Michael Young and the chase for 3,000 hits

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Michael Young led the American League in hits for the second time in his career in 2011, finishing with 213. That brought his career total to 2,061 through age 34, and despite a late start — he didn’t collect his first hit in the majors until age 24 — he appeared to have some shot at getting to 3,000.

Bill James has long had what he calls “The Favorite Toy,” a system that looks at the previous year’s results, career totals and age before spitting out a percentage score of a player’s chances of reaching a certain milestone. After the 2011 season, James had 12 players with at least a 20-percent chance of getting 3,000 hits, not including Derek Jeter, who was already there.

Alex Rodriguez – 94%
Johnny Damon – 86%
Vladimir Guerrero – 67%
Albert Pujols – 56%
Miguel Cabrera – 46%
Ichiro Suzuki – 38%
Michael Young – 34%
Adrian Beltre – 30%
Robinson Cano – 28%
Juan Pierre – 27%
Carl Crawford – 23%
Nick Markakis – 22%

Given the percentages James came up with, five or six of the above players should eventually get to 3,000 hits. And now, two years later:

Alex Rodriguez: 2,939 – suspended for 2014
Johnny Damon: 2,769 – out of baseball in 2013
Vladimir Guerrero: 2,590 – out of baseball in 2013, retired
Albert Pujols: 2,347
Miguel Cabrera: 1,995
Ichiro Suzuki: 2,742
Michael Young: 2,375 – retired
Adrian Beltre: 2,426
Robinson Cano: 1,649
Juan Pierre: 2,217
Carl Crawford: 1,765
Nick Markakis: 1,370

A-Rod need only come back for one more year to get 3,000. He should pull that off unless he’s blackballed. Despite his setbacks the last two years, Pujols should still have more than 653 hits left in him. He is signed for eight more years, after all. Cabrera remains very much on pace. Ichiro, though, is a big long shot now. Beltre is looking pretty good with 574 hits to go as he turns 35 in April. The same goes for Cano, though he’s just over halfway there at the moment. The bottom three all appear done for. Crawford may stay healthy enough to get to 2,500 or so, but 3,000 is out of reach.

So, that’s three likelies in Rodriguez, Pujols and Cabrera and two maybes in Beltre and Cano. Which isn’t so bad. Unfortunately, the reduction in teams willing to suit up pure DHs hurt the cause for Damon and Guerrero. Both were still decent hitters, but neither had the power to convince a team he was worthy of a few million dollars and a roster spot. I do believe that we’ll someday see the DH in both leagues. For better or worse, not having it now most likely cost Damon 3,000 hits, maybe Guerrero, too.

As for the now 37-year-old Young, well, there probably would have been more demand for his services with another 15 DH jobs open in the NL. However, he wasn’t likely to remain productive enough to get another 625 hits anyway.

In the old days, it seemed like quite an exception when a player was about as productive in his mid-30s as he was during his prime years. Then it wasn’t as much of an exception for a while, perhaps because of PEDs and amphetamines. Now it’s starting to look like an exception again.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.