Only two players in the history of Major League Baseball have been able to collect 4,000 hits in their careers: Pete Rose (4,256) and Ty Cobb (4,189). Yesterday, a reporter asked Joe Girardi if he thinks Derek Jeter can reach the 4,000 hit milestone.
His response, courtesy of Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York:
“I think that is kind of crazy to think about. You are talking about five years of trying to get 200 hits, in a sense. It is less than that. I know that. I’m not ready to dive into that one yet.”
Jeter has totaled 3,105 hits. He needs 895 more to reach 4,000. To nitpick Girardi’s math, Jeter would need to average 179 hits per season over the next five years. Girardi’s right, though. It was only last season that Jeter reached 3,000, and it feels like members of the media are getting ahead of themselves here. Yankee fans will be celebrating Alex Rodriguez’s 3,000th hit before they celebrate Jeter’s 4,000th (if they ever get that chance).
But the question is being asked now because, despite the pre-season hysteria over Jeter’s age and poor first-half in 2011, he’s started this season fast out of the gate. He doesn’t look as old as he did last season, and he’s been one of the Yankees best offensive performers in the first 10 games (not saying much, considering the total ineptitude with RISP). Jeter, after 10 games, is batting .378 with a .404 OBP, three home runs, seven RBI, and four doubles.
There are some factors working in his favor on his quest to 4,000. He’s the active hits leader, hasn’t spent much time on the disabled list over his long career, has averaged about 1.27 hits/game in his career, and is no stranger to 200-hit seasons (he’s had seven in his career, the last one coming in 2009).
But 4,000 is not a foregone conclusion like 3,000 was, or like some fans expected it to be during Jeter’s heyday. He’s not getting any younger. He’ll be 38 in June, and 40 years old when the 3-year/$51 million contract he signed before the 2011 season ends. With age, of course, comes injuries and the slow, inevitable decline of an athlete. It’s unlikely he’ll be having too many more 200-hit seasons at this stage in the game. Last year was his lowest hit total (162) since his injury-shortened 2003 season.
To get a better idea of his chances, it’s best to compare him to the only other players who have accomplished it: Rose and Cobb. Rose was 37, the same age as Jeter, when he notched his 3,000th hit in 1978. Cobb was 34 when he got his in 1921. Rose collected 1,092 hits from his age 38-45 seasons. Cobb, on the other hand, got 525 hits from the ages of 38-41. (It should also be noted that Rose and Cobb didn’t strike out quite as often as Derek does, either.)
It’s really a matter of how long Jeter plays. Rose stuck around the game much longer than I expect Jeter to — helped by the fact that he wasn’t a shortstop and transitioned to first base in his late 30s. Hard to imagine Jeter remaining as the full-time shortstop for the rest of his career. Will he even be getting enough plate appearances toward the end to have a shot at 179 hits each season? At some point, you have to figure he’ll be relegated to a utility role.
Ultimately, I think he’s going to finish just shy of 4,000 on his career, which is nothing to scoff at. Getting that many hits requires a lot of longevity, consistency, health, talent and a little bit of luck – all of which Jeter has had in abundance over his 18-year career.