Which Players Will Join The 3,000-Hit Club?

Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees bats during MLB game action against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Brad White/Getty Images)

Alex Rodriguez will likely be the next major leaguer to reach the 3,000-hit milestone. Which players will follow him into that club?

Last summer, Rob Neyer looked at the question of whether there will be any more 300-game winners and concluded that CC Sabathia, among others, might make it to that milestone, despite claims by author Dan Schlossberg in his book The 300 Club that we might have seen the last of this group. (For the record, I agree with Rob.)

Also last summer, the Yankees' Derek Jeter registered his 3,000th career hit, becoming the 28th player to reach that milestone.

Have we seen the last of them? Not by a long shot. Here is the list of the ten players active in 2011 who have the most career hits after Jeter

Ivan Rodriguez 2,844
Omar Vizquel 2,841
Alex Rodriguez 2,775
Johnny Damon 2,723
Chipper Jones 2,615
Vladimir Guerrero 2,590
Manny Ramirez 2,574
Ichiro Suzuki 2,428
Bobby Abreu 2,384
Todd Helton 2,363

Most of those players are too old, too far from 3,000 or too Manny Ramirez to make it. A-Rod, of course, is almost a lock; despite his injuries and missed time over the last three years, he's still averaged 124 hits over that span. The 2012 Bill James Handbook, which uses James' "Favorite Toy" (a system of projecting future counting stats by predicting remaining career length combined with a weighted average of past performance), gives A-Rod a 94% chance of passing the milestone, with it likely coming in 2013.

The only other player James lists with more than a 75% chance is Damon -- but Damon is still unemployed at this writing. He had a reasonably productive 2011 with 152 hits; repeating that performance in 2012 would leave him just 125 short, and if he did that, some team might sign him in 2013 to try to sell some tickets to see him reach the milestone.

Ichiro is a curious case. Before 2011, Ichiro seemed a lock to make it; a year ago, coming off 10 straight 200+ hit seasons, he needed a little more than four such years. But his down year in 2011, with "just" 184 hits, has slowed down his progress. At 37, he still seems in great shape, but the 2011 decline is worrisome for this quest (and for the Mariners, too). At 184 hits per year, Ichiro wouldn't hit 3,000 until his age-41 season in 2015.

For more, we need to go further down the list.

Albert Pujols, who just turned 32, is 927 hits away. His weighted average of hits, by the James formula, is 179 hits per season. Maintaining that average would get Pujols to 3,000 in 2017.

Which players younger than 30 have a shot at 3,000?

The youngest player with more than 1,500 hits is Miguel Cabrera, who will turn 29 in April and passed 1,500 last season; he now has 1,579. Cabrera's Jamesian established hits level is 192 per season; he'd need 7½ seasons at that level to pass 3,000. As he gets older, his hit level could decline, but maintaining it would get him to 3,000 at age 36 or 37.

An even younger player to watch -- granted, many years down the road -- might be Starlin Castro, who became one of only 10 players in MLB history to have a 200-hit season at age 21 or younger when he had 207 hits in 2011. Two others who accomplished this feat -- Ty Cobb and Al Kaline -- eventually crossed the 3,000 barrier. Castro has 346 career hits and turns 22 on March 24.

And then there's Jeter. (There's always Jeter. Just ask almost any MSM sportswriter.) After a slow start and some time on the DL in 2011, Jeter crossed 3,000 hits with his admittedly amazing 5-for-5 game against the Rays on July 9. From that game through season's end Jeter hit .338/.392/.451 in 295 plate appearances, and his Jamesian established hits level is 176.

If Jeter has 176 hits this year -- surely not impossible, as he had 162 in 2011 despite missing 31 games -- that would give him 3,264, and move him up eight spots on the all-time list to 12th. Two years like that would put him at 3,440 -- seventh.

Say what you will about Jeter, he has put up a remarkable career. And he should be joined in the 3,000-hit club, over the next few years, by several more players now active.

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