Barring major surprises this year, the 2015 season will begin with no active player owning 3,000 hits. That’s not unusual (see end of post), but it naturally makes us wonder who’ll be the next to that milestone. Who do you think has the best shot at 3,000 hits? The obvious candidates, and more, after the jump:

 

One “favorite toy” for this task is the Bill James Career Assessment Tool, which uses the player’s current age, distance from the goal, and last three years’ production. (Here’s the formula.) The C.A.T. estimates for those five players, in ascending order:

  • Ichiro, 42%
    Only 258 hits away, but he turned 40 last fall after a season of sharp decline. His estimated chance has actually gone up from 38% two years ago. But starting in MLB at 27 meant astronomical odds against 3,000 hits; only Pete Rose ever collected 3,000 hits from 27 onward, and Sam Rice was the lone other with 2,800. Even opening with an unprecedented 10 straight 200-hit seasons (averaging 224 safeties) only lifted Ichiro’s odds to 36%. Playing regularly these last three years has helped his estimate more than his falling batting average has hurt; Ichiro’s 498 hits from age 37-39, though short of his prior standard, are still 9th-most in history.

 

  • Pujols, 44%
    Albert is now in a zone of great volatility for career projections. His injury-wracked 2013 slashed his 3,000 hits estimate by one-third, from 66% to 44%. A 2014 return to his 2011-12 output of 173 hits would spike it up to 79% — but another 101-hit campaign would trim it to 32%.

 

  • A-Rod, 60%
    The C.A.T. is simply not built to see through Alex’s complex situation. If you just plug in his current numbers, it spits out 97%, the maximum allowed by the method. But what use is a current estimate, when he can’t play at all this year? Looking forward from 2015, based on his hits for 2012-14 (126, 38 and a presumed zero), drops the estimate to 60%, and I think that’s the best this method can give. Yet I don’t think any C.A.T. estimate for A-Rod is especially useful right now, since so many divergent scenarios remain plausible.

 

  • Cabrera, 68%
    Miggy ranks 10th all-time in hits through age 30, and 14th in hits through 11 seasons. But he still needs 1,005 hits; and of the nine above Cabrera by age 30, only three got 3,000 (with A-Rod hanging fire). Falling short were Rogers Hornsby, Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Medwick and Vada Pinson. Willie Keeler was just 40 hits behind Cabrera at 30, with a 62% estimate, but wound up 68 hits shy; and Edgar Renteria(!) was only 61 behind (45% estimate), but didn’t reach 2,400. A year of 101 hits like Pujols had last year would plunge Miggy’s estimate to 42%.

 

  • Beltre, 81%
    Surprised? Beltre led the league in hits last year, for the first time. He’s averaged 196 hits the last two years (2nd to Cabrera), and 182 over the last four seasons (4th). Through age 34, his 2,426 hits ranks a modest 28th all-time. But he’s climbed fast the last four years, up from #51 at 30 and #41 at 32, and now sits in good company. Six of the prior 11 men within 60 hits of Beltre at 34 did reach 3,000: Paul Waner (+47), Al Kaline (+20), Rod Carew (-32), Eddie Collins (-44), Willie Mays (-45) and Cal Ripken (-55). For whatever it’s worth, turning the same lens on Pujols (2,347 hits through 33) shows just four of the prior 15 reaching 3,000: Roberto Clemente (+37), Derek Jeter (+9), Pete Rose (-10) and Kaline (-25).

 

Of course, these are just estimates, produced by a one-size-fits-all method. For any player, a strong case can be made for a different projection. If Ichiro remains even passably useful this year, it’s likely he’d get the opportunities needed for another year or two to bang out number 3,000, especially since he’s so highly respected. For A-Rod, just 61 hits away and still a decent hitter last year when he could get on the field, it might seem inconceivable that he doesn’t get to 3,000. But if the Yanks eat his contract, as some people expect, what team is likely to sign up a two-time PED user with so much additional baggage?

Besides Cabrera, only four other active players are 32 or under this year and are halfway to 3,000 hits:

  • Robinson Cano, 1,649 hits through age 30, estimated 35% chance of 3,000. Should he make it, Cano would be the 4th second baseman with 3,000 hits; Craig Biggio was the 3rd, ending a 77-year drought since Eddie Collins retired. By the way, he’s hit .309 in 40 games at Safeco, averaging 190 hits per 162 G.
  • Jose Reyes, 1,597 hits through age 30, estimated 13% chance of 3,000. A season of 184 hits (matching 2012, his best of the last 5 years) would raise him to 22%.
  • David Wright, 1558 hits through age 30, estimated 9% chance of 3,000. A season of 178 hits (matching 2012, his best of the last 5 years) would raise him to 21%. Brett and Boggs are the only career third-sackers with 3,000 hits.
  • Carl Crawford, 1,765 hits through age 31, no estimated chance of 3,000. Three years ago, Crawford rated a 30% shot. Now, even a return to 185 hits (his best of the last 5 years) would only restore him to 16%.

How about a dark-horse candidate? Starlin Castro rates a 23% chance; I’ll save a soft hat, just in case. Elvis Andrus measures up at 20%, though he can’t expect Ron Washington to manage forever. And while Mike Trout‘s just at 15% now, a third straight year of 180+ hits would vault him to 26% or beyond … with over 2,400 hits still needed. Sure, it’s foolish to forecast 10 years ahead; but if we can’t dream in March, what’s the point of living through winter?

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Assessing the Career Assessment Tool

From age 33, where Pujols stands now, how well has the C.A.T. predicted 3,000 hits? It might be the best simple method available, but I wouldn’t want to take it to Vegas.

There are 29 players who were estimated at 50% or better after age 33, who have retired or reached the goal. Only 11 actually got 3,000 hits — 38% of the pool. The worst fall-offs:

  • Sam Crawford, Willie Keeler, Rogers Hornsby and Mel Ott all rated the maximum 97% chance, with projections of at least 3,234 hits. The first three came within 70 hits of 3,000, while Ott fell 124 short; all missed their career projection by over 300.
  • Jesse Burkett (94% chance, 3,268 projection), Jimmie Foxx (91%, 3,200) and Roberto Alomar (90%, 3,268) fell short by 150, 354 and 276 hits, respectively.
  • Ed Delahanty, Lou Gehrig and Harry Heilmann were all rated 80% or better, projected for about 3,200 hits, but came up far short.

Meanwhile, nine who were rated under 40% did make 3,000. Eight of them rated 21%-39% — Lou Brock, Cal Ripken, Eddie Murray, Nap Lajoie, Tony Gwynn, Al Kaline, Carl Yastrzemski, George Brett — while Rickey Henderson overcame a 6% estimate to bag #3,000 at the end of his age-42 season. Obviously, longevity is the key factor in exceeding C.A.T. forecasts. From age 33, the system projects every non-catcher to have exactly 4.5 more years of production at the rate established in the prior three seasons (weighted 3-2-1 from most recent to least). The nine listed here all played regularly through at least age 39, and seven had at least one year of 120+ games at 40 or older.

Pujols is now rated at 44% to reach 3,000 hits. Of the 22 who rated within 10 percentage points at the same age and are now retired, six made the club, while two more came within 70 hits (Frank Robinson and Jake Beckley).

Moving beyond 3,000 hits to a broader picture of C.A.T. accuracy … There are 83 retired players who had 2,000+ hits by age 33. The C.A.T.’s absolute error rate in predicting their future hits was almost 51%. Projections generally erred on the high side, as the group achieved just 73% of the total projected hits. On average, 710 more hits were predicted, but only 517 came; the average was -193, but the median was -317. Six had a shortfall of 600+ hits (Hornsby, Stuffy McInnis, Bobby Doerr, Ed Delahanty, Billy Herman and Keith Hernandez), and 29 in all fell at least 400 short of their estimates. Just three exceeded projections by 600+ (Rose, Yaz and Cobb), and just six in all beat the estimate by 400+ hits.

Military service accounts for some of this group’s gap between projected and actual hits. But even narrowing the pool to the 44 players who debuted in 1946 or later, the combined C.A.T. estimates come out 15% high, with an average shortfall of 104 hits between projected and actual (689-584) and a median of -192.

By the way, I can find only two players whose wartime service clearly cost them a shot at 3,000:

  • Ted Williams (346 hits short) is the clearest case, missing 3 full years in WWII and most of 2 more in Korea.
  • Luke Appling (251 hits short) missed all of 1944 and most of ’45, after averaging 173 hits in the prior 3 years.

There are some speculative cases wherein wartime service disrupted a career that was off to a flying start. Cecil Travis, for instance, had 1,370 hits through age 27, the 18th-most of all time, then missed almost 4 years and never got back on track. But Williams and Appling are the only ones for whom I see a reasonable case that the missed time alone cost them a shot at 3,000 hits.

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Waiting for Mr. 3,000

Since Stan Musial‘s retirement, these are the years with no active player owning 3,000 hits:

  • 1964-69 (Aaron and Mays both reached in 1970, and Hank played through ’76)
  • 1977 (Rose got there in ’78 and played through ’86)
  • 1987-91 (Yount and Brett crossed in ’92, and seven more kept the string alive through 2003)
  • 2004 (Palmeiro joined in 2005, his final year)
  • 2006 (Biggio joined in 2007, then hung ‘em up)
  • 2008-10 (Jeter made it in style in 2011, then led MLB with 216 hits the next year)

Only Jeter, Cobb and Rose had a 200-hit season after the year they reached 3,000 hits. All three did it the very next year, while Cobb also did it his third year after.

There’s space below for your thoughts, screeds, tangents and anecdotes. Have at it!

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