Sunday, July 1, 2007

3,000 Hits an Endangered Species?

Mark Kreidler has written a piece that pontificates if writers should measure impact, not numbers in determining hall of fame voting. Now, he doesn’t define impact, at all, so I can’t tell what the hell he’s talking about, but he does talk quite a bit about numbers. I had some thoughts on some of his comments about numbers, namely the implication that the 3,000 hit and 300 win clubs are a dying breed and that it makes it harder to decide who is hall worthy. I've deleted portions for brevity.

Impact, not numbers, should define a player's HOF status

And I'd add that there are important numbers -- wins, hits -- that seem to be sliding the other way, gradually farther from the view of today's player. Biggio's achievement, that is, may well stand taller as the years go by. Three thousand hits and 300 victories aren't merely difficult to attain; they're becoming endangered species as statistics.

27 hitters have amassed 3,000 hits in major league baseball history. Barry Bonds, at 2,898 is next up to take a run at 3,000, but he clearly has to play next year. Of active players, I’d say the following hitters with at least 1,000 hits have what I would call a “decent” shot at 3,000 hits (name, hit total, age – as June 29):

Barry Bonds, 2,898, 42
Derek Jeter, 2,255, 33
Alex Rodriguez, 2,163, 31
Vladimir Guerrero, 1,878, 31
Edgar Renteria, 1,867, 31
Miguel Tejada, 1,671, 31
Andruw Jones, 1,613, 30
Ichiro Suzuki, 1,469, 33
Albert Pujols, 1,244, 27

With Ichiro, age is a concern, but given that he looks like he’ll get around 200 hits in his sleep a few more years, he’ll get there if he plays until 42 or so. He appears to be in good enough physical shape, although those infield hits will go down. But these guys aren’t locks, just guys who appear to be on a path to maybe do it.

Now I would put the over/under on active players (other than Biggio) who will total 3,000 hits or more at 4 or 5. A guess, obviously, but considering those 9 players above, and the young guys who could put together a run (Reyes, Utley, Miguel Cabrera, etc.), I think that's pretty reasonable. 27 players have 3,000 hits in baseball history. You see where I’m going. Having about 5 more active players in that 3,000 club basically would tell me that there is no slowdown in this category. Let’s look at how many hitters hit the 3,000 hit mark, by decade:

1 = Pre 1900
0 = 1900-1910
2 = 1911-1919
3 = 1920’s
0 = 1930’s
1 = 1940’s
1 = 1950’s
0 = 1970’s
1 = 1980’s
7 = 1990’s
4 = 2000’s

That’s 11 of the 27 people in history hitting the plateau since 1990, so what would lead anyone to suggest that the 3,000 hit will be reached less than it has been, historically? How can you say it's an "endangered species?" Unlike 300 wins, which will be less frequently attained due to the 5 man rotation.

Increasingly, I think, that's going to be the rub. For lots of reasons, including their staggering salaries and the wealth of opportunity beyond baseball that is open to so many of the truly elite, you're going to see fewer Biggios, not more of them.

Honest question; are we really seeing players retire earlier because they’ve made more money? Or is this just guess-work? Wouldn’t the prospect of making another 10 million or so, for a great player, be motivation to hang around, regardless of how many hits or wins they have? Have we seen these guys on the march towards history hanging it up because they’ve made a lot of money? Guys like, say, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, and Roger Clemens? My guess is that it has zero effect. These guys want the money, and they want to career numbers. That’s been made clear.

You're going to see fewer Greg Madduxes or Tom Glavines, players who just stay and stay and stay. With five-man rotations and a normal season's worth of work, even a great pitcher is going to average maybe 15, 16 wins a year. At that rate, you've got to stick in the bigs for two decades to get to 300. Maddux is in his 22nd year, Glavine his 21st. How many more such players figure to come down the pike?

The 5 man rotation is an obvious point, although it’s not like Maddux, Glavine and Clemens spent much, if any, of their careers in 4 man rotations. Why would the rate of pitchers pitching 2 decades go down? Shouldn’t that be more likely, with 5 man rotations and more teams (more starters being carried on rosters)? Why are we going to see less pitchers who are going to just stay and stay and stay? Are we seeing a lot of pitchers hang it up while they still have fuel in the tank? I'm not.

I wonder if, over time, 200 wins might become accepted as a career benchmark for pitchers -- the benchmark, maybe. You already see stories that celebrate a pitcher's 200th win, and rightfully so: every one of those victories was tough to get. Shoot, Mark Buehrle has 102 wins at age 28, and he's pretty good. Assuming 15 wins a year, he'll be about 35 by the time he gets to 200. Getting to 300 just looks out of the question.

Mark Buehrle is pretty good, but he’s not 300 win good, in any era. Does anyone think Mark Buehrle is a hall of fame pitcher? Maybe there are no pitchers currently in their 20’s that will win 300 games, but on the heels of Clemens and Maddux winning 300 (easily) and Glavine and Randy Johnson making runs at it, why do we think no one else will do it? Less frequent, yes, but it’ll be done again.

Also, 200 wins could be the benchmark for what exactly? The Hall of Fame? Are you ready to put David Wells, Jaime Moyer and Kenny Rogers in the hall? Did those guys pitch in a lot of 4 man rotations? Also, wins are a terrible measure of effectiveness.

If you care so much about win totals in determining Hall of Fame status, and you think 300 game winners will be reduced so much that it will become too tough a mark, why on Earth would you reduce your benchmark number by 100 wins? Why not, say, 275 wins? Or at least 250? Then what do you do with the pitchers from the past who cruised over those marks but are not in the hall? The whole idea and thought process is ridiculous.

And I think that's where the voters will have to go, too. Increasingly, we'll have to subtract some of our old notions from the Hall of Fame rubric. What if, over time, there just aren't any more 300-game winners? After Glavine (297) on the active list, there is Randy Johnson at 284. What if Johnson comes up, I don't know, seven shy? He was still, for years, the most feared and arguably most effective pitcher in baseball. That's worthy of a Hall conversation.

If you’re stupid enough to think that Randy Johnson isn’t hall worthy, right now, even if his arm falls off tomorrow, then you are retarded and shouldn’t have a vote. He’s on the short list of the greatest pitchers of all-time, or at least the last 50 years. That paragraph highlights the insane thinking that many writers use when deciding on their hall votes. “Well, he’s won 5 Cy Youngs, 4 ERA titles, he’s the all-time leader in K’s/inning, and he’s 3rd all time in strike-outs….but he did finish 7 wins short of 300….hmmmm.” Just insane. Wins. The most team dependant pitching stat. Depends on run support, defense, bullpen and luck in addition to pitcher performance.

For those who care: Curt Schilling, age 40, has 213 career victories. The bloody sock may spend more time in Cooperstown, unless voters begin to agree that numbers don't always tell the story.

Numbers DO tell most of the story, the problem is that the number that idiot voters focus on is “wins”. Whatever, yes, lets focus on “impact” because there will be less 300 game winners and (you think) 3,000 hit club members. What we need to focus on are the right numbers, not just blindly focus on career totals and hitting arbitrary milestones in categories like wins and hits.

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