By Matt Baron
The 3,000-hit club is among Major League Baseball’s most exclusive clubs. The Angels’ Albert Pujols became the 32nd member of that prestigious group on May 4 with a single to right field off the Seattle Mariners’ Mike Leake.
The moment at Safeco Field also put him into a smaller branch of that rarefied group as the sixth Latino to crack the 3,000-hit mark.
A Natural Slows Down
With 3,765 at-bats since his 2,000th hit, for a .266 average, Pujols, 38, experienced the biggest batting-average decline of any of the 3,000-hit club members.
When he recorded hit 2,000 seven years ago, his final season with the St. Louis Cardinals, Pujols’ career average stood at .328.
Pujols’ 62-point swoon has lowered his career mark to .304. The closest comparable nosedive is Ichiro Suzuki’s 54-point drop from .334 at the time of his 2,000th hit to a .280 mark over his next 1,000 hits.
By long embodying a rare blend of power with average, Pujols set himself up for the fall. And though his longball prowess has waned, he still boasts the top slugging percentage (.558) of anyone else in the 3,000-hit club, just ahead of Willie Mays’ .557.
A dip in batting average is common among 3,000-hit club members. Twenty-two of the 32 posted lower batting averages between their 2,000 and 3,000 hits than their career mark at the 2,000-hit level. That proportion is mirrored by the six Latinos in this collection, as two raised their averages.
Grading the Latino 3,000-hit clustrong
Pujols’ accomplishment prompted a consideration of how the other Latinos in the club performed in their climb to 3,000. With gratitude to Retrosheet.org as the source for this entire body of research, here’s a look, in reverse chronology, at the 3,000-hit arc of the five other Latinos with 3,000 hits.
Beltré’s .312 average from the 2,000 to 3,000 milestones was 37 points higher than his .275 career average upon reaching 2,000 hits. That’s the largest increase among the men with 3,000 hits.
In his early years, Beltré was not a likely candidate for 3,000 hits. His .272 average through his first 1,000 hits is the lowest among the men with 3,000. Only Robin Yount is close. Yount required only 14 fewer at-bats than Beltre to reach 1,000 hits.
Beltré slowly picked up steam with a .278 average between his 1,000th and 2,000th hit. Among his elite fraternity that is ahead of only Cal Ripken Jr.’s .262 average during this mid-career phase. But Beltré’s .312 average from his 2,000th to 3,000th places him 13th out of the group of 32.
Rodríguez, the 29th player and the fourth Latino to reach 3,000, batted .309 through his first 1,000 hits, dipped slightly to .302 over his next 1,000 hits, then hit .286 over the next 1,000.
Post-3,000 hits, A-Rod’s .218 average was 81 points below his .299 mark at the 3,000-hit milestone – a decline matched only by Hall of Famer Nap Lajoie, whose 243 hits in 918 at-bats resulted in a .265 average, 81 points lower than his .346 average at the 3,000 milestone.
Palmeiro, the 26th player and third Latino to reach 3,000, developed significantly more power.
He finished with 569 home runs and a .515 slugging percentage. His average was largely a study in steadiness. He needed 3,403 at-bats to get to 1,000 hits (.294 average) and 3,393 at-bats for his next 1,000 (.295).
A native of Cuba, Palmeiro dropped to .278 over his next 1,000-hit phase, then was 20-for-81 for a post-3,000 average of .247. His career was sullied by a positive test for a performance-enhancing drug.
Carew was the 16th player and second Latino to reach 3,000.
The sweet-hitting Panamanian had the best mid-career jump, hitting .357 between his 1,000th and 2,000 hit, 41 points higher than his .316 average through 1,000 hits.
Only Ty Cobb’s 40-point boost (.388 vs. his .348 mark through 1,000 hits) comes close to Carew’s ascent. Only Cobb’s average is higher than Carew’s during this phase.
Carew dipped below .300 his final two seasons, giving a certain symmetry to his career, which began with two seasons below .300 before 15 consecutive .300-plus campaigns.
Clemente, the 11th player and first Latino to reach 3,000 hits, is the titan of sustained improvement. Whereas half of 3,000-hit club members averaged .310 or better through 1,000 hits, Clemente had a .297 career average at that point.
He compiled a .326 average over his next 1,000 hits, lifting his career average to .311. When he hit .332 thereafter—a level exceeded by only six other 3.000-hitclub members—the 21-point jump matched his uniform number.
Two Latino players are 1-2 among active players in career hits.
2,666 hits, projected 3,000th hit in 2020
Only five members of the 3,000-hit club had stronger mid-career surges than Cabrera, who hit at a .334 clip between hits 1,000th and 2,000th hit after an initial .309 average through his first 1,000.
Despite a career-low .249 average in 2017, the Tiger has hit for a respectable .305 mark (666-for-2,185) that is the norm for all 3,000-hit club members during this career phase.
2,417 hits – projected 3,000th hit in 2022
Until a recent 80-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance, the Mariner was sailing smoothly toward 3,000 hits, having played in more games than anyone else since 2007.
Canó got to 1,000 hits three at-bats faster than Cabrera. He then leveled off with a .305 average over his next 1,000 hits. Since then, his .291 average has been 16 points lower than his .307 mark after 2,000 hits.
The PED issue raises a cloud over his 3,000-hit chase, though.
Featured Image: Harry How / Getty Images Sport
Inset Image (Beltré): Dave Reginek / Getty Images Sport
Inset Image (Canó/Cabrera): Brace Hemmelgarn / Getty Images Sport