As Derek Jeter leads off tonight for the New York Yankees on baseball’s Opening Night, he does so with an increasingly realistic chance of someday catching Pete Rose and breaking baseball’s the all time hit record. While it remains a bit of a long shot, it is not as unrealistic as it would have seemed even a year ago.
When considering whether Jeter has a chance to catch Rose, there are two statistics to evaluate: Jeter’s hit total compared to Rose’s at the same age, and hit total compared to Rose given the same number of plate appearances.
I would argue that the most important factor is age, as obviously it will eventually take its toll on Jeter and every other player. While the rate of decline is very difficult, if not impossible, to forecast, what we can do is use Pete Rose as the benchmark, and see how Jeter’s numbers compare.
As he enters Opening Night against the Boston Red Sox, Derek Jeter is 35 years, 9 months and 9 days old and has collected 2,747 hits in his career. When Rose was the same exact age as Jeter is today, he had 2,762 hits. So, Rose is only 15 hits ahead of Jeter’s pace, based on his exact age. It’s important to note to that due to where their birthdays land, Jeter is really ahead of Rose in a sense, given that he will very likely catch him in the next month on hits given that Rose turned this age in the offseason, whereas Jeter is beginning again tonight on Opening Night.
The other viable way to analyze Jeter’s chances is to look at the number of plate appearances he has and how that the number of hits he has compares to Rose’s number at the same number of plate appearances. While probably not quite as valuable as the age factor, plate appearances do describe how efficient Jeter has been in the accumulation of hits and therefore how many more plate appearances might be needed. “Plate appearances” differ from “at bats” because plate appearances count sacrifices, walks and hit by pitches. While none of those count against a player’s batting average, they do count against, in a sense, the accumulation of hits.
As Derek Jeter enters 2010 Opening Night, he has 2,747 hits in 9,809 plate appearances. When Rose had 9,809 plate appearances, he had 2,708. Here, Jeter is ahead of Rose; using plate appearances as the measure, Jeter leads by 39 hits.
Pete Rose finished his career with 4,256 hits. As Jeter today has “only” 2,747 hits, he needs 1,509 hits to tie Rose. That would be no small feat. Jeter’s averages 208 hits for every 162 games played. Jeter has been very durable, playing between 149 and 159 regular season games a year, except for 2003 when a fluke accident on the basepaths caused him to play in 119 games. If he can continue to average about 200 hits a year, (which is a big if), he would need to play another seven or eight years to catch Rose. At that point, Jeter would be 42 or 43 and probably would have amazed everybody with his durability as much as his hitting prowess.
So can Derek Jeter do it? It probably still will not happen. Even with the lead he has on Rose, too many things would need to happen, or not happen, for him to reach this mark. But Derek Jeter is not somebody you want to bet against. As he enters the final stages of his career (which could be very long and productive stages), it would thrill baseball and its fans to see one of the games truly good guys, untainted by scandal and bad off the field behavior, capture one of the most hard to achieve records in all of sports.
Of course, as he steps in the box tonight to lead off the game for the Yankees, and begin the baseball season, millions will be watching and more concerned about the Yankees beating the Red Sox, or vice versa, than Jeter catching Pete Rose. But as the years go on, the possibility of Jeter catching Rose and becoming the all time hit king could attract a huge amount of interest.
Source: Wallace Matthews, “Yanks vs. Sox Still All About October”, espn.com