Next up in the Pinch Hitters series is Lucas Vanderwarker, who crunched some numbers to write about Derek Jeter’s chances of breaking Pete Rose’s all-time hits record.
Lucas grew up in upstate New York, and his grandfather played “some sort of minor league ball for the Yankees” back in the 1930s. “Being a Yankees fan was never really much of a question,” Lucas wrote. When his family moved to Vermont, Lucas grew up with surrounded primarily by childhood friends who were cheering for the Red Sox.
Now working as a youth pastor near Indiana, PA — which happens to be where one of my closest friends went to college — Lucas has found himself occasionally pulling for the lovable losers of Western Pennsylvania. “I’m first and foremost a Yankees fan,” Lucas wrote. “But I don’t know if it’s my pity or my love for an underdog that has made me a Pirates fan as well. Plus, it’s always nice to get into a major league game for dirt cheap.”
A friend of mine, one who’s not a Yankees fan, recently said to me, “Derek Jeter has nothing left to prove. He’s done everything.” My thoughts immediately turned to one milestone that belongs in Cooperstown: The all-time hits record. I’m not here to debate whether Pete Rose deserves to be in the HOF. I am here to answer the question, “Does Jeter have any chance of catching Pete Rose?”
I think we all agree that Derek Jeter is already a first ballot Hall of Famer. There’s really nothing more he has to do to achieve baseball immortality. Jeter has more money that he could ever spend. He already has five World Series rings. He’s won Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. He’s passed Lou Gehrig for the Yankees’ hits record. The question is, how hungry will Jeter be by the time he is 43? He is a special player who seems to love baseball more than anything, and if he has a chance to accomplish something truly historic, such as getting 4,000 hits, Jeter might have plenty of desire to get it done. Furthermore, if the Yankees are competitive, there is a chance that Jeter will be even more motivated to play, in the hopes of grabbing yet another World Series trophy.
Through 14 full seasons, Jeter stands at 2,747 career hits. He has played in 2,123 career games (not counting the 15 games he played in 1995) for an average of 152 games per season.
Through Rose’s first 14 seasons, he played in 61 more games than Jeter and accumulated only 15 more hits. For the sake of argument, we can pretty much say that Jeter is about in the same position that Rose was at this point of his career.
Rose went on to play 10 more years. He played in 1,378 games in those seasons, slapping 1,494 base knocks to give him a total of 4,256. Simple math tells us that Rose averaged slightly more than 149 hits per season on the back end of his career. Rose played until the age of 45, and his production didn’t begin to drop off significantly until the last four years of his career. The six seasons prior to that, he failed to have more than 170 hits only once (in 1981 when MLB experienced a work stoppage due to a player strike).
Let’s assume Jeter plays 10 more seasons to give him the same amount as Rose. Let’s go a step further and assume two of those seasons will be plagued with injury (let’s be honest, he is getting older). In eight healthy seasons, Jeter would need to average 157 hits to reach 4,000. Should he be healthy every season, he would only need 125 per season.
This leads us to the final number to discuss — 4,256. Again, let’s assume Jeter has eight healthy seasons left. He would need to average 189 hits per season. Should he remain healthy for 10 more years, he would only need 151 per year. With a current average of 196 hits per season, it is statistically possible.
Despite all of the statistics, this argument unfortunately boils down to nothing more than speculation. I’ve learned over the past 14 seasons never to doubt or second guess Derek Jeter. When you do, he’s right there to prove you wrong. When people began to doubt his ability to be an above average defensive shortstop, he worked that much harder to stay sharp and get better. This has nothing to do with, “Is Jeter a better player than Rose?” Pete Rose, while he may have serious character flaws, was one incredible hitter. However, I believe that if Derek Jeter has the desire to continue playing baseball at the age of 43 — the age he would be after eight more seasons – and if the New York Yankees continue to put a championship caliber team on the field, and if he stays healthy, then Derek Jeter will join the 4,000 hit club and eventually surpass Pete “Charlie Hustle” Rose for the most hits ever by a Major League player.