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200 hits in a season: Derek Jeter joins the elite in baseball with his 2012 season

Updated on October 4, 2012

On Wednesday night, Sept. 19, Derek Jeter lined the first pitch he saw against Toronto into centerfield. It was his 200th hit of the season and it was significant in a couple of ways.

Attaining 200 hits in a season in itself is an achievement although not a particularly unique one. It has been accomplished 521 times by 200 players since 1901 in both leagues, an average of not quite five times a season. So far Jeter is the only one this season, although Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera will probably reach that mark by the end of the season.

Jeter joins baseball's elite

But Jeter’s 200th hit placed him among the elite in baseball history. It was his eighth time reaching the 200-hit plateau, one of only six players to do so (teammate Ichiro Suzuki has done it 10 times, tied with Pete Rose for the most).

But the hit also meant something more. It was only the sixth time that a player aged 38 or older had reached 200 hits in a season (accomplished by five players, with Sam Rice doing it twice). On Wednesday Jeter collected his 216th and final hit of the season, the second highest for a player his age. While it fell short record for most hits by a player 38 or older – that mark is 225, set by Paul Molitor when he was 39 – it was still an impressive feat.

Most seasons with 200 hits in a season

Player
200 hit season
 
Ichiro Suzuki
10
 
Pete Rose
10
 
Ty Cobb
9
 
Derek Jeter
8
 
Lou Gehrig
8
 
Paul Waner
8
 

The older you get, the harder it gets

An older player banging out 200 hits is a rarity because with age reflexes slow down, speed wanes and it becomes harder and harder to play at the level needed to pound out hit after hit at the major league level. In fact, many good players have finished their careers by the time they reached 38.

After Jeter’s 2010 season and slow start in 2011, several national writers wrote requiems to Jeter’s playing days. They assumed that age had caught up to him and his glory days were behind him. But as he has throughout his career, he continues to prove his critics wrong.

So what are the reasons that Jeter has been able to succeed when so many other great players haven’t?

200 hit seasons at age 38 or older

Player
Hits
Year
Age
Paul Molitor
225
1996
39
Derek Jeter
216
2012
38
Pete Rose
208
1979
38
Sam Rice
207
1930
40
Jake Daubert
205
1922
38
Sam Rice
202
1928
38
 
 
 
 

Jeter's swing perfect for an older player

I believe the biggest reason for his success at age 38 is a swing perfectly geared to keep racking up hits even if his reflexes slow a bit. He has never been a pull hitter, which requires a bit of extra bat speed. He has always preferred to take the outside pitch to right field, but he has perfected an inside-out swing that allows him to punch inside pitches to the right side as well.

Jeter is content to hit singles, which also allows him to pile up more hits. A power swing relies a lot on bat speed. As reflexes slow, the bat slows and power hitters often experience the biggest drop off in hitting ability as they age. Balls that used to easily clear the fence begin to fall at the warning track. Rockets to the gap start hanging long enough to allow fielders to run under them.

Alex Rodriguez may be going through that now. In his final at bat Sunday, for example, A-Rod hit a ball that was caught on the warning track. Five years ago it probably would have been several rows deep in the stands.

In fact, of the players aged 38 or older with the most hits in a season, none of the top 10 was considered a power hitter.

Keeping it on the ground

Jeter’s swing is also designed to hit line drives or ground balls, like that of Rose and Molitor. Hits like that have a much greater chance of finding holes for hits than fly balls. This season, 96 of Jeter’s hits came on ground balls, 76 on line drives and five on bunts. Only 39 came on fly balls. In fact, of his 683 at bats this season, only 105 resulted in fly balls.

He’s beat out 42 hits that were fielded by an infielder. Had he put those balls in the air to a fielder, almost certainly all 42 would have resulted in outs. That’s why line drive/ground ball hitters can accumulate more hits.

Power numbers up too

Of course, you may have noticed that Jeter’s power numbers are up a little this season too. His 15 homers is about his season average for his career, although he hit only 16 combined over the previous two seasons. This is probably because the book on pitching to Jeter is to throw fast balls up and in. But when you miss on a pitch like that it tends to hang over the inside part of the plate about belt high, screaming “Hit me! Hard!”

While you might expect that the short rightfield line at Yankee Stadium is helping his homer numbers, only six of his 15 have been at the Stadium. Of those, one has been to left, two to right center and the three to right were deep enough to leave most stadiums.

Overall, six of his homers have been to left or left-centerfield, and four others to right side of centerfield, about where you would expect balls left over the heart of the plate to be hit.

Other reasons for Jeter's success

Beyond just his swing, Jeter also keeps himself in supremely good shape, both physically and mentally, which isn’t always true of other aging players. From what I’ve heard, he conducts intense off-season workouts. But the mental part is even more important. Jeter doesn’t let himself get caught up in the hype about statistics. His approach every day is to do what it takes to help the Yankees win.

One other possible factor in Jeter’s success is that he’s single. My brother and I batted this around one day as a joke but the more I thought about it, the more I thought it has some merit.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against marriage or having a family. I think they’re wonderful things. But at age 38, many professional athletes start realizing how much they’re missing by being away from their family so much of the time. The kids are growing and the wife gets tired of always playing second fiddle to the game. It’s natural and probably even healthy for baseball players to start longing for more time at home. That means, naturally, that their focus turns more toward that part of their life and away from baseball.

As a single man, Jeter doesn’t have that distraction. He can focus on baseball as much as he wants. But you may remember that in 2010 and the beginning of 2011 Jeter was in a serious relationship with an actress named Minka Kelly. Rumors swirled of their impending marriage. Then they broke up, and within weeks Jeter had his 3,000th career hit and has been on a hitting tear since.

It may have been a huge coincidence – Jeter had been struggling with a leg injury that finally healed and shaking off a contentious off-season contract negotiation – but it does make the theory about bachelor status playing role in his success sound a little more reasonable.

Can he catch Pete Rose for the all-time hit record?

Given his intense focus and his swing, Jeter could pile up hits for several years. In fact, Jeter’s success this season has some people theorizing that he could possibly surpass Rose’s record of 4,256 hits. Given the pace Jeter is on now, he should be about 950 from that mark by the end of the year.

In case you don’t have a calculator handy, he’d have to average 190 hits a season for the next five years to accomplish that. It’s possible, of course, since Rose did it. But I doubt Jeter will continue playing that long (plus Rose had the advantage of being his own manager and putting himself into games).

(Interesting side note: Jeter currently has 3,304 hits, which puts him in 10th place all-time – or 11th, depending on the source. Baseball Reference, a noted source of statistics, places him 11th, while Major League Baseball’s official records puts him 10th. This is because of a dispute about the legendary Cap Anson. MLB considers five years of Anson's career to have been played in a minor league, giving him 3,011 major league hits, good for 25th overall. But Baseball Reference counts those years in his major league totals, giving him 3,435 hits by their count, sixth overall. There are also differences in hit totals for Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner and Eddie Collins.)

All-time Top 10 Hits Leaders

Player
Hits#
 
Pete Rose
4,256
 
Ty Cobb
4,191
 
Hank Aaron
3,771
 
Stan Musial
3,630
 
Tris Speaker
3,515
 
Honus Wagner
3,430
 
Carl Yastrzemski
3,419
 
Paul Molitor
3,319
 
Eddie Collins
3,314
 
Derek Jeter
3,304
 
#Official MLB totals
 
 

How other older hitters fared

Naturally, there is no guarantee that Jeter will have another big season next year. Of the five players who reached 200 hits after they turned 38, only Sam Rice did it a second time. After his 200-hit season, Rice belted 199 the next year and 207 the year after. Then he tapered off to 128, 93, 25 and 98.

Molitor, after his 225-hit season, knocked out 164 and 141 hits the next two years, then retired. Jake Daubert collected 146 and 114 hits in the years following his 205 hits.

Rose had a respectable 185 after his 208-hit season, then 140 in the strike-shortened 1981 season. However, the pace at which he poked out hits in 1981 would have translated to 212 hits over 162 game. Then he had 172, 121, 107, 72, 35, 107 and 52.

I suspect Jeter will play another three or four seasons, probably seeing more time as the DH (he hit .388 (40 for 103) with a .439 on base percentage in 25 games as a DH this year). Whether he’ll ever reach 200 hits in a season again is doubtful. But four seasons of averaging 150 hits per season would put him at 3,900 for his career, good enough for third all-time.

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    • BeyondGS profile image

      BeyondGS 5 years ago from Ohio

      Awesome read, I enjoyed the comparsion between Jeter and some of the all-time greats. I haven't been a fan of Jeter personally, but as a player I respect what he has done throughout his career. Really he's an example for young rookies coming into MLB. Good job and keep up the good hubs!