Before thinking about 4,000 hits — or 4,256 hits — how about this for a hits comparison?
After 15 seasons, bulk of the previous season played at age 35:
Derek Jeter: 2,138 games, 2,747 hits, .317/.388/.459
Paul Molitor: 1,856 games, 2,281 hits, .303/.367/.444
162 game average: 208 hits for Jeter, 199 for Molitor
I like the Molitor comparison because Molitor is the only player in the top 10 of career hits who played in the 1990s. He retired after the 1998 season, when he was 42 years old, having spent much of his early years as an infielder before moving to designated hitter in 1991 (when he was entering his mid-30s). His numbers after 15 seasons took a bit of a hit because of the 1981 players strike, and his overall totals took another hit because of the 1994 strike.
For now, Molitor’s hit total seems to be a good benchmark for Jeter.
In his 16th season, Molitor led the American League in hits with 211. He led the league again, three years later, with 225. In his final season, Molitor hit .288. It was his only healthy season, other than his rookie year, when Molitor’s OPS+ was below 100. Sure, he’d moved to designated hitter earlier in his career, but he was never an embarrassment at the plate. He walked more than he struck out that final season.
Bill James’ career projection — which Fred linked to in the comments of today’s Pinch Hitters post — estimates that Jeter will finish with 3,440 career hits (sixth most all time). That’s assuming an additional three and half seasons. The James’ calculation gives Jeter a 5 percent chance of reaching 4,000.
Lucas did a great job this morning examining the possibility of Jeter breaking the all-time hits record — and it’s remarkable that such a discussion is even possible — but there are so many steps and so many questions between here and there. Would Jeter stay healthy enough to play? Would he remain productive enough to get regular at-bats? Would he have any desire to stay in the game into his mid-40s?
Jeter seems to be getting better instead of worse, but the all-time hits record is a long way away, and he can comfortably put himself among the greatest hitters of all time without actually breaking the record.