Can we back away from the declining productivity and decreased range factor, and look with historical perspective at one of the game's most-elite players since World War II?
Yes, it's Derek Jeter we're talking about. Who'd you think?
As the New York Yankees prepare to host the Cleveland Indians this weekend, their longtime captain sits 10 hits from 3,000.
It is unlikely Jeter will get those 10 hits in the next six games. So unless he gets hot, he will not reach the milestone at Yankee Stadium, but oddly, in a National League park. Specifically, either Wrigley Field in Chicago or Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, the two stops on the Yankees' June 17-22 road trip.
With the only question being 'where?' and not 'if?', let's look beyond, and see how high Jeter can climb up the all-time hit list. And keep in mind that he is already the Yankees' all-time hits leader, and as such will be the first to reach the 3,000 mark.
Jeter passed Sam Crawford and moved into 28th place on the Yankees' recent West Coast swing. There is nobody between him and Roberto Clemente, who finished with exactly 3,000 hits before his tragic death in 1972.
Let's assume Jeter continues at or about at his current pace of 1.09 hits/per game for the rest of this season. That would give him about 170, and leave him just short of 3,100. Here's who he will pass if that happens:
Al Kaline (3,007), Wade Boggs (3,010), Rafael Palmeiro (3,020), Lou Brock (3,023), Rod Carew (3,053), Rickey Henderson (3,055) and Craig Biggio (3,060). All are post-World War II players; five are Hall of Famers, with Palmeiro currently in PED-use limbo, and Biggio yet to reach the ballot. That would leave Jeter at No. 20, right on the heels of Dave Winfield (3,110).
No matter where you stand on how far in decline Jeter is at this point, it's pretty safe to assume that beyond this season, he has another 100 or so hits in him. And if Jeter reaches 3,200, here's who else he would pass along the way: Tony Gwynn (3,141), Robin Yount (3,142), Paul Waner (3,152), George Brett (3,154) and Cal Ripken Jr. (3,184).
But the top 10 probably is a stretch, as Jeter clearly isn't the player he used to be. Entering this homestand, he's 53 points below his .313 career batting average, 124 points below his .449 career slugging percentage and 56 points below his career on-base percentage of .383. He's also heading for his career lows in home runs and RBI (on pace for six and 45).
Sabermetricians have trashed his defense for years, but opposing AL managers and coaches have voted him five Gold Glove Awards since 2004 — the truth certainly being somewhere in the middle.
What he is these days is a middle-of-the-pack MLB shortstop. It just seems worse because of where he once stood — not to mention the three-year, $51-million deal he just signed in the off-season after at-times nasty negotiations.
And, for whatever reason, the tendency is to tear down the greats as they near the end. It happened to Rickey Henderson, who just didn't know when to quit. Goose Gossage's Hall of Fame candidacy took a hit due to a half-dozen marginal years as a middle-reliever on six different teams into his early 40s.
The nation grieved for those hurt, killed and affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. After one of the suspects was caught on Friday — following a day-long lockdown and manhunt — sports returned to Boston over the weekend.
That won't be Jeter's fate, of course. Other than an eventual move down the lineup, and possibly to a different position, Jeter isn't going anywhere.
It was by a quirk that the Yankees got him sixth overall in the June 1992 amateur draft — the game's most-storied franchise picking that high after a rare 71-91 season. To say the five teams picking above them that season missed is an understatement, as Phil Nevin, Paul Shuey, B.J. Wallace, Jeffrey Hammonds and Chad Mottola were their choices. And five World Series championships later, Jeter will be a career Yankee. Here's where he ranks in some of the club's key career offensive categories:
Stolen bases: 1st
Games played: 2nd
Total bases: 4th
Runs created: 4th
Batting average: Tied for 5th
And in the all-encompassing Wins Above Replacement measure: 5th — behind only Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio. That seems just about right, doesn't it?
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