Major League Baseball fans love a good milestone chase, and for good reason. They add another layer of interest to the game and serve as an excuse to bust out all the usual rhetoric about baseball history.
And so it will go in 2013. There are a handful of milestones to be chased, and there will be a handful of noteworthy players doing the chasing. Additional layers of interest? That's a check.
As for whether any of the milestones being chased actually matter...well, that's another question.
Not all milestones are created equal. There are the big ones that fans have been conditioned to care about—Hits! Home runs! Wins!—and the lesser ones that are nice but pretty low on the grand scale of importance. To boot, some milestones have been cheapened in recent years by PED influences and various shifts in the ways people think about baseball.
So, with this in mind, here's a look ahead to the more notable milestones that could be hit in 2013, complete with a "Does It Matter?" scale (one to five). If nothing else, this should help you be selective about which milestone chases to monitor in 2013.
Let's take it away, starting with the pitching milestones that are in reach this season.
Meanwhile in Strikeouts
Nolan Ryan's all-time record of 5,714 career strikeouts should be safe this season. It's only falling if somebody faces a couple thousand batters and strikes them all out. Which, you know, isn't likely.
However, there are three pitchers within reach of 2,000 career strikeouts: Johan Santana, A.J. Burnett and Ryan Dempster. Barring any major injuries, the 2,000-strikeout club should be getting three new members this year. Is that a cause for rejoicing?
"Does It Matter?" Factor: 2
In other words: Not really.
The fact that Santana, Burnett and Dempster are approaching 2,000 career strikeouts matters to the extent that it would put them in special company among active players. Only three active pitchers have as many as 2,000 career punchouts: Roy Halladay, CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte.
But in terms of all-time significance, 2,000 career strikeouts is not a ticket to baseball immortality. There are 67 members of the 2,000-strikeout club, and only 27 of them reside in the Hall of Fame. Of those, only Dazzy Vance and Catfish Hunter have fewer than 2,100 strikeouts to their names.
In addition, I noted last week that strikeouts are all the rage in baseball today. It's a cool trend but will be less and less significant over time, which would make the bar for strikeout excellence a lot higher than a mere 2,000.
Meanwhile in Saves
An active player already holds the all-time record for saves. That would be Mariano Rivera with 608, and he'll be busy padding his lead over Trevor Hoffman this season if his knee holds up.
There will be some movement below Rivera in the ranks, however, as three veteran closers are within range of 300 saves: Joe Nathan, Francisco Rodriguez and Jose Valverde.
Nathan is just two saves shy of 300 and actually has a ninth-inning job, so he's far and away the best bet to actually join the 300-save club. K-Rod is six away and Valverde is 23 away, and they're not going to close the gap to 300 until they find work for 2013.
"Does It Matter?" Factor: 1
Curious about how many active players own as many as 300 career saves?
Only one: Mo himself, with those 608 career saves. As such, it's not every day that the 300-save club gets a new member. The reality that it could conceivably get three new members in one season is worth a little something.
But like with the 2,000-career strikeouts club, the 300-save club is lacking in all-time significance. Only three of its 23 members are in the Hall of Fame, and even guys with close to 500 career saves have had a hard time finding their way to Cooperstown. Lee Smith, third all-time with 478 saves, is still looking for entry. John Franco, fourth with 424 career saves, was booted off the ballot in 2011.
So the Hall of Fame is less than crazy about closers, and beyond that, there are the trains of thought these days that the notion of a "proven closer" is largely bogus and that the save itself is overrated.
Sabermetricians are a tough crowd, and the save isn't the only pitching statistic they're not crazy about.
Meanwhile in Wins
Cy Young's all-time record of 511 career wins will be safe in 2013, and the heralded 300-win club will not be getting any new members.
But the 250-win club should get a new member, as Andy Pettitte has only five wins to go to get there. Provided he stays healthy, he should be able to pick those up without too much trouble.
"Does It Matter?" Factor: 3
Pettitte is in a realm by himself among active pitchers. He leads active hurlers in wins by a mile, as Roy Halladay, Tim Hudson and CC Sabathia are the only three even remotely close to him.
The 250-win club also happens to be fairly exclusive. It houses only 46 members, and its numbers aren't exactly growing by the day. Such is life when the contemporary starters are restricted to 30-ish starts per season and are prone to losing wins to their bullpens. After Pettitte joins, it's going to be a while before the 250-win club grows.
The downside for Pettitte is that 250 wins is not a Hall of Fame ticket. Only 25 of the 46 members of the 250-win club are in the Hall of Fame. Jack Morris, who has 254 career wins, is still looking for entry after 14 years on the ballot. He has a big support group, but not big enough.
Pettitte could find himself having an even harder time getting into Cooperstown than Morris when he gets on the ballot. His five World Series rings will help his cause, but he's going to own a modest career ERA and ERA+ when all is said and done.
There will also be those who campaign against Pettitte on the basis that wins are a meaningless measure of a pitcher's quality, or at least a misleading one. Wins oftentimes belong as much to a pitcher's offense as they do to his skill, which is why they're not to be trusted.
Meanwhile in Hits
Unless Alex Rodriguez returns to action in 2013 and picks up 99 hits, the 3,000-hit club will not be getting any new members in 2013.
Derek Jeter, however, has a realistic shot at reaching 3,500 hits. He's sitting on 3,304 for his career, leaving him 196 short. Provided he's in the New York Yankees lineup on Opening Day and he stays healthy all year, that's a realistic goal just a year after he piled up a league-high 216 hits.
"Does It Matter?" Factor: 4
The 3,500-hit club is extremely exclusive. It currently houses only five members: Pete Rose, Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Tris Speaker. The only one who isn't in the Hall of Fame is Rose, and he's not absent because his resume is lacking.
As such, making the 3,500-hit club is as good an automatic ticket to Cooperstown as any. Such rarefied air doesn't exist in many other places in the baseball record book.
Here's the thing, though: Jeter doesn't need to reach 3,500 hits to be an automatic Hall of Famer. He could retire right now, and he would still easily get in on his first try.
When Jeter gets to 3,500 hits, it will be just another exclamation mark for a career that has featured many. It just won't be the biggest.
Meanwhile in Strikeouts (for Hitters)
Reggie Jackson stands alone as baseball's all-time whiffingest hitter with 2,597 career strikeouts, but maybe not for long.
Somewhat quietly, Jim Thome has been creeping up on Jackson in recent years. He's now within striking distance, as he needs only 49 strikeouts in 2013 to tie Jackson and 50 to pass him.
Obviously, Thome needs a job to catch Jackson. But if he gets one, he won't need that much playing time to launch his assault. After all, he played in only 58 games in 2012 and still struck out 61 times.
"Does It Matter?" Factor: 3
When Jackson retired following the 1987 season, his 2,597 career strikeouts put him more than 600 strikeouts ahead of the next guy on the list (Willie Stargell). At the time, it must have looked like a record that would stand forever.
So if Thome breaks it, it's not going to be a small deal. He won't be ready to celebrate the feat, but he'll have achieved a notable measure of baseball immortality.
However, Thome's breaking of the all-time strikeout record only rates as a three on the "Does It Matter?" scale because it's not going to be long before somebody comes along and tops his record. A-Rod and Adam Dunn are both within the top five all-time, and Dunn may only need a couple years to claim the top spot if he keeps notching roughly 200 strikeouts per year for a few more seasons.
So if Thome does become baseball's all-time strikeout king, he can look on the bright side: His reign will be short-lived.
Meanwhile in RBI
A-Rod could conceivably become just the fourth member of the 2,000-RBI club if he picks up 50 RBI following his return from hip surgery.
But that's not happening. The Yankees would have to put him in the middle of their lineup, which they won't, and A-Rod would have to stay healthy, which his track record suggests isn't happening.
However, we should see one superstar cross a notable RBI plateau in 2013. Albert Pujols is only 66 away from 1,500. So long as he avoids another early-season slump, it's possible he'll get to 66 RBI by the All-Star break.
"Does It Matter?" Factor: 1
Since it consists of 51 players, the 1,500-RBI club isn't particularly exclusive. And while it does say something that 31 of those 51 players are in the Hall of Fame, Pujols crossing this plateau is like Jeter crossing the 3,500-hit plateau: He doesn't necessarily need to do it in order to get to Cooperstown.
Beyond that lies the reality that the RBI isn't what it used to be. Five players with 1,500 RBI to their names were shut out of the Hall of Fame this year, including three players with strong links to PEDs: Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa.
The other two—Fred McGriff and Jeff Bagwell—still need a lot of help in the voting to get in, which goes to show that 1,500 RBI is not an automatic ticket to Cooperstown with the Steroid Era and its juiced-up numbers still not that far in the past.
The new-age baseball thinkers should approve of this. Conventional sabermetric wisdom is that the RBI statistic is about as useful as wins and saves, which is to say not useful at all. It's as much a testament to a hitter's lineup as it is to his own skill.
This, however, isn't the only milestone Pujols will be chasing in 2013.
Meanwhile in Home Runs
In addition to his 1,500th career RBI, Pujols will also be in search of his 500th career home run in 2013.
Pujols is sitting on 475 career homers heading into the season, putting him 25 shy of 500. Though his production is trending downward, we're talking about a guy who has hit at least 30 home runs every year he's been in the big leagues. He should be able to handle 25.
"Does It Matter?" Factor: 3
Not too long ago, the "Does It Matter?" Factor here would have been a six on a one-to-five scale.
But the 500-home run club has gone Facebook on us in recent years. It used to be super-exclusive and super-cool; now, it's no longer exclusive and, by extension, less cool.
There are 25 hitters in the 500-home run club, and 10 of them have joined since 1999. That includes five between the years 2007 and 2009. To put it simply, the 500th career home run is no longer a rare occurrence.
And let's not kid ourselves: There's also some disillusionment about the 500-home run club because of how many of the newest members have been linked to PEDs. Pujols has never deserved to be lumped in the same category as alleged (or confirmed) juicers, but there's no denying that he'll be joining a club that's been cheapened by juicers when his 500th homer comes.
It will be a happy occasion. Just not as happy as it would have been before 1999.
Note: Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.
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