Miguel Cabrera reached the 3,000-hit mark on a weekend afternoon in front of an adoring crowd at his home ballpark in Detroit. It was a moment worthy of the milestone.
It could also be the last time it happens for a while.
In an era of high strikeout totals and low batting averages, there aren’t any other players who seem likely to reach 3,000 hits any time soon. In fact, the first few weeks of this season are a reminder of how current trends in baseball could affect which milestones remain in reach for the game’s top players.
Among active players, the next man on the career hits list is Robinson Canó with 2,631. Canó had a good season for the New York Mets in the shortened 2020 campaign, but he missed the whole 2021 season serving a drug suspension. Canó turns 40 in October.
Among players closer to their primes, 31-year-old Jose Altuve (1,783 hits) could have a shot, but the Houston Astros star hasn’t even reached 170 in a season since 2017. That was also the last time he played more than 146 games, and Altuve just went on the injured list with a hamstring problem.
Part of what helped Cabrera to the milestone was that he reached the big leagues at age 20. The same was true of Tampa Bay star Wander Franco last year. He has 103 hits in his first 85 games, but even if Franco goes on to have a Hall of Fame career, it’ll obviously be a while before has a chance to threaten a milestone like 3,000 hits.
The outlook is a little better for a power mark like 500 homers. Nelson Cruz has 451, and although he’s off to a slow start this year, don’t write off the 41-year-old Washington Nationals slugger. When the 2008 season ended, Cruz was 28 and had only 22 home runs in his career, so the fact that he’s this close to 500 shows how well he has kept hitting them at an advanced age.
For pitchers, the 300-win plateau feels like a pipe dream these days, and even strikeout milestones are no sure thing, since the top starters don’t throw as many innings as in the past. Max Scherzer of the Mets and Justin Verlander of the Astros, however, have already surpassed 3,000 strikeouts. Scherzer, 37, is the younger of those two. He struck out 236 last year for the Dodgers, and he’s now at 3,043 for his career.
It may be a lot to ask for Scherzer to get to 4,000 — which only four pitchers have ever done — but 3,500 could be realistic, and that would put him in the top 10 all-time.
The four pitchers who have reached 4,000 strikeouts are: Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Steve Carlton.