can see how many wins above replacement-level a player contributed over his career. Since 1954, Barry Bonds has a career total of 175.1 wins above replacement. That's #1 on the list of all players during this time period. Bonds is +30 wins above the next player on the list -- Willie Mays with 141.8 career wins above replacement.

I could go on all day about how mind-shatteringly good Bonds was but I won't bore you with those details and numbers. Instead, I thought it would be interesting to take some of the best players in today's game -- by WAR -- and see just how long it would take them to reach Bonds' total career win value.

My simple methodology:

1. Find out how much WAR per PA a player is contributing. I took the career WAR numbers of several players and then divided it by career PAs to find out. So, WAR/PA = Career WAR / Career PA

2. I then divided the WAR/PA by Bonds career WAR total to find out how many PAs it would take to reach 175.1 wins.

3. After that, I divided the number of PAs needed to equal Bonds' career win value by 750. This chunks everything into 750 PA seasons. For the purposes of this article, we'll say that everyone can play 750 PAs per season indefinitely until they reach Bonds' career win values -- even if that is unrealistic.

4. That would give us just the total amount of seasons needed to reach Bonds without consideration of how many seasons a player has completed to this point. Some players have already played multiple seasons. In order to fix this, I took the career PAs for each player, and divided that by 750 to find out how many seasons I should give them credit for already. I then subtracted this from their projected number of seasons needed to match Bonds. This will tell us how many seasons going forward they would need to produce 175.1 career wins above replacement. (Seasons = Total Projected Seasons - Actual Completed Seasons)

5. I then randomly picked some of the top players, by WAR, from FanGraphs leader boards over the last couple of years. This part wasn't very scientific, but it'll give us a decent idea of who's a top player in baseball at this very moment.

Data Table

Name

Career WAR

Career PA

WAR/PA

PA Needed

Seasons

Alex Rodriguez
97.3 8981 0.010834 16162.10791 9.57
Albert Pujols 67.2 5334 0.012598 13898.5625 11.42
Chipper Jones 75.9 8595 0.008831 19828.51779 14.98
Carlos Beltran 53.3 6434 0.008284 21136.83677 19.60
Derek Jeter 62.6 8976 0.006974 25106.99042 21.51
Grady Sizemore 27.2 3091 0.0088 19898.3125 22.41
Chase Utley 27.2 3094 0.008791 19917.625 22.43
Lance Berkman 44.2 5745 0.007694 22759.03846 22.69
Hanley Ramirez 18.4 2082 0.008838 19812.94565 23.64
David Wright 24.9 3015 0.008259 21201.86747 24.25
Mark Teixeria 27 3909 0.006907 25350.58889 28.59
Evan Longoria 3.8 500 0.0076 23039.47368 30.05
Matt Holliday 19.5 2953 0.006603 26516.42564 31.42
Miguel Cabrera 22.5 3716 0.006055 28918.73778 33.60
David Ortiz 28.9 5376 0.005376 32572.23529 36.26
Ryan Howard 14.3 2421 0.005907 29644.55245 36.30

Thoughts:

  • As of right now, if A-Rod can maintain his WAR/PA that he's established to this point, he'll only need 9.5 seasons of production to catch Barry Bonds. A-Rod will be 33-years-old this coming season and that would take him to his 42/43-year-old seasons. He's our best bet to catch Bonds at the moment.
  • Runner up to A-Rod, is Albert Pujols. Pujols is going to need 11.4 additional seasons to match Bonds' career win totals. Pujols will be 29-years-old in 2009 and 11.4 additional seasons would take him to his age 39/40 seasons. Pujols might be a riskier bet than Rodriguez because he's almost always playing banged up, and if he needs to take a year off because of surgery or something, he's going to lose time.
  • After Pujols and A-Rod, things get out of hand. I'm not sure I see 37-year-old Chipper Jones playing another 14.98 seasons. Same with almost everyone else on the list, they just don't have the time to catch Bonds.
  • Hanley Ramirez is one of the younger players on the list, so you'll have to take that into account when figuring out how long it would take him, but even with his youth, he would have to play another 23.6 seasons. That would take Hanely to somewhere near his age 47 season. Even Longoria would have to play to his age 52 season.
  • At the bottom of the list is Ryan Howard. If he maintained his current established level of production he would have to play another 36.3 seasons to match Bonds' value.

Potential Problems

The biggest problem is that none of this takes into account a player getting better and raising their WAR/PA -- thus reducing their needed PAs to reach the magic number of 175.1 wins. I think that's possible for players like Hanley or Evan Longoria, but it would most likely have to be a significant raise in production to start shaving off seasons required. I'm not sure I see that much growth happening.

Finishing Thoughts

Bonds' career total of 175.1 wins above replacement is an absurd number and it's unlikely that anyone will match it any time soon. But, because Pujols and Rodriguez are even in this conversation is a testament to the type of players they've been so far in their respective careers. Very special players, indeed.

Comment Starter: Did I miss any players who you think have a shot? If you had to choose between Pujols and A-Rod to match Bonds career win values, which one would you take and why?

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