Rob Neyer of ESPN takes a closer look at the general yawn surrounding A-Rod's milestone home run, and takes out his crystal ball on the chase for 763.
Why the yawn? Mostly steroids, and the fact that a lot of other guys have hit a lot of home runs. But he does raise an interesting point:
When we talk about "drug cheaters" we're talking about modern drug cheaters. We know that many of the superstars of the 1970s used illegal drugs as performance enhancers. For some reason, we've decided we don't care.
That pretty much sums up the disconnect between our perception and reality.
But 763 is an interesting subject, as A-Rod is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career (and obviously the term "worst" is highly relative). Having just turned 35, there are concerns that he's beginning to slow, and with about $453 billion owed to him still (ok, I'm exaggerating a little bit), this is somewhat concerning. The question is, how concerning?
Fangraphs has all of A-Rod's career statistics and batting splits since 2002 here. And looking more closely at these numbers, you don't get the sense that this is somebody who's fallen off a cliff. His current BB and K rates would be his lowest since 1999, but we could consider that a push. His line drive rate is on the low side for him (15.3%), but it's been this low before. Two things have changed substantially - the rate at which his flyballs have left the yard, and his BABIP. I don't want to throw the "L" word into the argument (luck), but we know that these are two things that can fluctuate over small samples (i.e. 2/3 of a season). At the same time, it's worth nothing that he's struggled mightily both against left-handed pitchers and on the road this season (see splits here).
Maybe there's something to these numbers, and maybe there's not. Personally, I tend to think these are just the ups and downs that come with a long career. I think everybody is in agreement that A-Rod's days of slugging .650 are over, but at this point I don't think there's any reason he can't put up a few more seasons like 2008 or 2009. To that end, I think his chances of reaching 763 are best with an occasional day off, occasional DH duty, and, most importantly, a return to his 30-35 home run form.