The 3,000 Hit Club Is Closed for Maintenance

Batting average may have rightfully lost its sex appeal in player evaluation, but not everything that’s fun needs to be a measure of a player’s overall value. We’ve been treated to eight new members of the 3,000 hit club over the last 20 years; that’s a quarter of the 3,000-hitsmen in baseball history, with a few more just outside that arbitrary endpoint. Miguel Cabrera almost certainly won’t get the 21 hits he needs to reach the milestone over Detroit’s nine remaining games this season, but he should get there sometime in early 2022. After he does, however, baseball won’t have to print any more membership cards for a while.

By definition, players who end up with 3,000 career hits necessarily must have had 2,000 hits at some point. In 2021, we have fewer active 2,000-hit hitters than at any other “normal” time in baseball history:

There was only a single batter with 2,000 career hits after the 1952 season: Stan Musial, who had 2,023. But that bottleneck is hardly surprising given that many of baseball’s stars missed multiple seasons due to service in World War II. There were 10 active 1,500-hit hitters that year and six of them (Musial, Johnny Mize, Enos Slaughter, Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, and Mickey Vernon) went to war. Baseball set a record for the most active players with 2,000 hits fairly recently, with 27 after the 2004 season. Right now, there are only five: Cabrera, Robinson Canó, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, and Joey Votto.

The 1990s have the well-deserved reputation of being a home run era but people don’t always remember that it was a high batting average era as well. The league’s batting average during that decade peaked at .271 in 1999, the highest figure since 1939. Part of the reason the 90s don’t have a reputation as a batting average-heavy era is that you didn’t see many players flirting with the .400 mark, especially compared to the last time league batting averages had gone that high. Except for the occasional small uptick — including all of the expansion years — the spread of batting average among hitters has become narrower over time:

That weird outlier blip in 2020 is, naturally, due to the 60-game season. Now, if the decline in league batting average was just due to a less talented pool of hitters, we’d expect there to be more dispersion, not less. Unless league offense changes, ZiPS projects only a single active player, Cabrera, to finish his career past the .300 mark.

So, when will we see another player get 3,000 hits once Cabrera does? None of the other players with 2,000 hits are great candidates. Canó needs two full excellent seasons or three full middling ones to get to 3,000, a tall order for a player who will be 39 and coming off a year-long PED suspension. Last month, Molina announced that he plans to retire after the 2022 season and it seems rather unlikely he’ll get the 900 hits he needs before then. Votto’s had a terrific 2021, but with a thousand hits to go, the calendar is likely too daunting. To get a sense of the rest, I turned to ZiPS to crank out some projections, like treehouse elves churn out cookies:

ZiPS Projections – Hit Milestones
Player Current Hits* 2,000 Hit% 2,500 Hit% 3,000 Hit%
Albert Pujols 3,300 100% 100% 100%
Miguel Cabrera 2,979 100% 100% 99%
Jose Altuve 1,766 98% 66% 34%
Freddie Freeman 1,693 95% 72% 28%
Fernando Tatis Jr. 293 63% 55% 20%
Juan Soto 476 79% 49% 18%
Ronald Acuña Jr. 426 69% 40% 13%
Robinson Canó 2,624 100% 100% 12%
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. 364 70% 38% 11%
Wander Franco 70 43% 14% 7%
Mike Trout 1,419 96% 47% 5%
Manny Machado 1,417 87% 28% 3%
Bryce Harper 1,264 76% 14% 2%
Mookie Betts 1,145 84% 30% 2%
Xander Bogaerts 1,233 83% 24% 1%
Francisco Lindor 990 77% 26% 1%
Trea Turner 819 71% 11% 1%
Rafael Devers 583 53% 12% 1%
Cody Bellinger 542 13% 4% 1%
Yadier Molina 2,108 100 0% 0%
Elvis Andrus 1,861 85% 5% 0%
Andrew McCutchen 1,819 60% 2% 0%
Evan Longoria 1,815 54% 2% 0%
Starlin Castro 1,722 92% 16% 0%
Michael Brantley 1,568 70% 1% 0%
DJ LeMahieu 1,449 83% 12% 0%
Christian Yelich 1,199 38% 2% 0%
José Ramírez 974 66% 4% 0%
Tim Anderson 785 63% 4% 0%
Alex Bregman 672 41% 2% 0%
Ozzie Albies 599 52% 9% 0%
Gleyber Torres 410 18% 1% 0%
Bo Bichette 272 57% 15% 0%
Luis Arraez 256 35% 5% 0%
Luis Robert 132 37% 6% 0%
*Hit totals are through games on September 21

In this table (which is sortable), we have everyone with a 1% projected shot at 2,500 hits or better. After Cabrera accomplishes the goal next year, ZiPS only projects 1-2 currently active players to finish their career with 3,000 hits (1.6 to be exact). Over the next 12-15 years or so, only three players are currently on what I’d call a reasonable approach pattern. Freddie Freeman’s going strong, but needs to age well; Jose Altuve has wiped out the memories of his miserable 2020 season, though without a batting average like those he posted in his prime years. Canó’s a bit of a wild card, but a player who needs fewer than 400 hits and played solid baseball the last time we saw him is inevitably going to have at least some chance of attaining the milestone, though the caveats I mentioned above still apply.

But beyond that, the ranks are thin. Even Mike Trout has largely fallen away. He’s already a Hall of Famer based on what he’s done in his 20s, but he hasn’t had a 150-hit season since 2016 and he basically needs 10 of those and then some to get to 3,000 hits. In all-time hits, Trout was 15th through his age-22 and 22nd through his age-25 seasons. Assuming he’s done for the year, he now ranks 113th all-time in hits through a player’s age-29 season, behind such names as Juan Pierre, Justin Upton, and Ruben Sierra. After Altuve, Freeman, and Canó, it’s basically a wait to see what happens with the three Juniors and Juan Soto.

That is, unless baseball is changed somehow, whether in terms of equipment or rules, to incentivize hitters to trade power for contact. And baseball might change. While I can’t imagine voting for a player for the Hall of Fame based on his hit total, as I said up top, it’s still fun. Baseball’s numbers do have an aesthetic value beyond the value of the performance they reflect. I couldn’t care less about 3,000 hits or 300 wins as an evaluative measure, but it’s still cool to see a guy hit those pretty, round numbers. Numbers like that link what goes on in today’s game with baseball’s past, which is useful for a sport that tends to have more sepia-toned sentimentality than football or basketball. Cal Ripken Jr. would not have been any less of a player if he had taken a day off in 1991 and hadn’t caught Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak, but I’d be missing the memory of watching him do it in September of 1995, when the game was halted for what seemed like a half-hour because of the tumult of the crowd. I couldn’t tell you which game pushed Barry Bonds’ career WAR past Willie Mays‘, but seeing Juan Soto or Fernando Tatis Jr. hit a milestone that Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ty Cobb achieved would be fun.

So enjoy Cabrera collecting his 3,000th hit; it could be the last one we see for a while. And that’s too bad. After all, records are made to be broken, and milestones to be attained.

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for 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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1 year ago

Is it too late for a Nick Markakis comeback?

Cave Dameron
1 year ago
Reply to  tz

Only if Adam Dunn comes back to hit 500 home runs.

1 year ago
Reply to  Cave Dameron

Fred McGriff gets first shot.

1 year ago
Reply to  tz

Imagine if he had played 4-ish more years and got to 3,000. Would he be a lock for the HOF?

1 year ago

It would be super interesting, and you know there would be article after article written about it haha. I’d like to say no, but I have a feeling he probably would get voted in.

1 year ago
Reply to  amartin

He would get voted in and Still should. Crime Dog is a Legend

Barney Coolio
1 year ago

I was rooting for Johnny Damon to reach 3000 hits, as it would create a juicy HOF case.

Entering 2012, Damon was 38 years old and he had 2723 hits. He had 152 hits in 2011, so it seemed entirely reasonable to expect him to hit 138 hits in each of his age 38 and age 39 seasons to reach 3000. If he couldn’t muster that, fine come back as a 40 year old pinch hitter.

As I recall, he insisted on playing for a contender, and ended up signing with Cleveland after the season started. He had no spring training and had to rush to get ready. He really sucked and didn’t play after getting only 46 hits in 2012.

If Damon had said, “I have my two WS rings, and plenty of money, now it is time for ‘Operation 3000 Hits!'” I am sure everyone would prefer that.

1 year ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

This is essentially the plot of the movie Mr. 3000 starring Bernie Mac

1 year ago
Reply to  Dmjn53

May he rest in paradise. I watched a Bernie Mac show episode the other night, first one in a very long time. I’m glad I did, in the fragile up in arms times we live in, it was great to be reminded of the good ol days where everything isn’t microscopical analyzed for whatever not picky reason one has. Amazingly enough I don’t think Bernie 3000 would appreciate Analytics

1 year ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

He would have had even more to talk about when he gets pulled over.

Adam C
1 year ago
Reply to  Barney Coolio

Through age 35 Damon had a shot at 3,000 hits AND 2,000 runs scored. He had 2,425 hits and 1,483 runs scored. Here are the only players with 3,000 hits and 2,000 runs scored in all of major league history.

Ty Cobb
Willie Mays
Hank Aaron
Pete Rose
Rickey Henderson
Alex Rodriguez

Can you imagine if Johnny Damon joined this group?!

Pike Parker
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam C

Damon would’ve had to score 517 more runs after age 35. No problem there.