Jose Pujols joined an exclusive club Friday, becoming the 32nd member of the 3,000-hit club. We didn't really need any more proof that he is one of the greatest hitters to ever step to the plate, but now he's achieved the only thing he didn't have. Pujols has the magical 3,000. It's the capper on one of the most impressive careers of all time.
It matters because it's a limited group, and because it's something we've put importance into for years. But should getting to 3,000 hits matter as much as we allow it to? If not, what's a better benchmark we should be using?
It's not that getting to 3,000 hits isn't impressive. Of course it is. Every eligible member of the 3,000-hit club is in the Hall of Fame except for Rafael Palmeiro. There have been more than 8,500 non-pitchers to bat since 1901, and only 0.38 percent of them had a 3,000-hit career, including Pujols. It is so, so hard to do this. Celebrate it.
And yet ... Babe Ruth (2,873 hits) didn't get there. Neither did Barry Bonds (2,935), Frank Robinson (2,943) or Lou Gehrig (2,721). Can we really be satisfied with something that history's greatest hitters didn't actually do? The flaw here is obvious, in the same way that batting average is flawed: A hit doesn't tell you enough. It ignores walks; Bonds had 2,558 of those. It ignores the value of extra-base hits, which nearly 50 percent of Ruth's hits were.
So what's a better indicator of batting talent and longevity, while also maintaining a high bar of entry? The right way to do this would be on a rate basis -- say, a .350 average or a 150 wRC+ when you get to a certain number of plate appearances -- but who wants to celebrate an achievement that can later be undone through poor performance? It has to be simple, because you can't see a Win Above Replacement or a Run Created. We need something more tangible, and let's be honest, it has to be a round number, too.
Our initial thought was to look simply at "times reaching base," including on errors, and setting the bar at 4,000 times on base. After all, the entire point of walking to the plate is to not make an out. It's exclusive; only 54 hitters, or 0.63 percent, have done it since 1901. It gets Bonds and Ruth into the Top 10, which is nice, although 3,000-hit members Roberto Clemente, Ichiro Suzuki and Nap Lajoie would be dropped. It's better, but it's not perfect. Every time on base isn't created equally. A home run is better than a walk. Let's account for that.
To do so, we'll start with one of the most traditional stats of all: Total Bases. It's the basis of slugging percentage and it gives a batter one total base for a single, two total bases for a double, three for a triple and four for a home run. A home run isn't really four times as valuable as a single, and a double and triple are closer in value than you'd think, but we're trying to keep this simple and in the realm of counting stats.
Hank Aaron had the most total bases since 1901, with 6,856. But total bases doesn't include walks. We need those. Hit by pitches, too, since you get first base for that. While we're here, reaching on errors matters, as it can reflect hustling to rush a fielder's play. (Pete Rose did this 239 times.) Our formula, then, is Total Bases + Walks, Hit By Pitches and Reached on Errors.
That's something that needs a name. Let's update total bases to overall bases, though we're not actually intending to create a new official statistic here, because presumably someone has used overall bases for something before. We just need a shorthand for this way of defining important times on base.
If we wanted to keep the exclusivity the same, we'd say that 6,000 overall bases was going to be our line, as that would include a very similar 38 players, or .45 percent. But all of this is about arbitrary lines, right? So we're going to say that our new bar is 5,000 overall bases, for two reasons. First, 5,000 just sounds better than 6,000. More important, lowering the bar there gets us 94 names, or about 1 percent of all players since 1901. There's something perfect about that. If you're in the 99th percentile of getting on base and doing it well, you deserve to be recognized.
Moreover, the Top 10 here is fantastically satisfying.
Most overall bases, 1901-present
Bonds. Aaron. Ruth. Musial. Mays. Yes. It's difficult to imagine a more perfect top five than that.
Rickey Henderson, Ted Williams, Pujols (6,982 overall bases entering Sunday) and Mel Ott make up the next group. This is exactly the list of names you'd expect. This is the inner circle, the truly elite, the best all-time. This is the blend of power and patience you'd want to see. Bonds and Ruth didn't make the 3,000-hit club at all, but they (along with Aaron) lead this ranking.
Every member of the 3,000-hit club makes this, except for Ichiro (4,824 overall bases), though he surely would have if he'd started his career in America. Others who didn't make the 3,000-hit club who make the cut here include Reggie Jackson, Chipper Jones, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt and Joe Morgan. Those are all-time superstars. This already feels more right.
It also includes some names you might not have expected, too. (You can see the entire list here.) Bobby Abreu is in, thanks to 1,476 walks. You might be surprised to see that Chili Davis (5,218 overall bases) qualifies, but you also might be surprised to know that his career line of .274/.360/.451 is almost the same, on an era-adjusted rate basis, as Carlos Beltran's .279/.350/.486.
Or think about this comparison. Wade Boggs had 10,740 career plate appearances, while Darrell Evans, who played in a similar era, had a nearly identical 10,737. Because Boggs had 3,010 hits and won five batting average titles, he's regarded as a legend, sailing into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with 92 percent of the vote in 2005. Because Evans had 2,223 hits and a career .248 average, he received less than 2 percent of the vote in his lone time on the ballot in 1995 -- and you're probably trying to remember who he even played for. (The Braves, Giants and Tigers.)
Yet, Evans was better at drawing a walk than Boggs, collecting 193 more. He was a far superior power hitter, crushing 414 homers to Boggs' 118. By our calculations, these two men with the same playing time put up a similar production: 5,630 overall bases for Boggs (61st all-time) and 5,598 for Evans (64th all time). Singles are great, but home runs are better.
The fewest hits of our new club belong to Mark McGwire, who had just 1,626 -- over half of which were extra-base hits -- along with 1,317 walks. Big Mac didn't hit singles, but he did everything else.
So who's the next to reach our newly prestigious club of 5,000 overall bases? There's actually only one possible option: Robinson Cano.
Adrian Beltre (6,220 overall bases through Wednesday) and Jose Cabrera (5,857) are the two active players who are already in, other than Pujols. The only other active player who has attained even 4,000 overall bases in Cano, who has compiled 4,637 entering Sunday, and seems all but assured to reach the mark, perhaps even later this season.
Otherwise … we could be waiting a while.
Most overall bases by active players, entering Sunday
6,982 -- Pujols
6,220 -- Beltre
5,857 -- Cabrera
4,637 -- Cano
4,302 -- Adrian Gonzalez
4,148 -- Chase Utley
4,096 -- Curtis Granderson
4,014 -- Victor Martinez
3,978 -- Nick Markakis
3,966 -- Edwin Encarnacion
That sure is a list of players nearing the end of the line, isn't it? Can Joey Votto, who 35 in September, but currently still over 1,110 overall bases short (3,890 entering Sunday), hang on long enough? Can Justin Upton, who will be 31 in August? He's up to 3,417. Even the legendary Michael Trout is barely over halfway there (2,712, entering Sunday), though of course he's also only 26 years old.
That's sort of the point though, isn't it? This shouldn't be easy. It should be exclusive, and it shouldn't happen more than once every few years. We shouldn't just look at hits, either. Walks matter and extra-base hits matter. Any list of hitting greats that starts with Bonds, Aaron and Ruth is a list you want to be on.