Another baseball season is underway with a smattering of baseball games on Thursday, and once again spring is here...figuratively, if not literally.
Baseball, of course, is driven by statistics more than any other sport, and the game is filled with wonderful statistical milestones that set apart the mortals from the immortals.
The 2011 season promises to see many players crossing significant career milestones, with Derek Jeter crossing that holiest of holy marks, the 3,000-hit barrier.
Let's have a look at 20 significant milestones that we may see in 2011.
Ivan Rodriguez is going to hang out in Major League Baseball until he becomes the first catcher ever to get to 3,000 hits.
He is playing a dangerous game, though, because 3,000 hits is going to come at the expense of his other career numbers.
For example, Pudge has hit into 45 double plays in the last two seasons combined, which leaves him only 19 away from 350 career double plays.
Which is the major league record.
Jim Thome's career numbers are really reaching astonishing levels in several categories.
Thome is just 21 bases on balls from becoming the ninth player ever to break 1,700, joining Bonds, Henderson, Ruth, Williams, Morgan, Yaz, Mantle and Mel Ott.
Not only that, he is also...
. . . just five strikeouts away from becoming the second player ever with 2,400 strikeouts, joining only Reggie Jackson (2,597).
Thome is one of only four players with over 2,000.
Shockingly, Mike Cameron of all people is 58 strikeouts away from becoming the 10th player to cross the 1,900-strikeout line, but he will probably be beaten to the punch by A-Rod (1,836), or maybe even by Manny Ramirez (1,809).
Tim Wakefield is seven home runs away from becoming the 12th pitcher to allow 400 home runs.
After that, Javier Vazquez (352) is quick on his heels.
There are 51 players in the history of Major League Baseball with 500 or more doubles, which we will call the Goslin-Olerud Line, since they both finished with exactly 500.
The 2011 season could be a banner year for the 500-doubles club, though. If he can limp his way to second base seven times this season, Chipper Jones will get there. We would also expect Johnny Damon (487), Scott Rolen (480) and Alex Rodriguez (474) to get there.
Jeter, too, has an outside shot with 468.
If either Vlad Guerrero or Miguel Tejada can break out for 53 doubles this season, they would also get there.
Jimmy Rollins is two triples away from joining Johnny Damon and Carl Crawford as the only active players with 100 triples.
Cristian Guzman (89), Jose Reyes (83) and Juan Pierre (82) could all make it this year, but they would have to have unbelievable years.
Major League Baseball really is at a pitching crossroads. Tim Wakefield is our non-Jamie Moyer active innings leader with 3,071.2, and only Livan Hernandez (2,946.1) is within one season's striking distance of 3,000 innings.
After Hernandez, it's Javier Vazquez (2,647.1), Jeff Suppan (2,512), Kevin Millwood (2,505) and Derek Lowe (2,328.2).
Assuming Jamie Moyer is done, which is a dangerous assumption, with him and Andy Pettitte gone, there are now no active pitchers with 200 wins.
That will change if Tim Wakefield can get to seven victories this season. After that, though, the next three guys are Roy Halladay (169), Livan Hernandez (166) and Tim Hudson (165).
If Omar Vizquel can play 150 games this season, he will become the ninth player ever to play in 3,000 games, just ahead of Willie Mays (2,992), and just behind Cal Ripken, Jr., (3,001).
Of course, Vizquel has not played in 150 games since 2006, but a girl can dream.
Speaking of pitchers being at a crossroads, only two active pitchers have over 2,000 strikeouts: Javier Vazquez (2,374) and Tim Wakefield (2,063).
After those two, the next pitchers to cross the 2,000-strikeout barrier would be Kevin Millwood (1,940), Johan Santana (1,877), Livan Hernandez (1,829) and C.C. Sabathia (1,787).
Jim Thome (9,803) and Manny Ramirez (9,757) came up together in the Cleveland Indians system, and now as they enter the twilight of their careers, they could potentially each cross the 10,000-plate appearance milestone this season.
Roy Halladay has 19 career shutouts, which means that his next shutout gives him his 20th.
The next ranked pitcher is Chris Carpenter, with 13 shutouts. After that, Tim Hudson and C.C. Sabathia are tied with 11.
And check this out: no pitcher has had over five shutouts in a single season since Tim Belcher led the NL with eight in 1989.
Thus, as shutouts become more scarce, Halladay may be the last guy we see get to 20 shutouts for quite a while.
As a statistic, total bases has really gone by the wayside in the last decade or so. But the stat still gives us an interesting perspective on baseball history.
Only 19 players have ever topped 5,000 total bases, including Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez.
The next player to cross this barrier, assuming he plays the whole year, is Manny Ramirez, who currently has 4,825 total bases.
After that, Jim Thome (4,463), Ivan Rodriguez (4,411), Chipper Jones (4,365) and Vladimir Guerrero (4,272) are the closest players, and none of them are likely to get there.
When Mariano Rivera makes his 22nd appearance this season, he will become the 15th major league pitcher to appear in 1,000 games.
By the end of the season, Rivera could very well be 10th all-time in games pitched, if he can move past Jose Mesa and Lee Smith, each of whom have 1,022 games.
Sometimes, I think that Juan Pierre is an overrated player. Sometimes, I think he is actually very underrated.
Last season, Pierre had 179 hits and led the AL with 68 stolen bases. If he repeats that performance, he will have over 2,000 career hits and be ready to march toward 3,000, and he will also have over 590 stolen bases.
That stolen bases number is historic. Pierre is within range of becoming just the 18th player with 600 stolen bases for his career, and he appears to be stealing them as well as he ever has.
He also has over 100 more stolen bases than his nearest active competitor, Carl Crawford (409), and 44-year-old Omar Vizquel (400).
Alex Rodriguez (1,831) and Manny Ramirez (1,830) will be in a race to become the 11th player ever to get to 1,900 RBI. No other active player has more than Jim Thome's 1,624.
Chipper Jones has 1,491 RBI, and will be looking to become the 51st player with 1,500 RBI.
Jim Thome came out of nowhere last season with a very good season for the division-winning Minnesota Twins, and now he stands 11 home runs away from becoming the eighth player ever to hit 600 home runs.
If Manny Ramirez can hit 45 home runs this year, he will also join the club.
Whether Rivera has 41 saves in him this season remains to be seen. If he cannot join Trevor Hoffman on the other side of 600 this season, he will certainly take his crack at the beginning of next season.
To put that number in perspective, Billy Wagner had the next highest active saves total with 422 until he retired.
Now the second-place active leader in saves is Jason Isringhausen, who has 293 saves, followed by Francisco Cordero (290), Francisco Rodriguez (268) and Brad Lidge (222).
The 3,000-hits barrier is, of course, the ultimate Hall of Fame credential. As long as you do not shake your finger at Congress and swear you did not do steroids even though you did, if you get 3,000 hits, you are automatically assured entrance into Cooperstown.
Barring injury, Derek Jeter (2,926 hits) will get his 3,000th hit this season, and probably before the All Star break. Ivan Rodriguez (2,817) would have to have an amazing year to get there this year, but hey, what else do the Nationals have going on?
After Jeter and Pudge, the next up for 3,000 hits will be Omar Vizquel (2,799), A-Rod (2,672), and Manny Ramirez (2,573).
As we all know, Ichiro Suzuki has done in 10 years what it takes most mortals 13-to-15 years to do.
In 2011, Ichiro will collect his 2,300th hit if he plays half the year, and should be able to get to 2,400 hits. He is currently 13th amongst active players in hits, but will almost certainly jump ahead of Edgar Renteria (2,252), Bobby Abreu (2,257) and Miguel Tejada (2,285).
If Ichiro continues to collect 200 hits per season for four more years, which would be an absurd statement about any player other than Ichiro, he will have 3,000 hits by the time he turns 40.
That accomplishment would be impressive for a guy who made his major league debut at 22 or 23. To do it after making your debut at 27 is, as we said, absurd.
Ichiro also has his 1,100th run, his 400th stolen base and his 3,000th total base on tap in 2011.
Pujols is not really approaching any conventional Hall of Fame milestones, but he is also only going to be 31 years old in 2011.
And for a 31-year-old, the milestones he is approaching are absurd.
If Pujols matches his home-run total from a year ago, he would finish the season with 450 home runs. Not bad for a guy who is arguably only halfway through his career. You do the math.
Some time in August, Pujols will likely collect his 2,000th hit. Then the race will be on for 3,000. Assuming he plays until he is 40, he would have to average approximately 100 hits per season the rest of the way.
Pujols will also cross the 1,300 RBI barrier this season, and he is only 114 runs scored from the 1,300 runs barrier.
The list of players with 1,300 RBI and runs in major league history has 54 names on it, and with a few exceptions (Darrell and Dwight Evans, Jeff Kent, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa) it is a list of Hall of Famers.
And while this compendium of conventional statistical milestones does not lend itself readily to advanced metrics, there are two that are certainly noteworthy:
Albert Pujols is five adjusted batting runs away from 650, and 55 adjusted batting runs away from 700. He has had over 55 adjusted batting runs every year since his third year in the league, so it is a safe bet that he will get there again.
And 700 batting runs would put him in the company of Manny Ramirez, Frank Thomas, Frank Robinson, Jimmie Foxx and Mel Ott.
And, finally, Pujols' current career WAR is 83.8 Assuming he can score a 6.3 WAR this season (and he has not fallen short of 6.3 in any season except his second) Pujols would be the 26th player ever to get to 90 WAR, jumping ahead, ahead, of Cal Ripken, Jr., Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, George Brett and Roberto Clemente.
It all makes for pretty impressive company for a 31-year-old.