Tuesday, July 23, 2024
AL WestAmerican LeagueAnalysisHouston AstrosMLB

Could Jose Altuve be the next member of the 3000 Hit Club?

Altuve redesigned his swing in 2014, leading to his first 200 hit season
Photo Credit: Melissa Phillip, Houston Chronicle

Jose Altuve is currently 27th among active players in career hits with 1568, accumulated through just nine seasons in the majors. The only active player with membership to the 3000 hit club, one of baseball’s most hallowed groups, is Albert Pujols. Some of you may think that his teammate and verified GOAT Mike Trout would be next in line for membership, but he only has 1324 career hits. Altuve is 244 hits ahead with only 43 extra games played, a sizable lead. Trout may well end up with more total hits given he debuted at 19 instead of 21, but barring injury, I can prove Altuve will beat him and all other players to 3000.

I’ll quickly address the other contenders and explain why I think they won’t beat my favorite midget second baseman. This article will disagree with me, but it didn’t account for a plague robbing us all of baseball.

The Competition

Miguel Cabrera

OK, I don’t really have a good argument for this one. Miguel Cabrera represents Altuve’s stiffest competition to being the 33rd player to achieve this lifetime accomplishment. Miggy is perhaps the second-best hitter of his generation, trailing only The Machine when it comes to prowess at the plate. His back-to-back MVP seasons were special, but his star has faded significantly since then. He is under contract through at least his age 40 season, which theoretically gives him 2.3 more seasons to amass the 185 hits required. He has been a replacement-level player for the past three years, so his contract and on-field play have been mimicking LA’s ailing superstar. Unless Cabrera goes the way of Prince Fielder, its hard to imagine that he won’t limp across the finish line and into history books.

Robinson Cano

One of the best second baseman of this century, Cano has four years left to accrue 430 hits. The Mets don’t have an easy out for his contract, so they will likely imitate the Angels and Tigers and force their star to play to justify the money. However, Cano has been on a sharp decline over the past three years, losing half a season to a PED suspension and only playing 107 games in 2018 due to a broken hand. Factor in a truncated 2020 season (if its played) and you have a 38 year old 2nd baseman battling time and injuries to acquire ~380 hits. I don’t like those odds very much.

Nick Markakis

A good player who has been underrated for most of his career, Markakis has the toughest outlook of any player with above 2000 hits. His contract has a buyout at the end of this season and expires after 2021. Markakis has only cracked 2.0 bWAR once in the past 8 seasons. At age 37 in 2022, its unlikely many teams will be willing to offer him a competitive contract. He could take low-value deals just to keep playing, but that would likely mean platoon time and he still needs 645 hits to make 3000. I just don’t see it happening.

Elvis Andrus

Elvis (not that one) is 17th among active players with 1723 career hits thanks to debuting at the tender age of 19. He is on track to reach 3000 somewhere around the All-Star break in 2029. The problem with that is the aforementioned MLB.com article has Altuve projected to reach 3000 hits on May 6, 2028. A shortened 2020 season will delay both men but still has Altuve ahead of Andrus, due in part to Altuve averaging 174.2 hits per season to Andrus’ 156.6. This accounts for Altuve amassing 111 more hits than Andrus through each of their first 9 seasons in the majors. It will be a close race if both men remain active, but I expect Altuve to take a last-minute lead.

Justin Upton

He’s averaging 127 hits per season. At that pace, he would need to play another 11 years to reach 3000 hits. He’s already 31; it’s not going to happen.

Little Big Man

Jose Altuve casts a much longer shadow than his 5’6″ frame would suggest. Through 9 seasons, he has the 26th most career hits in history with 1568. The only three active players to outpace him? Albert Pujols with 1717 (8th), Robinson Cano with 1649 (16th), and Miguel Cabrera with 1597 (20th). [You can find my search parameters and results here]. This puts Altuve ahead of names like Arod, Beltre, Jeter, Biggio, Palmeiro, Henderson, Ripken, Gwynn, Molitor, Murray, Winfield, Brett, Yount, Carew, Yastremszki, Brock, Kaline, Speaker, Collins, Mays, Lajoie, and Clemente. You read that list correctly. Altuve is outpacing 22 of the 32 members of the 3000 hit club.

Members of the 3000 hit club, sorted in descending order based on total hits through 9 seasons. Willie Keeler does not have 3000 career hits but was included to provide additional context for Jose Altuve.

Altuve is one of 39 players in baseball history with four or more 200 hit seasons. Of those 39, only 12 passed the 200 hit threshold in four consecutive years. Only Ichiro Suzuki, Michael Young, and Jose Altuve have done it since World War II. The median age at which these players accomplished the feat for the final time is 32.59. There are some outliers who resisted until the age of 36, 37, 38, or even 40 (Sam Rice in 1930). Jose Altuve will be 31 during the next full season of baseball in 2021. Given the company he keeps, he could easily add one to three more 200 hit campaigns to his resume by the time he turns 35.

I’m not just saying that because he is my favorite player. If we take a look at his wOBA stat over time, we see that his 2019 value at age 29 is higher than it was in 2014 when he first collected 200 hits in a season. He is flying high above all other players his age, so even expected regression in his mid 30’s won’t be brutal. There is of course a huge peak in his 2017 MVP campaign, but I would argue the only reason he hasn’t collected 200 hits over the past two seasons is missing 20-30 games due to injury. If Mike Trout can win MVP in a season where he missed the last month of action, and still be the favorite to win the next year, I can be optimistic about Altuve’s recovery.

It really is just a simple question of longevity at this point. If we plot out the career hit totals of some choice players, we see that Altuve is keeping pace with the all-time greats. Ichiro Suzuki still laps everyone else, but Altuve is hot on the heels of Pete Rose and just ahead of Derek Jeter. He’s well ahead of the pace set by Roberto Clemente to reach exactly 3000 hits and is skunking another all-time Astros great and 3000 hit club member, Craig Biggio.

Bang Bang

I’m sure I’ll have to include a section like this in most of my articles covering the Astros. The Houston Astros cheated in 2017 and 2018. There is mounting evidence that it was little to no benefit and that other teams were cheating around the same time. This does not absolve the Astros. Thanks to an intrepid effort by fellow Astros fan Tony Adams, we have extensive data on which players used the banging scheme. Jose Altuve has denied using the system, and the data backs it up. A scant 24 bangs during 19 AB’s across 886 possible opportunities. That amounts to a measly 2.7% tip rate on incoming pitches. Altuve led the league in hits, and he earned it. The graph below should do the rest of the talking.

Data on the Banging Scheme broken down by player

It is incredibly difficult to predict a player’s future. Even the wonderful folks at Cut4 struggle with it. Their article had Joe Maurer reaching 3000 hits in 2025, and he has already retired. Longevity is something you can’t identify ahead of time. Edgar Renteria and Johnny Damon both looked like locks to join the 3000 hit club. Neither did. All I can offer is historically great stats and a dash of optimism.

Jacob Hubbard

Jake is a lifelong baseball fan and grew up watching the Round Rock Express MiLB games. He played baseball from ages 2-19, but a 20 graded power tool forced him to retire. Now he spends his days yelling at Fangraphs and Baseball Savant. You can find him on Twitter @FeelSurgical