Friday, April 1, 2011

Checking In On Baseball's Milestones

Derek Jeter will not reach 3,000 career hits in the 2011 season.

April Fool.

(I hope.)

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There are 16 active players with at least 2,000 career hits. Most of them do not have much of a shot at reaching 3,000.

Derek Jeter needs 74. Through most of his career, he's been averaging close to 200 hits a season. If he gets 180 in 2011, that will be, on the average, 30 hits a month. So, presuming no injury or major slump (hence the "I hope"), he will reach Number 3,000 somewhere around June 14, 2011. If he does slump, or get hurt and come back, he could get it on June 26 -- his 37th birthday.

Alex Rodriguez needs 328 -- he's 35, so he's got a very good shot. Johnny Damon needs 429 -- he's 37, so he's got a good shot. Vladimir Guerrero needs 573 -- he's 36, so he's got an outside shot.

Then there's Ichiro Suzuki. He's 37, and he's got 2,244, so he needs 756. But keep in mind, he is still hitting, and if you count his 1,278 hits in Japan (whose leagues are probably Triple-A quality), then he's already got 3,522, more than any North American major leaguer except Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial. However, if he gets to a new record of 4,257 combined hits in Japan and America (he'd need 735), I don't think it would be considered "the real record."

Ivan Rodriguez needs 183 -- he's 39. Omar Vizquel needs 201 -- he's 44. Manny Ramirez needs 427 -- he's 39. Chipper Jones needs 510 -- he's 39. Aside from Pudge, none of them have much of a chance. The others with at least 2,000 hits -- Miguel Tejada, Bobby Abreu, Edgar Renteria, Todd Helton, Jim Thome, Jason Kendall and Magglio Ordonez -- aren't going to do it.

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A-Rod comes into the season with 613 home runs. He will turn 36 in June. He needs 150 homers to reach 763 and pass Barry Bonds as the official all-time leader. If he plays 5 more seasons and averages 30 homers, he'll do it. Of course, as a steroid user (both admitted and caught), he will still be suspect, and many people will continue to think of Hank Aaron as the all-time leader.

Jim Thome (clean as far as we know has 589. He should have no trouble reaching 600. Manny Ramirez (caught dirty) has 555, and will probably reach 600.

There are 6 other active players with at least 400 home runs. Carlos Delgado (clean, we think) needs 27 for 500, but he's 39 and has been hurt a lot, I don't think he'll make it. Vladimir Guerrero (suspected by some) needs 72, is 36 and plays in Baltimore, so he has a good shot. Chipper Jones (clean, we think) also needs 72 and plays in Atlanta, but he's 39, so he might fall a little short. Jason Giambi (caught and admitted) needs 85, but he's 40 and even playing in Denver won't help. Albert Pujols (clean, we think) needs 92, and he's only 31 and is the best hitter in the game right now, so barring a medical or ethical calamity, 500 is just a matter of time for him. And Andruw Jones needs 93, is only 34 and is now in the Yankee organization, but has been hurt for the last few years, so I don't think he'll make it.

There are 12 other active players with at least 300 home runs. Adam Dunn (clean, we think) has 354 and is 31, and now plays for the White Sox in a hitter's park, so he has a good chance at 500. Also playing for the White Sox is Paul Konerko (clean, we think), with 365 at 35, so he might also make it. David Ortiz (caught dirty) has 349, but he's 35 and has battled injury and decline. He might not make it to 400, and is more likely to be retired than chasing 500 on Opening Day 2013. The others with 300 aren't going to make it to 500: Todd Helton, Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Troy Glaus, Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Ivan Rodriguez, Scott Rolen and Miguel Tejada.

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Books have been written suggesting that, due to the institution of the five-man starting rotation and the increasing use of bullpens, we may have seen the last 300-game winner.

Indeed, there are only 3 active (or, at least, not officially retired) pitchers with at least 200 wins: Jamie Moyer (267, but he's 48, out for this season and not likely to pitch again), Andy Pettitte (240, but he's 39 and says he won't pitch this season), and Pedro Martinez (219 and says he'd like to pitch again, but and didn't pitch at all last season, because nobody was willing to hire him due to his age, now 39, his mercurial temperament, and his injury history.) And the next man on the active career wins list is Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox' 44-year-old knuckleballer, with 193. He'll be lucky to get to 200.

Indeed, there are only 3 active pitchers I can see making a serious run at 300 wins. Roy Halladay is 34, has 169, and pitches for a hard-hitting team. The problem is, a big reason why the Phillies hit so many home runs is that he's in a hitters' park.

CC Sabathia, just 30, has 157 and pitches for the Yankees, but the new Yankee Stadium is also a hitters' park -- and he pitched yesterday, struggled, and escaped with a no-decision.

Then there's the greatest pitcher in the world (or so Met fans told us), Johan Santana. He has 133 wins, and Citi Field is a pitcher's park. But he's already 32 and has had significant injuries in each of the last 3 seasons (including this one, in which he's not likely to pitch before the All-Star Break). Now, I'm not saying Phil Hughes is going to get to 300 wins (although he does have a World Series ring, something Santana does not have and probably never will have unless he has an opt-out clause in his contract), but I am saying I'm glad the Yankees didn't trade Hughes as part of a package to get Santana.

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There are no active pitchers with 3,000 career strikeouts -- a shocking thing considering that, not that long ago, Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez were all active. True, Pedro has not officially retired, but it's highly unlikely he'll ever add to his official current total of 3,154.

In fact, there is no active pitcher with even 2,500. Moyer has 2,405, Pettitte has 2,251, and Wakefield has 2,063. So the only pitcher likely to do much pitching in 2011 with over 2,000 career strikeouts is... Javier Vazquez, with 2,374. Vazquez? Home Run Javy? Nope, that's not an April Fool's joke.

Barry Zito (1,651 at 33), Tim Hudson (1,541 at 35) and Kerry Wood (1,519 at 34 despite ungodly time on the Disabled List) all once looked like good bets for 3,000 Ks; none does now. Among active pitchers, Santana (1,877 at 32), CC (1,787 at 30) and Halladay (1,714 at 34) look capable of making serious runs at 3,000.

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In short, aside from Jeter's 3,000th hit, 2011 does not look like it will be a season for baseball milestones. Nor is there a major career record in danger of being broken: Bonds' 762 home runs, Rose's 4,256 hits, and Rickey Henderson's 1,406 stolen bases all look more than safe for the time being.

So do the "other league" records: Babe Ruth's American League record of 708 home runs (out of his 714 total) is within A-Rod's sight, but Ty Cobb's AL record of 4,191 hits (or 4,189, depending on whose figures you believe) and Lou Brock's National League record of 938 stolen bases aren't going to be approached anytime soon. The active leader in stolen bases is Juan Pierre, with 527. The "handed" records? Aaron's record of 755 by a righthander could be reached by A-Rod, but not in the next 3 seasons (2011, '12 & '13). Cobb's 4,191/4,189 hits by a lefthander and Aaron's 3,771 by a righthander are safe. (Rose was a switch-hitter.)

And, of course, the career records for wins are all very safe: Cy Young's 511 (290 in the NL, 211 in the AL), Walter Johnson's 417 by an ALer, the record shared by Christy Mathewson and Grover Cleveland Alexander of 373 by an NLer, and Warren Spahn's 363 by a lefthander. And also for strikeouts: Nolan Ryan's 5,714 (3,355 in the AL and 2,359 in the NL), Randy Johnson's 4,875 by a lefthander, Roger Clemens' 4,672 by an ALer, and Steve Carlton's 4,000 even by an NLer (out of his 4,136 overall).

And since there's no "gold standard" for career saves (is it 300? 400?), I can't really track that milestone, either. John Franco's record for saves by a lefthander, 424, looked to be in danger, but Billy Wagner appears to be retired with 422. The newly-retired Trevor Hoffman's NL record of 601 is safe for a long time to come; in order to surpass him as the all-time leader, AL record-holder Mariano Rivera would need another 42, counting the one he got yesterday. If said outing is any indication, being 41 going on 42 isn't going to slow him down, and he could do it by the end of this new season. (I should add that to my countdown chart.)

The Yankees have the day off. The Mets open the season tonight at 7:10 PM in whatever that municipality is called that holds whatever the Miami Dolphins' stadium is called this year, the last season in which the Florida Marlins play there. Next year, they'll be playing as the Miami Marlins at a new stadium with a retractable roof, on the site of the Orange Bowl.

The Mets will go on to prove everybody wrong and win the World Series this season.

Yeah, yeah, I know -- April Fool.

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