Friday, June 10, 2011

The 3000-Hit Club Post Derek Jeter

I read an interesting article in today's New York Times written by Neil Payne entitled After Jeter Reaches 3,000 Hits, Who's Likely Next?. In the article, Payne describes who might be the next players to reach the lofty 3,000 hit plateau after Derek Jeter (who is currently at 2,990 hits). The method in which Payne reaches his conclusion is based on Bill James' theory called the Favorite Toy. As per Payne:

the Favorite Toy, a simple means of projecting performance based on a player’s age and most recent career trends.

The formula essentially asks and answers three questions:

1. How far is a player from the milestone in question?
2. How quickly is he approaching the milestone?
3. How much time does he have left to attain the milestone?

So based on the model, the next three players who have the highest probability of reaching 3,000 hits are Alex Rodriguez (2,731), Johnny Damon (2,637) and Albert Pujols (1,969). Time is on the side of these players, especially Pujols. Both Rodriguez and Damon are in their mid to late 30's and I believe will continue to be productive players. Pujols is truly amazing to me since at the age of 31 he is only 31 hits away from 2,000 hits and 78 homeruns from 500. If based on his average of 197 hits per season (his highest of of 212 in 2003 and lowest of 177 in 2006) he's on pace to hit 3,000 hits during the 2017 season. God knows how many homeruns he'll have at that point. Like I said before: truly amazing.

A name that I find surprising that is missing from the top of the list is that of Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki. Payne says the following about Ichiro:

Even for a great hitter like Ichiro Suzuki, the trends are pointing down. He ranks 11th among active players, but he is 37, needs 690 hits to reach 3,000 and has fallen off this season

So the man in 37 and is currently having himself an "Un-Ichiro" type season. Keep in mind that even though he currently has 2,310 hits in 11 Major League Baseball season, this is a man that also has 1,285 hits while playing in Japan for the Orix Blue Wave of the Nippon Professional Baseball League. So his total hit figure is 3,595. His track record has proven that he is a consistent hit machine. He has averaged 224 hits a season since his debut in the Majors in 2001 (his highest was 262 in 2004 and his lowest was 206 in 2005) and until he shows me in more than half a year that his skills are in decline, I am going to expect him to live up to his prior production. I'm not saying that age doesn't play a role in the diminishing of skills it does, but I just don't think that metrics of any kind can quantify a man's desire and motivation to achieve personal goals. I think that Ichiro will be the first Japanese ballplayer to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown regardless if he reaches the 3,000 hit plateau but how better to nail down his legacy by getting to 3,000. Whether he gets there playing with the Mariners or not is another story for another day.

I do agree with Payne when he says it might be difficult for Ivan Rodriguez (2,835) and Omar Vizquel (2,823) to reach 3,000. Both players have become utility players and getting over 175 hits to reach 3,000 in that role makes it difficult. The necessary at-bats are just not there. An intriguing player is Vladimir Guerrero.

At 2,494 hits, he will reach the 2,500 hit mark within the next week or two. Based on last year's resurgent season with the Texas Rangers, Guerrero can still be a productive player though he can pretty much only do so in the DH position. I'm not sure if the lack of interest in Guerrero during last season's off-season is a reflection of Guerrero's skills but will the at-bats be there for Guerrero to get the necessary 500 hits to reach 3,000.

As it stand today, the 3,000 hit club only has 27 members. After Jeter makes it 28 within a few weeks and possibly 32 with the potential addition of Damon, Pujols, Suzuki and Rodriguez I think that there will be a period of time where no one will reach 3,000 hits making membership in that club as exclusive as the 300 win club.

Any opinions? Additions and/or subtractions? Let me know.


For Further Reading:
- Click Here for an interactive exhibit on the 3,000 Hit club presented by the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown website

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