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This guy quietly has a real shot at 3,000 hits

Already at 2,092 career knocks, Markakis, 34, off to strong start in '18
MLB.com @JPosnanski

You probably know that with only one exception, every eligible player with 3,000 hits is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That player is Rafael Palmeiro, who undoubtedly would be in the Hall of Fame already except for a failed drug test. Palmeiro continues to deny ever knowingly taking any performance-enhancing drugs, and it's certain that his Hall of Fame case will be heard again by various Hall of Fame committees.

For now, he's the exception to the rule. But this story is not about Palmeiro.

You probably know that with only one exception, every eligible player with 3,000 hits is in the National Baseball Hall of Fame. That player is Rafael Palmeiro, who undoubtedly would be in the Hall of Fame already except for a failed drug test. Palmeiro continues to deny ever knowingly taking any performance-enhancing drugs, and it's certain that his Hall of Fame case will be heard again by various Hall of Fame committees.

For now, he's the exception to the rule. But this story is not about Palmeiro.

This story is about Nick Markakis.

Because, as they wrote in The Sporting News a couple of days ago, there is a very real chance that Markakis will finish his career with 3,000 hits.

* * * * *

Wow is Markakis hot at the plate these days. He had three more hits on Thursday, giving him a National League-leading 40 for the season. He's hitting .336, he's slugging better than .500 and he's up to 2,092 hits for his career. Markakis is 34 years old; he won't turn 35 until November.

Video: ATL@NYM: Markakis lines an RBI double to open scoring

Before we get into the Markakis story and what this all means, we should probably give you a sense of his chances for reaching 3,000 hits. Bill James puts them at about 28 percent, which is pretty high.

Markakis came into this season with 2,052 hits -- only 93 players in baseball history had 2,000 hits through their age-33 season. Of those, 25 made it to 3,000, though that number will go up as Albert Pujols will hit the number sometime in the next few days. Miguel Cabrera and Robinson Cano are also on this list and have a shot at 3K.

In all, Markakis is ahead of the pace of nine players who finished with 3,000 hits, but his resume does not exactly match up to any of them. He's certainly not the pure hitter that Tony Gwynn or Wade Boggs were; he isn't the speed-burner type like Lou Brock, Rickey Henderson or Ichiro Suzuki. Honus Wagner and Cap Anson played in a very different time, so they don't really compare.

That leaves Craig Biggio (1,868 hits through age 33) and Dave Winfield (1,935 hits). They're the closest, but Markakis doesn't have the track record of either of those guys. Biggio by this age was a seven-time All-Star and had finished Top 10 in the MVP voting three times. Winfield was a nine-time All-Star who finished Top 10 in the MVP voting five times.

Markakis, at this moment, is a zero-time All-Star who has never even received an MVP vote.

But here's the promising thing about Markakis: He has been virtually indestructible. Other than a wrist injury that sent him to disabled list in 2012, he has played at least 155 games every single season since 2007.

If he can maintain that health, yes, he has a very real chance to do this. The thing that defines most of the members of the 3,000-hit club is their late-career success. To finish up the numbers portion of this: Only 43 players in baseball history have had 1,000-plus hits from age 34 on.

Of those 43, more than half -- 23 to be exact -- got to 3,000 hits.

In other words, the race to 3K really begins at age 34.

And Markakis is off to a raging start.

* * * * *

Most people thought Markakis should be a pitcher. He was a sensational junior college pitcher at Young Harris; he led all jucos in wins and strikeouts. He also hit. Who knows, maybe he could have been Shohei Ohtani if given the chance.

But the Orioles, who took him with the seventh overall pick in the 2003 Draft, saw him as a pure hitter. He proved them right almost immediately. He cruised through the Minor Leagues, wowing scouts by how quickly he picked up the nuances of hitting. He was called up at age 22, and hit .291, slugged .448 and finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year Award voting. That was a loaded year for rookies in the AL -- Justin Verlander, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Liriano and Jered Weaver all finished ahead of him.

Then Markakis settled into being, well, the sort that scouts will call "a professional ballplayer." They're all professionals, if you want to be technical about it, but Markakis was one of those guys who went out there every day and, without fanfare, without flash, without fail, just did his job. He hit around .300. You could count on him for 40-plus doubles and 20 or so homers. He played a solid outfield. One year he led the league in sacrifice flies.

Markakis was the kind of guy who would lead the league in sacrifice flies.

As time went on, the power diminished some. He started having problems with his wrist and his neck. He wore down a bit. But he still did Markakis things. In 2014, he won an AL Gold Glove Award. It was hard to see in the defensive metrics the justification for giving him the Gold Glove, but it was a sign of respect for the metronome sturdiness of the man.

* * * * *

Markakis drew a lot of comparisons in the Minor Leagues to Johnny Damon -- this is interesting because, well, just look at their numbers:

Damon through age 33: 1,845 games, .288/.353/.433, 2,102 hits, 166 homers, 3,162 total bases.

Markakis through age 33: 1,839 games, .288/.358/.422, 2,052 hits, 165 homers, 3,014 total bases.

They're not the exact same guy, naturally. Damon was a big stolen-base threat, while Markakis almost never stole bases. Markakis has won a couple of Gold Gloves with his big arm, while Damon was never a Gold Glove threat and had a famously weak arm. Still, those numbers are eerily similar.

Video: ATL@PHI: Markakis knocks in 2 on a single to second

And around this time in 2008, people were wondering the same thing about Damon that we now wonder about Markakis: "What if he gets to 3,000 hits?" Damon kept the tension going through his age-37 year -- he was just 277 hits shy heading into the 2012 season, and that meant he was just two average years from glory.

With Damon, though, the drama ended quickly. He played only 64 games for Cleveland in 2012, hit .222 and was released. He never played another Major League game.

And Markakis? This early-season renaissance certainly offers hope. Markakis is hitting with power again -- he has five homers already and he didn't hit his fifth homer last year until after the All-Star Game. Statcast™ shows that his launch angle is up pretty significantly, up four or five degrees from last year, the highest it has been since Statcast™ started tracking in 2015.

You can't tell too much after just 30 games, but you have to be encouraged with the energy he's bringing to the game these days (even his speed is up slightly). And there is one player who could show Markakis the way to 3,000 hits: my friend Raul Ibanez. They're both good left-handed hitters, about the same size, similar power up to age 34.

But Ibanez was a fantastic older player, one of the best in memory. He is one of those 43 players who managed 1,000 hits after age 33 (1,198 to be exact). He improved his power immensely. If you put Ibanez's career post age 33 with Markakis' up until age 33, you would get more than 3,200 hits (along with almost 700 doubles -- good enough to be in the Top 10 all time).

And what would the Hall of Fame voters do then? It's hard to say. Up to now, Markakis has been solid but nothing close to a Hall of Famer. That's now. If he, say, has an amazing seven or eight years and pushes his numbers into the stratosphere, well, the equation changes. Voters do love those 3,000-hit guys. And it's not impossible.

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.

Atlanta Braves, Nick Markakis