Baseball Milestones: 2010 and Beyond

One of the most exciting things about the baseball season is seeing which players can reach those big milestones, the ones that can almost guarantee a spot in Cooperstown—or at least, an indelible spot in our memories. 300 wins. 500 home runs. 3,000 hits.  Those types of milestones.

So, which big milestones are going to be met in 2010, and by whom? Well, not a lot, really. No one is going to reach the 3,000 hit plateau this year, unless Ken Griffey Jr.—the active leader in hits—pulls a Barry Bonds and all of a sudden gets better-than-ever in his old age. He needs 237 hits to reach 3,000, and I don’t see that happening—especially considering he has never collected more than 185 hits in a season. But wait! Barry Bonds never hit more than 49 home runs in a season before hitting 73 in 2001, at the age of 36. Anything can happen. With the help of magic body ointment. I digress.

It would actually be likelier for the number two player on the active hits list, Derek Jeter, to reach 3,000 this year—he is 253 knocks away. Unlike Griffey, who is on the downward slope of his career, Jeter is still going strong, and he has collected 200 or more hits in a season seven times, with a career high of 219 in 1999. In addition, 253 hits isn’t an impossible task—in fact, it has been accomplished five times in baseball history (although it has happened only once since 1930, by Ichiro Suzuki in 2004). Still, I don’t think Jeter will reach that milestone this year. He’ll be within 100 hits of that mark at the conclusion of the season though, and will easily reach 3,000 hits in 2011.

Looking beyond 2010, there are a few players who may reach 3,000 hits within the next couple years or so—but there’s no real guarantees. Griffey could reach the mark in 2012 or 2013 if teams are offering him contracts to his feeble old self and if he keeps up his current rate of (lackluster) production.  Ivan Rodriguez is 37 years old and he is less than 300 hits away from the mark. He too could get there by 2012 or 2013, if he keeps up his current rate of production and teams still keep offering him contracts—and if he switches to an easier position, like designated hitter (although when referring to the DH, it should be called a “position,” emphasis on the quotation marks).

Griffey and Rodriguez are big “ifs”, though. I give Ken Griffey, Jr. a 28% chance of reaching the mark, and Pudge Rodriguez a 53% chance. I’m probably high on both estimates, but you always have to measure in the “you never know…” factor.

There is one player who is not a big “if”, and that is, of course, Alex Rodriguez. At only 33 years old, he already has over 2,500 hits, and should easily eclipse the 3,000 hit mark by late 2012 or early 2013. But even he is not a sure thing. Then after him, it’s a big guessing game once again. Garret Anderson has over 2,500 hits, but he’s 37 and his best days are behind him. In fact, from 1996 to 2003 he averaged 188 hits a season. Since then, he’s averaged only 145 hits a year. I don’t think he’ll stick around long enough to get to the magic milestone.

Manny Ramirez is 37 as well, and he has less than 2,500 hits. Despite the fact that he may stick around longer than Anderson (because he is a better power hitter), he still may not get to 3,000 hits because he’s never actually averaged very many hits each year. He averages less than 160 hits a season. If he reached 3,000 hits, it would be in 2014—and by that point, he’d be old. If Johnny Damon reaches 3,000 hits, it will probably be in 2014 as well—and Damon has a better shot than Ramirez, considering he is a couple years younger (and has only 69 less hits).

In the next few years we won’t see too many players getting 3,000 hits. But what about 500 home runs? Well…

Remember when it seemed like a bunch of sluggers were reaching the 500 home run mark year after year? It wasn’t too long ago—in fact, from 2007 to 2009 a total of five players reached that milestone. And in 2010, one more will likely be added to that list. Carlos Delgado is only 27 home runs away from the magical accomplishment, and he would likely have reached it in 2009 had he not missed most of the year due to injury.

It’s hard to believe, but after Delgado, there is going to be a slight lull in players reaching 500 dingers. Unbelievable, but true. The next closest person to 500 home runs after Delgado is Chipper Jones, at 426 moon shots. Considering he’s averaged only 23 home runs a year since 2005—and that his home run total has been declining since 2007—it will be a while until the 37-year-old Jones reaches 500 home runs. He may not even get there. Unless he ramps up his power output, he will be in his forties when he makes it to 500 home runs…which by my estimate will occur in early 2014. Who knows if he’ll stick around that long.

After Jones, it’s Jason Giambi who is closest to 500 dingers. He’s 38 and is more than 90 away. He needs a miracle to make it. Then there’s Vladimir Guerrero, who is 34 with 407 home runs. Like Jones, Vlad has seen declining power numbers recently—every year since 2006, his number of home runs has gone down. Seeing as how he is younger than Jones, I think Guerrero has a better shot at actually getting to the 500 home run mark, barring he retires early. By my estimate, he too would reach 500 home runs in 2014.

Unlike so many baseball followers, I have not lost faith in Andruw Jones. He is next on the list with 388 home runs, and though he has struggled mightily since 2007, he is still only 32. If—and it’s a big if, I realize—he can turn his career around and put up just three-quarters of what he averaged from 2000 to 2006 (which is 27 home runs, in case you were wondering) he could reach 500 home runs by 2015. It’s not likely, but the possibility is still there.

Then there’s Albert Pujols. He is at 366 home runs and is getting better every year. I imagine he’s going to hit 50 or more home runs at least once between now and the end of his career, and it will probably be sooner rather than later. He could very well reach 500 home runs by the end of the 2012. I’m going to be (perhaps a bit over) conservative here and say he’ll get there in 2013.

So no one will reach 500 home runs in either 2011 or 2012! No way! Fear not, the tradition of at least one player reaching the mark each year should start up again after that.

And how about some pitching milestones? How about them.

The day of the 300 game winner is over. For now. No one will reach 300 wins in 2010, 2011 or 2012. Or 2013. Or…you get my point. Jamie Moyer is the closest active player to 300 wins with 258 victories. Assuming he retires within the next couple years (he is going to retire, right?), he won’t reach the mark. Then after him, it’s a crapshoot. It’s a guessing game as to who will be the next 300 game winner. Andy Pettitte is 37 and has 229 wins, so he probably won’t get there. Pedro Martinez in 37 and has 10 less wins than Pettitte, so he probably won’t get there. John Smoltz, no. Tim Wakefield, no. Livan Hernandez, Kevin Millwood, Bartolo Colon, no, no, no.

Ah! Roy Halladay! But he’s 32 and has less than half of 300 wins! No! Okay, I will stop there, because there’s no point in going on. No one in the foreseeable future will reach 300 wins. The current pitcher with the best shot to reach the heralded 300 win mark, in my estimation, is C.C. Sabathia—but with his big frame, he may fall short as well. So no one is going to reach 300 wins this year or anytime soon—is anyone really too surprised?

Are there any big milestones that may be reached by pitchers in 2010? Yes, there is one—400 saves. Billy Wagner was signed by the Braves this offseason and will take over as their closing pitcher. He is only 15 saves away from 400 and should be a shoo-in to reach that plateau.

Then after Wagner, it may be a while. Francisco Cordero is at 250 saves right now, which means he needs 150 to get there (obviously). He’s about four years away from 400 saves, but he may falter. After Wagner, I believe Joe Nathan will be the next to get 400 saves—but he too is about four years away (technically, Francisco Rodriguez is on pace to get 400 saves quicker than Nathan, but in my humble opinion Nathan is a far better closer with a far less chance of fading down the line—and I’m a Mets fan).

There is one more pitching milestone that no one will reach in 2010, but is still worth bringing up: 3,000 strikeouts. It may be somewhat hard to believe, but Javier Vazquez is the active pitcher with the greatest chance at 3,000 Ks, according to a Bill James’ Favorite Toy, a projection tool. In fact, according to the Toy, he is on pace for over 3,300 strikeouts for his career. Sure, he is still three-and-a-half years away from the milestone, but whodathunkit—Javier Vazquez, a 3,000 strikeout pitcher and a potential Hall of Famer.

There are some other not-as-notable milestones—perhaps the better word would be “achievements”—that some players will reach in 2010. For example, 2,500 hits: Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon and Chipper Jones will all get there this upcoming season, barring some injury. Magglio Ordonez, Brian Giles (if someone signs him) and Luis Castillo will all probably reach 2,000 hits, while Orlando Cabrera, Carlos Lee and Scott Rolen also have a shot at it. The 450 home runs mark may be reached by Chipper Jones, and the 400 home runs mark will be reached by Andruw Jones and Albert Pujols. A whole slew of players will reach 300 and 350 home runs, as well.

No one will reach 250 wins, however Tim Wakefield has a shot at 200. And saves—Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez will reach 250 saves this year, and both of them are also capable of reaching 300 as well.

It’s always exciting when a player reaches a milestone—and though many of the big milestones will not be reached in 2010, we can be sure that they’ll be reached within the next few years. We’ll be waiting in anticipation.