Thursday, September 13, 2007

The 3,000-hits club is in danger

I have been trying to get this post out for a few weeks now but too many things have come up putting this baby on the back-burner. Now is as good of a time as any. The numbers are from a few weeks back so keep that in mind. Edgar Renteria went through a lengthy absence which will impact my numbers for him slightly.

The 3,000-hit mark has long been considered an accomplishment that guarantees election to the MLB Hall of Fame. Unlike the 500-HR plateau that has come under fire lately because of its increased membership, the 3,000-hits mark is still considered the benchmark for entry to the “Hall.” The legitimacy of the 3,000-hit plateau has not been called into question by the steroid era although one could argue that Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds (Bonds is only 80 hits from the mark) were aided just as much in their quest for 500-HRs as they were in their quest for 3,000-hits. Still, steroids and 3,000 hits are rarely, if ever, discussed in tandem. It takes much longer to achieve 3,000 hits than to hit 500 home runs. No player has ever reached 3,000 hits with a career batting average of less than .276 so you obviously have to be a better-than-average hitter to reach that mark as well. Those are just a few of the reasons why the 3,000 hit mark has been immune from the steroid talk.

While I can’t see a legitimate reason short of suspected steroid use (and even then, it’s not necessarily the right decision) to keep a player who has reached 500 career home runs out of the Hall of Fame, I can see keeping a player who has reached 3,000 career hits out of the Hall of Fame. I am actually surprised that this hasn’t happened yet. Harold Baines came the closest. He made it to 2,866 without making the Hall of Fame. Baines may have made the Hall of Fame with an extra 134 career hits but he still wouldn’t have deserved it.

It is certainly true that most hitters that reach 3,000 hits are of the elite variety, it is not true that a player must be elite to reach that mark. It just hasn’t happened yet. Cal Ripken reached 3,000 hits in 21 seasons with only a .276 batting average. Robin Yount accomplished it by hitting .285 over 20 seasons. Lou Brock did it by hitting .293 over 19 seasons. Those players certainly weren’t run-of-the-mill hitters. Ripken and Young won multiple MVP awards and Brock broke the all-time stolen base record that stood for 80 years. But, there are a lot of mediocre baseball players who hit .275. Odds are that one of those players who hits in the .275-.295 range will stick around for 20 years due to a combination of good health and good luck. As I mentioned above, I am shocked that it hasn’t happened yet in 100+ years of baseball. That led me to research active players who have the best chance of reaching the 3,000 career hits who almost certainly would not be elected to the Hall of Fame even with that accomplishment. What I found was actually not-at-all unexpected personally but maybe a bit surprising to most baseball fans. There are at least 10 players that fit the description of a non-Hall of Fame caliber player who could reach 3,000 hits. I would be surprised if none of them reach 3,000 hits—meaning that we could actually be very close to seeing a player with 3,000 hits kept out of the Hall of the Fame for the first time ever.

Here a list of the players who are the closest to 3,000 hits who probably won’t make the Hall of Fame regardless of whether they reach the mark or not (listed in order from oldest to youngest):

--------------------------Total* needed # seasons until 42 hits per season needed
Luis Gonzalez---------2530-----470---------3------------------------157
Garrett Anderson------2200-----800---------6-----------------------133
Ray Durham-----------1975-----1025--------6-----------------------171
Shawn Green----------2020------980---------8-----------------------123
Johnny Damon--------2100------900---------9-----------------------100
Edgar Renteria--------1970-----1030--------11------------------------94
Rafael Furcal----------1300-----1700--------13----------------------131
Juan Pierre-------------1426-----1574--------13----------------------121
Adrian Beltre----------1420-----1580--------14----------------------113
Jimmy Rollins---------1300-----1700--------14----------------------121

* Projected total by the end of ’07 season

I am willing to admit that Johnny Damon and Juan Pierre could squeeze into the Hall of Fame depending on how the rest of their careers unfold. But, both are unlikely Hall of Famers. The rest are just a collection of above average hitters who started their careers at an early age and have managed to stay relatively healthy. Ray Durham is probably the longest shot of the bunch. Since he doesn’t come anywhere close to 171 hits per season anymore, he would have to play 10 more seasons. Just about every other player on the list has a pretty good chance of reaching 3,000 hits. Luis Gonzalez would just need to remain an everyday player for three and a half more seasons and he’ll likely get there. Garrett Anderson still manages 150+ hits per year so averaging 133 over the next six years isn’t out of the question. Amazingly, Shawn Green only needs to average 123 hits for the next eight years. Renteria has the best chance by a mile. He just needs to play 11 more seasons at 94 hits per year. In fact, he could do it in 7 years or less if he averages 150 hits per year. Furcal, Pierre, Beltre and Rollins are all right around the same age and all have very good chances of making it. I would be surprised if there aren’t at least three players on this list who reach 3,000 hits. That would damage the reputation of the 3,000 mark much more than the steroids-era has damaged 500 home runs. There is a first for everything but it’s going to be a bummer if/when the 3,000-hit mark loses its luster.


Anonymous said...

I've been looking for a discussion about this - it's an interesting topic. I think you're a little off on your projections. Players like Green and Gonzalez have or will hang it up long before they get a chance to make it to 3,000. I think that if Gonzalez makes it, he will get into the Hall. His other numbers are good enough to justify selection, in combination with reaching the 3,000 hit plateau. I think Damon falls into that category, too. If he reaches the mark, he goes to Cooperstown. Ditto for Anderson. Both are World Series winners, don't forget. The others are so far away that there's little point in making projections. I think Beltre is an interesting case, however. Because of his early start, he could compile very big, Hall-convincing numbers without ever being a dominant player (except for his 2004 season).

Jake said...


Not sure what you were referring to with regards to some of my projections being off. I simply listed non-elite players who stood the best shot at reaching 3,000 hits and the number of hits they’d need to average until the age of 42 to do it. Obviously, if I knew Shawn Green was going to retire at the end of 2007, I wouldn’t have included his totals.

It definitely is an interesting topic. If Luis Gonzalez plays three more seasons—unlikely but not out of the question—he’ll have a chance. Gonzalez’s numbers are pretty good but they aren’t Hall of Fame numbers. Getting to 3,000 hits might get him in. Damon might sneak in, too, although his numbers aren’t Hall worthy either.

The two best bets for not getting in with 3,000-hits are Garrett Anderson and Edgar Renteria. Both have really good chances of reaching 3,000 hits. Neither has been a Hall of Fame-caliber player. Anderson has been steady but unspectacular. His OPS+ is 104 which is horrible for a middle-of-the-lineup hitter being considered for the Hall of Fame. Renteria has an even worse resume. Beltre will almost certainly not get in but I think he’ll be done by the age of 35. He’s just not a good enough hitter to stick around long enough.

I think we’ll see a player in the next ten years reach 3,000 hits who won’t make the Hall. My money is on Anderson or Renteria. However, without a precedent, it’ll be interesting to see how the voters handle the situation. Who knows, maybe enough voters think that 3,000 is automatic induction regardless of other numbers. I hope that’s not the case.

Take care!


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