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Could Derek Jeter Surpass Pete Rose’s Hit Total?

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On the day he turned 35, (June 26) Derek Jeter had 65 more career base hits than the all time hit king, Pete Rose, had on his own 35th birthday. While he has faced constant criticism about his defense and lack of power at the plate, it is time to recognize, as evidenced by his hit totals, that Jeter is indisputably one of the greatest hitters of all time.

At the age of 35 only Robin Yount, Henry Aaron, Ty Cobb, and Rogers Hornsby compiled more hits than Derek Jeter. And in a head-to-head comparison with Pete Rose, Jeter tops the hits leader in nearly every important statistical category.

At his present pace attaining 4,000 hits is a real possibility for Jeter and, with the assistance of health and longevity, he may even challenge Rose's all time record. As previously noted, Jeter is outpacing Rose in hits at age 35, but that is only a partial view of the comparison at that age:

Rose: .311 avg, .381 obp, .814 OPS
Jeter: .316 avg, .386 obp, .844 OPS

Jeter even has nearly 200 more steals than Charlie Hustle, racking up 292 to Rose's 106. By nearly every statistical measure Jeter is easily the more complete and prolific hitter, so by this conclusive analysis it seems only fitting that Jeter — as long as he stays healthy — is capable of making a run at the all time hits total.

Beyond the typical Jeter-centric criticisms, many feel that, because of his position, he will not be able to display the longevity that Rose possessed, and this will prevent him from reaching 4,000 hits, never mind the 4,257 it would take to top Rose. In reality, Pete only had four more prolific seasons after 1976 when he turned 35, topping 200 hits only twice. But because Pete hung around in the league until he was 45, he was able to amass such a seemingly insurmountable total.

The unfounded perception that Jeter is declining at 35 is based solely on last year's numbers. While 2008 was admittedly a down season for the Yankees' captain (his 179 hits broke his three season streak of topping 200 hits), his .300 batting average and .363 on-base percentage were still very good, even while his career-low .771 OPS reflected his lack of power and run production. He scored at least 100 runs and knocked in 70 in every full season except last year (88 runs, 69 RBI) and the injury-truncated 2003 (87 runs, 52 RBI). It was a tough year for the Yankees in 2008 and Jeter was not immune from the effects of their struggles.

2009 though, has seen a return to form for the Yankees' shortstop. Heading into Sunday's game against the Mets, Jeter's stat line was very good all around, featuring a .308 batting average, a .377 OBP, 47 runs, and a .828 OPS — the last figure boosted by his nine home runs, 30 RBIs (while moving from batting second to leadoff). Jeter has even shown renewed speed, taking advantage of his new leadoff role to steal 17 bases, a higher total in 68 games this season than he posted in the entirety of 2007 or 2008. These statistics hardly outline a player that is winding down in his career or eroding physically.

Inevitably, it is likely Jeter will have to make of position change, especially if he wants to have a chance at the all time hits record. Much of Rose's longevity can be attributed to his switch to the less physically demanding first base, a luxury Jeter will not have given the long terms involved in the contract of Mark Teixeira. A switch to the outfield wouldn't be unprecedented (Robin Yount) and there is always the option of moving him into a permanent DH role. While many have stated their belief that Jeter's pride would never allow this — they may be right in the context that winning and "dignity" are undoubtedly more important to Jeter than records — if he feels that a switch would facilitate the future success of the team, pride would likely not be an issue. Jeter has a proficient enough arm, as well as speed and range, to play left field and could also be an Edgar Martinez-like figure (with less power) as a DH. Most of Derek's injuries over the years have occurred in the field (diving head first into the seats isn't healthy for anyone) so the DH role would seem to be the most conducive to his longevity and maintaining his highest level of productivity. 

Derek Jeter is second in Yankees' history in total hits behind only Lou Gehrig, fourth in runs scored, fifth in total bases, forth in doubles, and second in stolen bases (Rickey Henderson popped in for a few seasons in the 80s). When he scored his 1,500th run, he joined Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees to achieve and surpass that total, and while the stat is obviously more in flux, he is fifth in career batting average above such Yankee greats as Don Mattingly, Bill Dickey, and Bob Meusel. His name already rests among the pantheon of Yankee greats, and yet the Captain is still actively and productively adding to his already impressive totals that will one day earn him his plaque in Cooperstown.

Jeter has a long way to go before he catches Pete Rose. He will have to continue his standard productivity for a number of more seasons, always hovering near 200 hits for at least the next five years. But given Jeter's inside-out style at the plate — reliant more on pitch recognition and reaction than pure bat speed — combined with the fact that he will always be protected in very good lineups, Jeter may be more tailored to bring the "all time hits leader" moniker to the Hall of Fame than most give him credit for.

Over the last few years every chase for a record in baseball has seemingly been tainted with the stench of the steroid era, but if Jeter can stay injury free, perhaps agree to a position change, and desires to continue playing that long, the baseball world may be treated to its first pure moment of history that it can get behind and celebrate in a very long time.

poll by twiigs.com

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About Anthony Tobis

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    If Jeter gets to 4,000 hits, he will have to switch positions, yes. But I’ll take that a step further. He will also have to switch teams. At the time it wasn’t believable that Rose would get his 4,000th hit as a freakin’ Expo.

    I know Jeter’s a True Yankee and loves the Bronx and New York and the pinstripe mystique … but if John Smoltz can be a Red Sock, Glavine and Mays can be a Mets, and Trevor Hoffman can sign with the Padres, you have to believe there’s a strong chance of it happening.

    And yeah, it doesn’t happen with Yankees as often… but you get a gold star if you can name the team Babe Ruth played for in his final season.

  • Tony

    The Boston Braves, that’s an easy one. Three home runs in one game.

    But Ruth really pissed of management all around baseball. He even served as a third base coach with the Brooklyn Dodgers on a promise that he might be made their manager.

    Otherwise, most Yankees finish their careers as Yankees. Gehrig, Dimaggio, Mantle, Mattingly, Williams. I don’t see why Jeter couldn’t serve as one of the better regular DHs in the AL for a long time eventually.

    Pete Rose was different because he signed a big time contract with the Phillies before he went to the Expos. He then only went to Montreal because he refused to except a smaller role with the Phils so they released him. After one season with the Expos he was back with the Reds.

    Jeter has a totally different makeup. I could see him retiring and not breaking the record if the Yankees tried to move him rather than him hanging on with another team just for the sake of breaking the record.

  • Minderbinder

    Roberto Alomar had more than 2500 hits on his 35th birthday, had been in more All Star games and had more gold gloves and silver sluggers than Jeter. Sure, Jeter is much more mentally stable than Alomar, but having this discussion at this point in Jeter’s career is ridiculous.

  • Tony

    When only Yount, Aaron, Cobb, and Hornsby have had more hits than Jeter at 35 it is noteworthy. Whether or not he will play as long as Rose to set the record is highly questionable but it is also notable that he is showing no signs of erroding production.

  • Tony

    Also Roberto Alomar was done as a starter by 35, never had a 200 hit season, became a starter at 20 (Jeter at 22), had a lower batting average (.301), and worse OBP at .372. Even his .816 OPS was well below Jeter’s mark and again, he was done after 35.

    I hardly think Jeter is going to all of a sudden disappear next year. Allstar games and silver sluggers don’t mean much considering Jeter played the same position as A-Rod mosto of his career and gold gloves literally have nothing to do with hit totals.

  • Minderbinder

    Thanks for explaining that gold gloves have nothing to do with hitting. The point is that Alomar was a premeire player with similar numbers at the same point in his career then fell off a cliff. This might be a good topic in 5 or 6 years if Jeter can average 200+ hits during that time. Discussing it now just because it was a fun fact from the announcers during the Yankees – Mets game last weekend is foolish.

  • Tony

    Actually, as I just showed you, Alomar had worse stats that Jeter.

    .301,.372,.816
    .316,.386,.844

    And again, Alomar was done after his 35th birthday. Missing that point is the only thing foolish I see. Jeter shows no signs of slowing up.

    When a player is one of five men ever to be ahead of the all time hits leader at age 35, it is worth noting. As you see in the article, I question whether Jeter has the longevity to do it, which most doubt. Neither Aaron, Cobb, Hornsby, or Yount had Rose’s longevity either. The point is to illustrate that Jeter is in a class with these players — not Roberto Alomar — and can conceivably make a run at the record.

  • Minderbinder

    Those are Alomar’s lifetime stats including his two terrible years after he turned 35. I never said Alomar had better stats than Jeter, only that they had similar numbers at similar points in their careers. Jeter hasn’t shown any signs of slowing up, but Alomar hadn’t shown any before he turned 34.

    It is not really worth noting Jeter’s hit totals at this point in his career in the context of pursuing Pete Rose’s record. As I mentioned previously it is possible it will be worth noting in 5 or 6 years.

    The players you mentioned aren’t in a different class than Alomar because of their hit totals through age 35.

  • Tony

    No, sorry, wrong again. Those are Alomar’s stats through age 35. Baseballreference.com has this great feature now where you can highlight blocks of stats from a player’s career and get totals, which I obviously did. The only difference between Alomar’s stats to 35 and Jeter’s are that Jeter, like Rose, began his career as a starter at 22, while Alomar began as a starter at 20.

  • Tony

    Alomar’s career line is .300, .371, .814. Not all that different from his stats through 35 because he retired at 36 after playing for three teams (CHW twice) in two seasons. His last season that he batted over .300 was at 33 in 2001 and he never had a 200 hit season.

  • Minderbinder

    Baseballreference.com has that great feature that you obviously did incorrectly. On his 35th birthday Alomar’s line was .304,.375,.824

  • Tony

    Hey, easy mistake, but its you who did it incorrectly. If you’ll look at the year in which he turned 35 — because he was so washed up — he actually played for two teams. To get his true total, only highlight the “tot” line for age 35, not the two lines of “split stats” for the two teams he played for. I’m actually look at it right now, as I type this.

  • Tony

    really it doesn’t matter because the point is, one guy was done at 35 and the other will probably net near 200 hits in his 35 season.

  • Minderbinder

    He turned 35 before the season started so I didn’t include that season’s stats, so I did it right.

  • Jim Stevenson

    I hope that Jeter breaks the hits record. I think that Jeter’s place in Yankee history is cemented, but I think that his legacy will grow when he eventually plays second base! This will even add to his legacy of being the best professional, teammate, and captain. He is already is a legend, but it’s crazy to see where his status will go if he become the hit king!

  • Jim Stevenson

    If there is two things that MLB want desperately is for Jeter to be the hit king, and a clean Pujols to surpass Bonds!

  • HCMF

    Good points, Jim.

    If he walked away today, Jeter would have the better career – his avg, obp and slg are far better than Rose’s, he has more rings and he is eligible for the HOF. It may be too early to discuss Jeter getting to 4000 hits, but he has already passed Rose in homeruns and steals, and is not far from eclipsing his runs and rbi totals (with nearly 6000 less ab).

    Admittedly, I didn’t get to see Rose play (until his pathetic attempt in the 80’s to break Cobb’s record with dink singles) but how does he get to first 4781 times (singles + walks) and steal only 198 bases (and get caught 149 times)? Not hustle, one would think. Rose was MVP with what could easily be called the worst MVP stats ever; he once led the league with a .324 average – by comparison Jeter came in second with a .349 average. He owes his “hit king” status to the false longevity (14,000+ ab and paltry .303 career avg) bestowed upon him just to see someone break Cobb’s record, so I wouldn’t say discussing Jeter’s run at the same record is all that ridiculous.

    I can see Jeter hanging around just as long (because he’s far more productive), but Rose had one advantage – his salary. With Steinbrenner, the Yankees would have let Jeter play in NY forever, maybe even pull the player-manager Rose trick. But there’s a big difference between his current pay and what a sane GM will pay for a 40-something secondbaseman or DH with little power.

    Also, just think of the whining ten years from now when a Yankee is the career leader in virtually every offensive category – Jeter, Rodriquez and yeah I’m claiming Henderson.

  • Patrick

    I think derek jeter will beet pete rose in about 5 years.Derek jeter is a really good hitter and I think pete rose is a really good hitter but I think derek jeter is beter

  • Robert

    I think it’s assinine that people think Jeter will beat Rose in 5 years. At the time of this publication I thought it was strange to note that it said 5 years. It’s the end of the 2010 season, and he’s still over 1300 hits away from Rose. While I agree it’s possible, there is no 5 year chunk of Jeter’s career where he hit for 1300 hits. Is he going to break Ichiro’s single season hit record every single year from ages 36-41 to beat Pete Rose.

    People would do well to know where he’s at now. He’s just shy of 3000, coming off of 179 hits. He’s still capable of putting up 190+ a year, but I’d say 180-185 is a more realistic total, but that still would take him near 7 years and he wouldn’t do it until either his age 42-43 year or 43-44 year in either 2017 or 2018. This assumes the crazy good luck of health he has had so far and at least 150 games a season. For god’s sake at least know how many seasons it will take befor eyou put this out there.

  • Robert

    At 190+ hits a season it would still take a 6th season just to reach 4000, so unless someone can tell me how Jeter is going to average 266 hits a year over the next 5 years to beat Rose, I think we should at least say 6, and then it assumes he’ll average 221+ hits a season, which would be strange given his best season (his 4th full season way back in ’99) was only 219 hits.

  • Robert

    It should also be noted that if Pujols continues along his current path, he will join Jeter as one of the few players that has more hits than Rose by his age 35 season. Pujols plays a much safer spot at 1b, and after this year may be able to go to the AL and just hit if the Cards aren’t able to resign him, but he has to deal with the fall off that comes with being a power hitter and a bulkier player more prone to knee or other issues that slow down similar players (Frank Thomas as a comp)

  • Tony

    After all that your wrote and the effort you put into the argument I hate to tell you but you totally misunderstood what was written.

    I said he needed to hover around 200 hits for the next 5 years if he hoped to have a chance at Rose (noting that I also said previously in the article he would likely have to match Rose’s longevity also).

    And this is true. If Jeter were to log around 200 hits over the next 5 (now four) years he would be right near 4,000 and within reach of Rose if he can hang around that long.

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