Pete Rose and Ty Cobb: the only two baseball players in MLB history to reach 4000 hits. Even 3000 hits is an incredible accomplishment, with only 28 players to ellipse that total. 24 of them are in the Hall of Fame. Alex Rodriguez is the next closest to 3000 (assuming he plays again), at 2939. Ichiro Suzuki stands at 2844 (MLB-only), and has a decent shot to get to 3000. After him, only Adrien Beltre (2604), Albert Pujols (2519), and Bobby Abreu (2470) are in striking distance. All of them are over 34 years old, and no one else has more than 2400. So even if a few more names join the 3000-hit club, a run at 4000 is far from likely. Of the 28 players to reach 3000 hits, only 5 made it to 3500, and only 2 of those hit another 500. 4000 hits may be the most elusive milestone in baseball, and it doesn’t look like anyone is going to reach it anytime soon.
A career of 4000 hits takes talent and longevity, plus the right circumstances and a great deal of luck. Both Rose and Cobb played 24 seasons, more than all but two others in the 3000-hit club. Ty Cobb is one of the best hitters in history, with the best all-time batting average at .366 lifetime. Rose’s career average is a more-modest .303 but he also took more at-bats than any other player in history. It takes the right player and the right career to get to 3000 hits, let alone 4000. Since Ichiro played his first 9 seasons in Japan, the player with best shot in recent years was none other than Derek Sanderson Jeter. He had the talent, amassing many 200+ hit seasons. He hit either leadoff or second for much of his career, giving him as many at-bats as possible. Plus, as the face of the New York Yankees, he was nearly guaranteed to have his name written in the lineup as long as he wanted to play. When Jeter was approaching his 3000th hit, he spoke about the milestone as a measure of consistency. If 200 hits in a season is the mark of a great hitter, it would take 15 seasons playing at that high level to reach 3000, not to mention another 5 seasons to get to the hallowed ground of 4000. Jeter played 20 seasons; however, his first “season” was 15 games as a rookie, and a injuries forced him to miss all but 17 games in 2013. Considering these anomalies gives an adjusted average of 191 hits per season, exactly the caliber of hitter that would have the best chance at 4000. Jeter’s work ethic and preparation for every season ensured he missed very few games due to minor injuries. 3465 hits (6th all-time) is extremely impressive, and the mark of a truly accomplished career. But if history had taken just a few slightly different turns, 4000 might have been on the horizon. Just how close was Derek Jeter to reaching 4000 hits? Actually, not that far.
Basic math says 535, or about 3 seasons worth. Two major injuries caused Jeter to miss significant time, and the argument can be made for an early retirement on his behalf (no other player in the top 15 of career hits played fewer than 21 seasons). Excluding his injury seasons, as well as his first and last season, Jeter averaged nearly 155 games played per seasons. A dislocated shoulder on Opening Day in 2003 caused him to miss 36 games. He officially played in 119 games that year so the 36 would have brought him up to normal 155. From 2001 to 2005, Jeter played in 739 games and collected 928 hits, an average of 1.26 hits per game. That equates to 45 more hits expected from those 36 games. Later due to a recurrent calf injury in 2011, Jeter only played 131 games, 24 below his adjusted season average. At this point in his career, Jeter’s average was less consistent. He was hitting .260 when going on the disabled list, but upon his return (and especially after recording his 3000th hit), Jeter batted .326 for the rest of the season, higher than his career average. Yet from 2010 to 2012, he still averaged 1.25 hits per game, so this ratio accounts for 30 through the 24 missed games. Jeter’s most significant injury was his fractured ankle during the 2012 playoffs. Rehabilitation from this injury, coupled with calf and hamstring issues, limited him to only 17 games that season. If he had gone a full season, he would have played in approximately 138 more games. By this point, his offensive production had slowed to about 1.20 hits per game (calculated across his last 4 seasons), giving him an additional 165 on the season (and a estimated total of 177 for 2013). So accounting for the few injuries, Derek Jeter’s projected hit total stands at 3465 (actual) + 45 (2003) + 30 (2011) + 165 (2013) = 3705 hits. Very impressive, but still not DJ4K.
But what if he had played another season or two? He retired at age 40, so even he played until age 42, it’s unlikely he would have been an everyday player. But what if he had played a full season at the beginning of his career? In other words, in 1995, Jeter only played 15 games, mainly as a replacement for the injured starter Tony Fernández. In his first 5 full seasons in the majors, Jeter averaged 1.29 hits per game. If he played 140 more games in 1995 (a full season), this would equate to 180 more hits (more than enough to win Rookie of the Year one season earlier).
If Jeter postponed his retirement for another year, he would have played his 21st season, still fewer than Rose, Cobb, Aaron, Musial, and Speaker (the top 5 all-time in hits). In 2014 he played in only 145 games, a decline of 10 from what was expected over his career. Assuming he took a few more days off, Jeter would be expected to play in approximately 135 games. In 2014, he hit .256, which was far below his career average of .310. His specific 2014 totals were 149 hits in 145 games, or very close to 1 hit per game. At this rate of production, during his 21st season, he would have added 135 more.
For the majority of his career, Jeter stayed healthy and was able to compete at a high level for two decades of baseball. A few injuries (mostly freak accidents) left him out of a handful of games in three different occasions. An earlier call-up to the majors and a slightly later retirement would have given Jeter a 21-year career and one of the greatest of all time. Although he ended up a bit short, Derek Jeter had the best chance in recent history of reaching 4000 hits.
3465 (actual) + 45 (2003) + 30 (2011) + 165 (2013) + 180 (1995) + 135 (2015) = 4020 hits.
Jeter had the perfect combination of talent, longevity, health, and circumstances to craft the career with the best shot at 4000 hits. Pete and Ty, you almost had company; but the 4K summit should be safe for a while now. AN