Derek Jeter is hitting .400/.440/.590 on May 2nd. That alone is pretty insane. Its even crazier because Jeter is 38 years old and a shortstop. Few people would fault Jeter for slowly fading into oblivion as he caps off a career as one of the best shortstops ever to play the game. But instead, he’s an early MVP candidate.
A slowly declining Derek Jeter wouldn’t have a shot to break or approach many more records. An effective Derek Jeter who plays into his 40s may have a shot at several. Even if he puts up one real outlying year before acting like a human being again, it would go a long way toward helping him make even more history. What’s in the cards?
Jeter is currently in 19th place in runs scored with 1785. Ricky Henderson is the leader with with 2295 runs scored. Jeter isn’t going to approach that – it would require 510 runs, or 85 runs per season even if he plays until he is 44. While he could easily break 120 today, I have trouble seeing Jeter getting enough plate appearances at that age in order to pull it off. And he’ll have to deal with Alex Rodriguez as well, who is 2 years younger than Jeter and sits at 1838 runs.
A more realistic, and very impressive, milestone might be 2000 runs. Only Mays, Rose, Ruth, Aaron, Bonds, Cobb, and Henderson have broken that barrier, and Alex Rodriguez eventually will. That’s super inner-circle Hall of Fame company right there. He needs 215 runs to break the barrier, which should be very doable if he has regular playing time into his low-40s. If he scores 90 more runs this season, He would only need to average 60 runs in two full seasons afterwards. He could even pass Willie Mays at 2062 if he either plays into his 40s or has a second highly productive season at age 39.
Jeter also currently sits in 19th place in hits, with 3128. He’s currently leading the league with with 40 hits, and even with a serious regression to his 2010-2011 levels shouldn’t be too poor of a bet to get 200 hits on the season. That alone would bring him to at least 3288 hits, passing Willie Mays at 12th place. His real target after that should be Honus Wagner at 3420, which would make Jeter the hitting-est shortstop of all time. To get there, Jeter needs just 292 hits, which seems pretty doable to me even on his current contract. Cap Anson’s 3435 isn’t too far ahead of that, and Tris Speaker’s 3514 is breakable if he plays past 2014.
But can he catch Pete Rose? Even given his very hot start, its very difficult. Rose had an insane 4256 hits. Jeter would need 1128 hits to break the record. That means he would need five more seasons of 200+ hits just to get in striking distance. Derek Jeter isn’t going to pull that off without a ridiculously long career, into his upper-40s.
One final thought – the length of Derek Jeter’s career is going to be about defense more than offense. I have no doubt that he’ll hit better than your average shortstop for a very long time. But Jeter was never a good defensive shortstop (he has more Gold Glove awards than Silver Slugger awards. Wrap your head around that for a second), and few players can even play the position at his age. He’s going to be limited by how long the Yankees (or another team) can keep writing his name into the lineup card every day. He’s not going to play 1st base. He’s probably not going to morph into a full time DH. He might play the outfield, but we don’t know how his legs will hold up. Once he can no longer be relied upon at shortstop, Jeter could be a platoon player very quickly. On the bench, it won’t be easy to pump up the counting statistics.
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