Derek Jeter: How far can he climb up the all-time hits leader board?

Jeter tallies another one in classic form. - Mike Stobe

Now that he's back what can we realistically expect from Jeter when he's playing into his 40's?

So far it has been a season lost to injury for Derek Jeter, but now that he's back lets prognosticate a little bit about his future. Many an article was written pondering if Jeter could catch Pete Rose when he reached the 3,000 hit milestone in 2011. He was just 37 years old at that point. Then we saw a number of articles writing off Jeter's chances with the injury he suffered in last year's playoffs, but I haven't seen a lot of investigations that go much further than the basic arithmetic. There are lots of obvious roadblocks ahead for the venerable shortstop. How much longer can he play this position? If he can't play at shortstop anymore, then where could he play given his offensive production? Jeter's contract runs out this year with a player option for 2014 at $8 million. Would the Yankees be willing to bring him back as a 40-year-old, or would he be willing to play out his career in another uniform? For the sake of my sanity, I'm going to ignore all of these obvious questions and just try to focus on the question of how many hits could Jeter amass in his career.

Rank

Player (yrs)

Hits

1

Pete Rose (24)

4256

2

Ty Cobb (24)

4189

3

Hank Aaron (23)

3771

4

Stan Musial (22)

3630

5

Tris Speaker (22)

3514

6

Cap Anson (27)

3435

7

Honus Wagner (21)

3420

8

Carl Yastrzemski (23)

3419

9

Paul Molitor (21)

3319

10

Eddie Collins (25)

3315

11

Derek Jeter (19)

3307

If Jeter hadn't suffered that injury last year, then you can see why people were excited with the prospect of him catching Rose. Assuming he could match Rose's 24 seasons, then the math worked out to less than Jeter's average number of hits per season to pass him. However, this didn't take into account any expectation for Jeter to decline as he reached into his 40's. I'm not going to look at advanced projection systems like PECOTA or ZiPS. Jeter has already proven how rare he is considering normally we should have seen his production decline years ago. Instead I'm going to look at the guy on the top of the list as a barometer for what we might expect out of Jeter going forward.

Pete Rose











Year

Age

Tm

G

PA

AB

H

BB

SO

BA

OBP

1980

39

PHI

162

739

655

185

66

33

0.282

0.352

1981

40

PHI

107

486

431

140

46

26

0.325

0.391

1982

41

PHI

162

720

634

172

66

32

0.271

0.345

1983

42

PHI

151

555

493

121

52

28

0.245

0.316

1984

43

TOT

121

421

374

107

40

27

0.286

0.359

1984

43

MON

95

314

278

72

31

20

0.259

0.334

1984

43

CIN

26

107

96

35

9

7

0.365

0.430

1985

44

CIN

119

501

405

107

86

35

0.264

0.395

1986

45

CIN

72

272

237

52

30

31

0.219

0.316

24 Yrs



3562

15890

14053

4256

1566

1143

0.303

0.375

162 Game Avg.


162

723

639

194

71

52

0.303

0.375

To keep it simple I've just displayed Rose's age 39-45 years played, but the last two rows show his 24 year totals and 162 game averages. I was pretty young at the time, but I remember seeing Rose play in the late 70's and early 80's. I find this exercise most useful in dispelling my biases against the man. To be honest, I didn't recall how high his OBP was even at the end of his career. This stands in contrast to many other players who clearly changed their approaches when chasing personal career milestones. While his batting average clearly dipped below his career marks, Rose was still taking pitches and walking more than he was striking out. If we add up his age 39-45 seasons, this is how he looked on these metrics:

Pete Rose

Year

Age

G

PA

AB

H

BB

SO

BA

OBP


80-'86

39-45

1015

4115

3603

991

426

239

0.275

0.344

7 Yrs Avg



145

588

515

142

61

34



Just to give you an idea of how good that .344 OBP is in today's terms, the old Rose would be right there with Nick Swisher and Howie Kendrick on this year's OBP leader board. With the greater emphasis placed on OBP today, I wonder if his later years would be more appreciated now than he was back then. On the topic at hand, though, you can see that the number of hits per season declined a decent amount in his last years on the field. We don't know what Jeter will do from here on out, but how does he compare in the last few years with Rose's comparable seasons?

Pete Rose










Year

Age

Tm

G

PA

AB

H

BB

SO

BA

OBP

1975

34

CIN

162

764

662

210

89

50

0.317

0.406

1976

35

CIN

162

759

665

215

86

54

0.323

0.404

1977

36

CIN

162

732

655

204

66

42

0.311

0.377

1978

37

CIN

159

731

655

198

62

30

0.302

0.362

1979

38

PHI

163

732

628

208

95

32

0.331

0.418

5 Yr Avg



162

744

653

207

80

42

0.317

0.385

Derek Jeter










Year

Age

Tm

G

PA

AB

H

BB

SO

BA

OBP

2008

34

NYY

150

668

596

179

52

85

0.300

0.363

2009

35

NYY

153

716

634

212

72

90

0.334

0.406

2010

36

NYY

157

739

663

179

63

106

0.270

0.340

2011

37

NYY

131

607

546

162

46

81

0.297

0.355

2012

38

NYY

159

740

683

216

45

90

0.316

0.362

5 Yr Avg



150

694

624

190

56

90

0.304

0.353

Perhaps playing a position as demanding as shortstop has been taking its toll on Jeter's opportunity even before his injury last postseason. He already had been averaging 12 less games per season than Rose in his age 34-38 years, and all of the metrics here show him trailing Rose except for the one category you don't want to win: strikeouts. However, there is one bright spot when just looking at how many hits per plate appearance each player generated. It might not be the most eloquent way of looking at this topic, but in the end we're just interested in how many hits Jeter could generate. For those years Rose generated a hit every 3.59 plate appearances, and Jeter did the same for every 3.65. In Rose's last seven seasons, he generated a hit every 4.15 plate appearances. So what could all of this mean for Jeter looking down the road? Using Rose as the benchmark and keeping Jeter's relative performance static to him, here is how Jeter might look like assuming he plays till he's 45 years old.


Age

Avg/PA

PA/Hits

Pete Rose

34-38

744

3.59

Derek Jeter

34-38

694

3.65

Pete Rose

39-45

588

4.15

est. D.J.

e39-45

547

4.22

These estimates assume Jeter gets the same rate of about 93% of plate appearances as Rose did in his age 34-38 years, and that the percentage rate of hits to plate appearances also holds in-line. Yes, huge assumptions are being made here, but it's still fun since we can now make a guess as to where Jeter would land on the all-time hits leader board if he plays all the way through his age 45 season. My instinct is to adjust Jeter's estimate for hits due to the fact that he can only play in about 36% of the games this season. However, Rose only played in 72 games in his final season. We don't know how Jeter's career is going to play out from here, and we're already giving him fewer opportunities since his recent trend has been below Rose's to begin with. So I'm not going to dock him for the time he missed this season. So here's how using the above table would suggest Jeter would look at the end of it all using my simplistic method.

Rank

Player (yrs)

Hits

1

Pete Rose (24)

4256

2

est. Derek Jeter (25)

4214

3

Ty Cobb (24)

4189

4

Hank Aaron (23)

3771

5

Stan Musial (22)

3630

6

Tris Speaker (22)

3514

7

Cap Anson (27)

3435

8

Honus Wagner (21)

3420

9

Carl Yastrzemski (23)

3419

10

Paul Molitor (21)

3319

11

Eddie Collins (25)

3315

Wow, right? Maybe it's not such a pipe dream after all. I think we know that if he really got that close, then someone would give him the shot to take the brass ring on top. If you don't believe that he can find a job into his age 45 season, then getting into the number three spot on this list would likely take about 1,958 plate appearances. At the rate we calculated before, that would equate to about 3.6 years from now.

Rose was a pretty darn good player. When you look at the end of his career, you see a player now that might be underrated considering his strong OBP production. Having said all of that, I'd love to see someone displace him from the top spot of the all-time hits leader board for a myriad of reasons. Having gone through this exercise, I can honestly say my expectation for Jeter's chances has gone up significantly. I wouldn't expect him to do it, but at least we have a framework that incorporates some expected declines in production in his 40's. He's undeniably a great player, and whatever happens from here on out I look forward to seeing just how far he can climb up that leader board.

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