Can Freddie Freeman Re-Open the 3,000 Hit Club?

Freddie Freeman
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Two years ago, I wrote about the imminent demise of the 3,000 Hit Club after Miguel Cabrera became a member. Simply put, it was a question of math. The worse the environment is for hitting for batting average, the fewer players there will be who will put up lofty career hit totals. While it would be easy to think there are simply more lousy hitters these days, as league batting average has dropped in recent decades, the spread in individual batting averages has not increased; great players see lower batting averages when league batting averages decline. But while 2023’s new rules didn’t herald a reversal of the trend, one late entrant in the race for 3,000 hits has continued to excel: Freddie Freeman.

What makes the nadir of the 3,000 Hit Club so jarring to a baseball fan is the newness of this phenomenon. The explosion of offense in the 1990s wasn’t just homers, but batting average as well. Even going back 10 years, there were always a lot of players with career hit totals somewhere north of 2,000.

In 2023, that number is seven, and that’s only because there were four new members this year: Freeman, Jose Altuve, Elvis Andrus, and Andrew McCutchen. (I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that Evan Longoria won’t get 72 hits over the next two weeks.) Contrast that with 2004, which featured 27 active players with 2,000 career hits.

That brings us back to Freeman. While he was always good at hitting for average throughout his 20s, his hallmark was his year-to-year consistency rather than amassing batting titles. Batting average tends to peak rather early, and Freeman wasn’t at the top of the leaderboards in either hits or batting average over the first decade of his career.

Batting Average Leaders, 2010s
Name AVG H
Miguel Cabrera .317 1595
Jose Altuve .315 1568
Adrián Beltré .307 1466
Joey Votto .306 1532
Mike Trout .305 1324
Charlie Blackmon .304 1244
Buster Posey .302 1378
DJ LeMahieu .302 1223
Christian Yelich .301 1067
Mookie Betts .301 965
Daniel Murphy .301 1367
Robinson Canó .300 1695
José Martínez .298 344
Michael Brantley .296 1339
Whit Merrifield .296 655
Dustin Pedroia .296 1225
Vladimir Guerrero .295 341
Michael Young .295 713
Nolan Arenado .295 1160
Joe Mauer .294 1279
J.D. Martinez .294 1168
Ryan Braun .294 1410
Corey Seager .294 545
Yuli Gurriel .293 516
Freddie Freeman .293 1451
Troy Tulowitzki .293 931
José Abreu .293 1038
Marco Scutaro .293 628
Paul Goldschmidt .292 1337
David Ortiz .292 1014

As noted above, most players see big batting average dips when they cross 30. Even looking just at players who managed 3,000 hits, their batting averages in their 30s were about 20 points lower than their 20s. Freeman didn’t get the memo, however; the three best batting averages of his career have all come within the last four seasons, despite league batting average bottoming out. This year, he’s at .335, arguably a more impressive number than his .341 in the shortened 2020 season.

To see how much progress Freeman has made, I went back and called up his final projected hits in ZiPS before each season of his career:

ZiPS Career Projection – Freddie Freeman
Year Hits
2010 1850
2011 2116
2012 2299
2013 2238
2014 2434
2015 2532
2016 2238
2017 2407
2018 2362
2019 2506
2020 2581
2021 2583
2022 2669
2023 2827
Now 2991

ZiPS liked Freeman fairly quickly, but his career hit projection stayed relatively stable after a few years, hovering somewhere in the 2,400–2,500 range. The last few years have changed that. His runway has become longer and longer, with the risk increasingly coming from a serious injury rather than decline. Now, he will decline, but like flying a hang glider, the higher you start, the longer before you hit the ground.

Here’s the updated career projection for Freeman through Sunday’s games:

ZiPS Career Projection – Freddie Freeman
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2024 .301 .385 .512 574 110 173 39 2 26 95 73 106 13 142 0 4.7
2025 .290 .375 .484 531 97 154 35 1 22 83 67 101 10 132 0 3.5
2026 .281 .366 .461 484 84 136 31 1 18 71 60 95 8 124 0 2.6
2027 .272 .358 .442 430 72 117 26 1 15 60 53 88 7 117 -1 1.8
2028 .261 .345 .412 376 59 98 22 1 11 49 45 81 5 106 -1 0.9
2029 .252 .337 .399 321 48 81 18 1 9 39 37 73 4 100 -2 0.5
2030 .247 .332 .382 267 39 66 15 0 7 31 31 62 3 94 -2 0.2
2031 .242 .325 .363 215 30 52 11 0 5 24 24 50 2 88 -2 -0.1

This isn’t a particularly bullish outlook, with ZiPS projecting a fairly steady decline (as you should at these ages). But it’s still enough to net him 877 hits, which, with the 16 more projected in 2023, brings Freeman to 2,991. ZiPS actually has a milestone algorithm I wrote some years ago that reduces playing time less as a player nears a significant milestone, so the projection system now has Freeman more likely to get to 3,000 than to fall short, at 53%. With his projected homer total nearing 450 and his WAR likely to top 70, Freeman is increasingly becoming a good bet for Cooperstown.

Not many active players are likely to join Freeman at 3,000 hits, with ZiPS projecting, on average, only 1.6 players other than him reaching the mark. Here are the 23 active players with at least a 0.5% projected chance:

ZiPS Career Projection – Hit Milestones
Player 2000 2500 3000
Freddie Freeman 100% 88% 53%
Jose Altuve 100% 89% 38%
Ronald Acuña Jr. 91% 54% 22%
Juan Soto 81% 43% 11%
Bo Bichette 68% 38% 9%
Wander Franco 63% 34% 9%
Julio Rodriguez 60% 31% 8%
Luis Arraez 49% 18% 8%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 77% 37% 7%
Michael Harris II 62% 34% 7%
Corbin Carroll 55% 24% 7%
Fernando Tatis Jr. 62% 27% 7%
Mookie Betts 92% 31% 5%
Bobby Witt Jr. 56% 23% 3%
Manny Machado 99% 51% 3%
Xander Bogaerts 94% 25% 3%
Francisco Lindor 82% 17% 3%
Gunnar Henderson 52% 25% 2%
Mike Trout 95% 57% 2%
Nolan Arenado 98% 32% 2%
Trea Turner 72% 12% 2%
Paul Goldschmidt 100% 26% 1%
José Ramírez 84% 19% 1%

ZiPS still thinks that Altuve is going to run out of calendar, but his outlook has improved somewhat since 2021. The two biggest gainers this year, meanwhile, have been Acuña Jr. and Bichette.

While it’s still too soon to be writing any speeches or preparing any celebrations, Cabrera might want to consider leaving the lights on at the 3,000 Hit Club for Freeman.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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synco
5 months ago

Cool stuff. Can ZiPS output ages as well? Would be very helpful in general when reading projection charts.

Kinanikmember
5 months ago
Reply to  synco

I’ve run several machine learning algorithms and I can project that age increases by one each year.*

*I know what you mean, though, it would be helpful and I’m sure I’ve seen the projections with age before.

Jason Bmember
5 months ago
Reply to  Kinanik

I’ve run several machine learning algorithms and I can project that age increases by one each year.”

I have backtested this through a couple of other channels. Math checks out, guys