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Who Will Join The 3,000-Hit Club After Adrian Beltre?

The 3,000-hit club is about to get bigger, as longtime FiveThirtyEight favorite and noted on-deck circle relocater Adrian Beltre gets closer to the milestone with every multi-hit game. Beltre, who notched his 2,996th hit on Wednesday, probably wouldn’t need to cross the 3,000-hit threshold to ensure his place in Cooperstown, but the achievement helps underscore just what a special player he has been over his two decades in the major leagues.

Beltre’s milestone, whenever it comes, will mark the third consecutive season in which a player notched his 3,000th hit; Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees homered for his in June 2015, while the Miami Marlins’ Ichiro Suzuki smacked a triple for his 3,000th hit last August. New membership in the 3,000-hit club tends come in bunches, like when nine players1 joined its ranks in the 10 seasons from 1992 to 2001, so more members could be on the way.

But who will be next after Beltre? Let’s take a look at a handful of candidates coming up behind him on the active hits leaderboard — plus some younger players who might join the chase — and gauge their chances against the historical pace of the average 3,000-hit club member at the same age.2

The elder statesmen

For players age 31 and up, the difference between their career hits and hits of an average 3,000-hit club member at the same age and point in season

PLAYER HITS
PLAYER TEAM AGE 2017 CAREER AVG. 3K CLUB HITS AT SAME AGE DIFF.
Adrian Beltre Rangers 38 54 2996 2897.4 +98.6
Albert Pujols Angels 37 86 2911 2791.1 +119.9
Miguel Cabrera Tigers 34 82 2601 2296.5 +304.5
Robinson Cano Mariners 34 99 2309 2296.5 +12.5

The 3,000-hit pace was prorated to 101 games into each player’s current-age season to match where we stand in 2017.
For players who are no more than 50 hits behind the average 3,000-hit-club member at the same age.

Source: FanGraphs

We start with the oldest group of candidates. Right behind Beltre is Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels, who — with his 2,911 lifetime hits3 — is almost assured of reaching the milestone either later this season or early next year. And Detroit Tigers first baseman Miguel Cabrera is another strong candidate, with over 300 more career hits than the average 3,000-hit club member had at the same age. The only thing that might hurt Cabrera’s chances is a late-career slowdown; he’s currently suffering the worst hitting season of his major-league career.

Cabrera has such a cushion that he can afford some small decline, though he’ll need to bounce back soon to stay on pace. Robinson Cano of the Seattle Mariners, meanwhile, is also in a down season — he’s on pace for his lowest hit total since his rookie year — and he doesn’t have much room to fall off before losing the pace entirely. After a rough July, Cano’s chances could be evaporating before our eyes. (Houston Astros designated hitter Carlos Beltran is also fourth on the hits list among active players — but with fewer than 2,700 hits at age 40, his chances are next to nonexistent.)

The middle-agers

For players age 26 to 30, the difference between their career hits and hits of an average 3,000-hit club member at the same age and point in season

PLAYER HITS
PLAYER TEAM AGE 2017 CAREER AVG. 3K CLUB HITS AT SAME AGE DIFF.
Justin Upton Tigers 29 94 1409 1434.4 -25.4
Elvis Andrus Rangers 28 114 1380 1259.4 +120.6
Starlin Castro Yankees 27 97 1244 1084.7 +159.3
Jose Altuve Astros 27 141 1187 1084.7 +102.3
Eric Hosmer Royals 27 122 1062 1084.7 -22.7

The 3,000-hit pace was prorated to 101 games into each player’s current-age season to match where we stand in 2017.
For players who are no more than 50 hits behind the average 3,000-hit-club member at the same age.

Source: FanGraphs

The next set of players are theoretically in their primes, though their chances might be more complicated to predict than any other group’s. Tigers outfielder Justin Upton started his career with a flourish, recording four 150-hit seasons by the age of 26, but he also turned in a few years below that level of production and is now behind the pace. Yankees second baseman Starlin Castro has a similar story — he led the NL with 207 hits in his sophomore season, when he was with the Cubs, but has since settled into a solid pattern of racking up 150 hits per season. He’s still ahead of pace, but he might not be for long.

Some of these guys are on an upward trajectory, though. Beltre’s teammate Elvis Andrus has become a hitting machine — he hasn’t dropped below 150 hits since his rookie year in 2009, and he’s on pace for more than 180 this season. Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve is having an MVP-type season; he’s on track for 226 hits this year, which would be his fourth straight 200-hit season. And Eric Hosmer of the Kansas City Royals has swung his way to within striking distance of a 3,000-hit pace this season, producing what works out to a 198-hit campaign over 162 games.

The young guns

For players age 25 or lower, the difference between their career hits and hits of an average 3,000-hit club member at the same age and point in season

PLAYER HITS
PLAYER TEAM AGE 2017 CAREER AVG. 3K CLUB HITS AT SAME AGE DIFF.
Mike Trout Angels 25 67 984 725.2 +258.8
Manny Machado Orioles 24 91 790 552.4 +237.6
Bryce Harper Nationals 24 116 767 552.4 +214.6
Xander Bogaerts Red Sox 24 103 631 552.4 +78.6
Mookie Betts Red Sox 24 112 555 552.4 +2.6
Rougned Odor Rangers 23 85 460 409.5 +50.5
Francisco Lindor Indians 23 106 410 409.5 +0.5
Carlos Correa Astros 22 104 370 283.3 +86.7

The 3,000-hit pace was prorated to 101 games into each player’s current-age season to match where we stand in 2017.
For players who are no more than 50 hits behind the average 3,000-hit-club member at the same age.

Source: FanGraphs

After Cabrera, nobody over the age of 25 is more than 200 hits above the historical 3,000-hit pace. So, in the absence of strong veteran candidates, younger players such as Mike Trout, Manny Machado and Bryce Harper show up as decent picks for the next generation of 3,000-hit club members — if only because there’s still so much ambiguity about how their careers will turn out. There’s a decent chance that at least one player in this bunch — if not a handful — will get to 3,000 hits, though it’s difficult to say which one(s) it will be.

Of course, the uncertainty involved in projecting players’ careers is still huge. Even showing up on the ahead-of-pace list for your age isn’t a guarantee of getting 3,000 hits; far more young and mid-career players fall short of making the club than make it in:

Players in their 20s have historically gone in many different directions. To illustrate this, let’s pretend we were writing this article 10 years ago and evaluating the players who were 30 or younger and on the best pace to reach the milestone.

How quickly things can change …

Players age 30 and under who were furthest ahead of the 3,000-hit pace in 2007

AS OF MID-2007 …
NAME TEAM AGE SEASON HITS CAREER HITS VS. PACE CURRENT HIT TOTAL
Edgar Renteria Braves 30 102 1872 +265.1 2327
Miguel Cabrera Marlins 24 117 771 +218.8 2601
Carl Crawford Devil Rays 25 115 921 +195.5 1931
Albert Pujols Cardinals 27 115 1274 +189.7 2911
Adrian Beltre Mariners 28 102 1371 +111.9 2996
Jose Reyes Mets 24 119 643 +90.7 2049
Andruw Jones Braves 30 79 1635 +28.1 1933
Ryan Zimmerman Nationals 22 109 308 +24.2 1611
David Wright Mets 24 122 556 +3.8 1777
Delmon Young Devil Rays 21 116 156 -17.0 1162
Jimmy Rollins Phillies 28 132 1227 -32.2 2455
Grady Sizemore Indians 24 109 518 -34.9 1098
Justin Upton D-Backs 19 19 19 -43.3 1409
Jeff Francoeur Braves 23 117 363 -46.3 1373

Midseason hit totals were interpolated by prorating a player’s full-season total over 101 games.

Source: FanGraphs.com

At that time, Beltre, Pujols and Cabrera were in pretty good shape, but every other player that was ahead of the 3,000-hit pace or slightly behind it has since fallen short or dropped way off pace. Edgar Renteria played just four more seasons, collecting fewer than 500 more hits before calling it a career (two World Series rings were was apparently enough). Likewise, Andruw Jones would retire before the 2016 season while Carl Crawford, Jimmy Rollins and David Wright — none of whom have formally retired yet — have not yet appeared in a game in 2017.

And today’s younger hit leaders might have something working against them that previous generations didn’t: Hits are harder to come by in today’s more three-true-outcomes-focused game. The 2010s have seen the fewest hits per game of any decade since the 1960s and the fourth fewest of any decade since 1900.

Then again, that could be counterbalanced by the fact that this is a special crop of young talent the likes of which MLB hasn’t seen in a while. And besides, in any given season between 1961 and 2000, an average of 9.2 active players went on to eventually become members of the 3,000-hit club. So odds are good that several of the players racking up hits this season will get to 3,000 before all is said and done — they just might not be the players we’d expect.

Footnotes

  1. Rickey Henderson, Cal Ripken Jr., Wade Boggs, Tony Gwynn, Paul Molitor, Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield, George Brett and Robin Yount.

  2. Age is as of June 30 of each season.

  3. Current-season numbers are accurate as of end of play on July 26, 2017.

Neil Paine is a senior sportswriter for FiveThirtyEight.

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