Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Concerning Large Numbers

The Rays are up 2-0 against the Yankees on ESPN right now, but Derek Jeter has moved two hits closer to Lou Gehrig on the all-time Yanks hit list thanks to a bunt single and a ground rule double. When Derek stepping into the box for his second at bat, however, I heard something absolutely astonishing: Steve Phillips believes that Jeter will get to 4000 hits.

Actually, I think he said that Jeter has a "very good chance," or something along those lines, but still. Phillips went on to explain that Jeter "only" (and he did in fact use the word "only") needs to play eight more seasons (the man is 35) and average 158 hits in each of those seasons in order to crack 4000.

Now, I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who are statistically savvy enough to use aging curves and such to illustrate how unlikely Phillips' claim really is, but I'm not one of those people.

Instead, I'm going to point here and here. Pete Rose and Ty Cobb are the only members of the 4000 hit club, and I think we can all agree that they were both pretty good at baseball. Rose played for about three minutes shy of forever. Cobb was done at 41. Rose averaged 167 hits between his age 36 and age 43 seasons. Cobb averaged 154 from 36 on. Jeter is a damned fine hitter, but 158 hits for eight more seasons, even assuming that, like Rose and Cobb, Jeter is going to pile up hits totals in the high 100's or even low 200's until he's 40 or so, is no easy task (one that Ty Cobb, he of the 4189 hits and .366 career average, failed).

The Yankee captain has a further disadvantage due to his position: there is almost no damned way any manager in his right mind is going to trot out a 43-year-old to the shortstop position every day (even Vizquel was only the everyday shortstop through his age 40 season), and Jeter's numbers aren't likely to be DH-worthy into his 40's.

Where Jeter actually has an advantage over Rose, though, is in the slugging category. Rose had a career SLG of .409; Jeter has slugged .459 over his career (Cobb slugged .512, because he was Ty Fucking Cobb). Jeter's hit totals are less dependent on legging out singles than Rose's were, so it's likely that while there's still some pop in #2's bat, he'll continue to rack up hits as he's always done. And there's no doubting Jeter's commitment: his off-season training regime (which emphasized lateral quickness, particularly on defense) has resulted in Jeter's best defensive season to date (he's worth 5.1 runs at short so far this year, a far cry from the negative numbers that usually "grace" Derek's WAR charts).

But will all this translate into the longevity and productivity that Jeter would need to reach the 4000 hit plateau? Probably not. There is, after all, a damned good reason that only two players have cracked 4k in 150 years of baseball: it is really, really hard to play baseball into your 40's, particularly at a high level, And Jeter's .409 SLG, while better than Rose's and solid for a SS, isn't a number most managers want their first basemen or DHs turning in.

Steve Phillips could be right, of course. Derek Jeter could one day rap hit number 4000. He might even hit number 4257. But to claim that Jeter has a "very good chance" of doing so is absurd, as is taking eight seasons of 158-hit production for granted.

Fortunately, Steve Phillips' little speech was intercut with shots of Nick Swisher screwing around in the dugout, and was followed by Swish striking out and yelling "fuck!" on national television. Nick Swisher is amazing even when he strikes out.


  1. Is Steve Phillips aware that Jeter hasn't hit 3000 yet? Let's worry about one milestone at a time there Nostradamus.

  2. I'm pretty sure that Derek Jeter is already in the 3000 hit club of Steve Phillips' heart.

  3. By the by: ZiPS disagrees with Steve:

  4. "Nick Swisher is amazing even when he strikes out." Good thing for Nick Swisher.