Sunday, June 28, 2015

Predicting the Future of the 3000 Hit Club

As you may know, I enjoy trying to predict the future for ballplayers. So, when A-Rod got his 3000th hit, a thought crossed my mind: could I apply my framework for predicting future Hall of Famers to milestones like 3000 hits? This is the result.

What I did was as follows: first, I went through the 29 players with 3000 hits and checked where they all stood hit-wise at each age. Then, I looked at the median mark for the group, and checked how many ballplayers in history had reached that number of hits by the same age. Then, I took a straight percentage of how many of the total number of players at that mark actually wound up over 3000 hits.

For an example, say that the 15th most hits at age 20 among 3000-hit players was 100. I then looked at how many players in history had 100 hits through their age 20 season, and figured out the percentage of that number that went on to 3000 hits. After that, just to get another benchmark, I repeated the process with the lowest hit total in the 3000 hit club by age (and second lowest, since many of the lowest marks were by Cap Anson, who played in such a radically different time that I wasn’t sure how useful of a marker he’d be for other players).

With the percentage of players at each milestone that went on to 3000 hits, I then looked towards the game today, checking the leaders of each age bracket today against the historical marks.

23: Median-467 Hits (14.02% at this point make it to 3000)
Second Lowest- 80 Hits
I’m going to include everyone younger than 23 here, since there are so many good young stars in the game today. We only have one 23-year-old at this mark. Mike Trout, with 656 hits (all stats are as of the morning of 6/28) has already reached the median for next season, and should easily be halfway to the age 25 mark by the season’s end. I don’t have the specific numbers, but I figure being this far ahead of the curve has to give him a significant leg up on his chances of reaching 3000. 
However, in addition to Trout, we have 22-year-olds Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Neither has 467 hits yet, but both are over 400 (436 and 416, respectively), meaning that they should easily cruise by this mark an entire season early as well. No other 23-year-olds will reach this mark in 2015, but check back next season to see how Xander Bogaerts (22, 216 hits) is doing. 23-year-old runners-up include Christian Yelich (285) and Nick Castellanos (200), so they’re technically still ahead of where Wade Boggs (who debuted relatively late) was as this point (which really says more about how impressive Wade Boggs was than their chances, to be honest).

24: Median-584 (11.19%)
Second Lowest-256
No players above the median here, although leaders Nolan Arenado (334), Yasiel Puig (320), and Marcell Ozuna are ahead of where some 3000 hit club members were at the same point (namely, Boggs, Lou Brock, Honus Wagner, and Craig Biggio).

25: Median-807 (17.44%)
Second Lowest-448
First among this age group is Starlin Castro, with 923 hits so far. Assuming he’s healthy, he might hit next year’s 995 mark by the end of the season, although his drop off and the crop of rising Cubs stars might cut into his playing time. No one else is at 807 hits yet, but Freddie Freeman had a pretty good chance (732) before his DL-stint. Assuming he’s not making it, our next best chances would be Jason Heyward (714) and Jose Altuve (711), although even if they make it, there’s still not even a 1-in-5 chance at this stage. Next on the list is Giancarlo Stanton, but his injury and distance (693) makes it unlikely.

26: Median-995 (20.27%)
Second Lowest-624
Elvis Andrus leads the way, with 1027 hits (nearly double second place Mike Moustakas’s total of 516). But given his regression on offense the last few years, I’m not sure how many more seasons we can expect to see him above the 3000-hit median.

27: Median-1175 (23.08%)
Second Lowest-780
Justin Upton might make it to 1175 by year’s end (he’s at 1116), but outside of him, no active 27-year-olds are even to 650 hits.

28: Median-1327 (21.13%)
Second Lowest-938
For the second time, we have no players above the cut-off. Andrew McCutchen leads 28-year-olds with 1063 hits and counting, which tops about a sixth of the 3000 hit club, but he’s still a long way from even the median. Pablo Sandoval and Jay Bruce are next after him, but they’re even further off (1011 and 947, respectively).
Also, a note: this is the youngest age where Cap Anson is the lowest hit total in the club. Seeing as he played 27 seasons and retired in 1897, it might be best to pick a more reasonable person to be the “last chance” benchmark (the second lowest mark from here to age 36 is Craig Biggio, who lost a little ground at the start of  his career playing catcher).

29: Median-1517 (25.86%)
Second Lowest-1105
Once again, no one has reached the median for this age, and no one really has a chance to. The leader for the group is Billy Butler at 1339, but Adam Jones (1242) is right behind him and might have a slightly better shot. Both will probably finish the season ahead of about a third of the 3000-hit club, but still way off of the pace. After them are Delmon Young (1161), who’s already a bench bat, and Evan Longoria (1048), who’s had his chances at 3000 wrecked by injuries.

30: Median-1676 (25.42%)
Second Lowest-1279 (10.29%)
We’re finally at the point where being ahead of the last guys is at least a little significant, which is good because no one is even close to the median. But given the injury history of the top four of the age group (Ryan Zimmerman at 1370, Melky Cabrera at 1333, Matt Kemp at 1262, and Troy Tulowitzki at 1146), it’s not like that news is going to help much.

31: Median-1846 (30.00%)
Second Lowest-1470 (12.67%)
Still nobody technically “on pace”, with Nick Markakis leading the way at 1632. He’ll probably finish ahead of nine of the 3000 hit club members, but he doesn’t exactly have much room for error at this point. His odds probably aren’t much better than the some of the younger guys, though, despite the extra thousand hits. After him, it’s Prince Fielder (1488), Hanley Ramirez (1474), and Dustin Pedroia (1457) who all qualify (or will, by season’s end) for the “lower” tier. Ryan Braun (1363) is the first miss.

32: Median-2021 (34.09%)
Second Lowest-1680 (17.18%)
Finally, we have someone who we can call on-pace: Miguel Cabrera is already at 2278, which means he’s actually set for next year with over half of 2015 left. And if he keeps up at the rate he’s going, he might even reach 2371 hits, setting him up through age 34.
After him, there’s Robinson Cano, who probably won’t reach 2021 this year, but looks pretty well set up at 1906. If he picks it up the rest of the way and plays closer to his 2014 level, he’d be in even better position. Jose Reyes is next, with 1823 hits. He won’t reach the median, but he too could easily finish above a third of the club with a healthy finish; 86 hits would tie him with Nap Lajoie, although that would definitely require Reyes not missing any more time. Also worth mentioning are David Wright and Joe Mauer. Neither will finish in promising position (Wright has 1713 hits, Mauer has 1610), but both had good chances until injuries set in. Maybe they surprise us with shockingly-healthy second halves to their careers, although I wouldn’t count on it.

33: Median-2204 (40.54%)
Lowest-1593 (10.14%)
Second Lowest-1868 (22.22%)
Another drop off, as Carl Crawford leads the age group with only 1880 hits. Once upon a time, he might have been a decent bet, but he hasn’t even recorded 130 hits in a season since his last year in Tampa (which was all the back in 2010, for those keeping track). After him, it’s Adrian Gonzalez with 1717, then Jhonny Peralta with 1598, technically in contention, but only just.

34: Median-2371 (46.88%)
Lowest-1780 (12.78%)
Second Lowest-1969 (21.54%)
Above 3000: 1
Ty Cobb became the youngest member of the 3000 hit club back in 1921, two seasons before anyone else in history. Clearly, none of today’s 34-year-olds will be challenging that mark; Alex Rios is in first with 1704 hits.

35: Median-2505 (44.12%)
Lowest-1944 (16.02%)
Second Lowest-2149 (26.42%)
Above 3000: 1
We’re almost to the 50-50 point, where half of the players who reach the mark will continue on the 3000. And Albert Pujols is as good a bet as any to keep it up. His resurgence this year has brought him all the way to 2592 hits, meaning he’s in good position to get above next year’s median as well. After him, it’s a tumble all the way to Matt Holliday; for as good as Holliday has been, he only has 1891 hits.

36: Median-2668 (53.57%)
Lowest-2121 (20.86%)
Second Lowest-2295 (30.77%)
Above 3000: 3
While the numbers say this is a 50-50 chance, it might actually be a little better than that. Looking at the 13 players that reached the median but didn’t go the rest of the way, it seems that most of them played before World War II, and a not-insignificant amount played before the liveball era. The only “modern” players in that group (by most definitions) seem to be Roberto Alomar and Vada Pinson. I’d imagine that players today are more likely to hold on until they reach 3000 hits once they get close enough. So you might want to add a few points to some of these figures, especially the ones for older ages. It’s just a fault of the simplicity of this model.
In any case, Adrian Beltre is almost at the median with over half of the season to play, with a 2661 hits. He’s fallen a little this year, but given his defensive value and position, he’s still an everyday player, so he probably has a little better than 50-50 odds. The same can’t be said for second place Jimmy Rollins, who might play himself out of an everyday job in spite of his 2362 hits.

37: Median-2812 (65.22%)
Lowest-2298 (27.62%)
Second Lowest-2421 (35.44%)
Above 3000: 8
We’re entering the ages with really slim pickings, but I’m going to keep at it given the few big names we have left. Aramis Ramirez is the only one with shouting distance of the median, with 2232 hits.

38: Median-2928 (88.24%)
Lowest-2455 (35.80%)
Second Lowest-2548 (41.79%)
Above 3000: 9 (would have been 10, if not for A-Rod’s suspension)
For as good as he’s been, Carlos Beltran will probably fall short. He’s at 2383 hits, and he’s been showing definite signs of age the last two years. No one else is even at 2000 hits. And if you were wondering, the only players to reach the median and not continue on to 3000 hits were “Wahoo” Sam Crawford and “Wee” Willie Keeler. Both were retired before Babe Ruth even left Boston.

39: Median-3014
Lowest-2612 (43.94%)
Second Lowest-2678 (50.91)
Above 3000: 21
This has been a huge age for the 3000 Hit club, historically. Of course, if you’re good enough to still be playing at 39 and have almost 2700 hits, this a decent chance you’ll make it anyway, although your chances are dwindling fast. After new member A-Rod, Torii Hunter and David Ortiz are next, but both are still a ways off (2394 and 2217).

40: Median-3112
Lowest-2764 (61.70%)
Second Lowest-2816 (66.67%)
Above 3000: 24
No active age 40 players are worth mentioning in this discussion, unfortunately. The only players in the 3000 hit club that hadn’t made it by this point in their career were Biggio, Boggs, Dave Winfield, Rickey Henderson, and Anson.

41: Median-3154
Lowest-2889 (82.86%)
Second Lowest-2914 (82.35%)
Above 3000: 27
At this point, all that were left were Henderson and Anson, both of whom were very special cases. Thankfully, our last candidate is something special himself. With 42 hits and counting this season, Ichiro Suzuki stands only 114 hits shy of 3000 hits. With Stanton out for a while, Ichiro should see a little more playing time, letting him close in a little more. He probably won’t make it until 2016, but I feel like someone would be willing to bring Ichiro on next year if he’s healthy. Even if he’s not great, I think a rebuilding team could get some good press bringing him on and marketing his milestone, especially since Ichiro is just so popular across the league. Also, you know how Wade Boggs was behind for so long because he came up at age 24? Ichiro didn’t make his major league debut until his age 27 season. You can afford to be behind the pace when you get over 200 hits each of your first ten seasons.

These are just a guideline, but I feel like it’s a good way to visualize how likely a player is to actually make it rather than just guessing at random. There may be a few flaws in the model (like my thoughts on recent players earlier), but I think it makes for a good starting point at least. Clearly, most of these players won’t make it, even some of the players over the medians; getting to 3000 hits usually requires an early start, consistent production, good health, and some good luck just to get in the conversation. But I think we have at least a half-dozen or more to look forward to over the next decade and a half or so (even with a likely dry-run somewhere in the middle of that).

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