None of this compares to the frenzy that would surround a player who had a hitting streak approaching 56 games. DiMaggio's record is probably the most famous streak in all of sports (above even Ripken's), and the media scrutiny on anyone who challenged it would be insane. But who's got the best chance? I crunched some numbers to find the 10 players who have the best chance of breaking the record.
This amazed me: DiMaggio struck out 13 times in 621 plate appearances in 1941. That's 2.4%. Although a factor, I didn't consider strikeouts in my analysis. Here's what went into it:
No, not batting average. Batting average doesn't take walks into consideration, and that's a big factor here. Walks are actually a negative in looking for someone who could put together a long hitting streak- a plate appearance that ends in a walk is one less that can result in a hit. Hit Percentage is simply hits divided by plate appearances. Ichiro leads in this category at .297 over the last three years. In 1941, DiMaggio's Hit Percentage was .311. Walks are the reason guys like Pujols and Utley aren't in the top 10.
The higher you are in the lineup, the more times you get to bat, and thus the more likely you are to get at hit. This actually has a pretty significant effect on one's chances of reaching 56 games. The chart on the right shows the expected plate appearances per game for each lineup slot (as you may notice, the math is not terribly complicated- it just goes down by .12 each time). This generally isn't a huge factor, as almost everybody on this list hits first, second or third, with the exception of Robinson Cano (more on that later).
Team Runs per Game
Well, if your team scores a lot of runs they obviously turn the lineup over more often. I found that for each run your team averages above the league average, that adds .15 plate appearances. I didn't use such a dramatic effect in my model, as offenses vary over time and we're looking at each player's entire career rather than just this year or next year.
I just assumed that each player plays until the age of 40. I also factored in a slight decline in both Hit Percentage and games played as players get into their late 30s. What's interesting about this is that the following list isn't dominated by players in their early 20s. This is because your Hit Percentage has to be at such a high level to have any significant chance of breaking the record that age isn't all that important, as only an elite group of players even enters the discussion.
So I've gone through the factors, now here's the list of the guys who have the best chance to break the record.
Career odds: 1 in 383
Chance he does it in '08: 1 in 4557
I have written at length about how underrated Hanley is before, so it's good to be able to show him some respect myself. He's really got everything going for him in this discussion- he bats leadoff, has a solid Hit % of .281, and, most importantly, is only 23.
2. Placido Polanco
Career odds: 1 in 397
Chance he does it in '08: 1 in 1563
Bet you didn't see this one coming. Polanco possesses two key attributes- he never strikes out (his K% of 5.0% is easily the lowest in baseball), and his line drive % (24.2%, behind only Michael Young and Chone Figgins) is very high. He would be at the top of this list if he was a few years younger (he's 31) or hit leadoff (he bats second).
Career odds: 1 in 465
Chance he does it in '08: 1 in 5072
To me, Cano is the most interesting guy here. He never walks (66 BBs in 1598 career PA), get his share of infield hits (23 this year), and is only 24. If he batted leadoff he would easily be first on this list (at 1 in 79). Problem is he usually hits between sixth and ninth in the Yankee lineup. Since he won't be that low his entire career (I'd guess he ends up hitting second or third), I had him hitting fourth for the purposes of this exercise. If I had just had him hitting third, he would have come out at #1, but that seemed unreasonable for a guy who's hit seventh 70 times this year.
Career odds: 1 in 481
Chance he does it in '08: 1 in 1331
As I mentioned before, Ichiro actually leads the league in Hit % at .297, as he's hitting .353 this year while only drawing 39 walks. His 39 infield hits are 10 more than anyone else. Add in the fact he hits leadoff every night, and he has the best chance of breaking the record next year. The only strike against him, and the reason he's this low, is that he's already 33. Although maybe when he becomes a pitcher at 40 he'll be playing in the NL and continue a hit streak every fifth day.
5. Freddy Sanchez
Career odds: 1 in 548
Chance he does it in '08: 1 in 3242
Sanchez led the NL in BA last year (.344), which gave him quite a boost. Incredibly, he was only 17th in OBP, as he walked just 31 times. In the strange world of hit streaks this actually helps him, as he had an impressive Hit % of .316. Of course, he's not actually that good- his BABiP of .370 last year was 33 points above his career average.
Career odds: 1 in 561
Chance he does it in '08: 1 in 2762
Young is a line drive machine, leading the league in LD% at 26.2%. His BB% of 7.0% is just 129th out of 171 qualified batters. He's the fourth most likely to put together a long streak next year, but he's already 30.
7. Matt Holliday
Career odds: 1 in 592
Chance he does it in '08: 1 in 4678
Holliday is hitting .338 this year, which is probably unsustainable. His BABiP of .385 is 30 points above his career level. Also hurting his chances is that his BB% has increased from 7.1% over the last three years to 8.3% this year. This is good for the Rockies, but not good for his dreams of breaking DiMaggio's record (which may or may not exist).
8. Miguel Cabrera
Career odds: 1 in 769
Chance he he does it in '08: 1 in 8367
In 2005, Miggy had 15 infield hits. This year? Only 4. He's listed at 210 lbs., but that's a lie. Check out this awesome before and after of Cabrera from Vinyl is Heavy:
Hmm. I wonder why his infield hits have decreased so dramatically over this time.
9. Derek Jeter
Career odds: 1 in 832
Chance he he does it in '08: 1 in 2293
Chance he he does it in '08: 1 in 2293
Finally. Jeter is the oldest guy on this list (he's 33). He has walked 195 times since '05, which prevents him from being higher, although he is third if we're just looking at next year. Jeter has 2,316 career hits- Rose had 2,337 through his age 33 season, while Cobb had 2856. If he wants to go for the hit record he'll have to follow Rose's path. Although averaging 129 hits a year between the ages of 40 and 44 is a lot easier said than done.
10. Carl Crawford
Career odds: 1 in 1059
Chance he does it in '08: 1 in 10463
Crawford has split his time between hitting second (44 times) and third (71 times)- if he hit second every day he'd jump up to #8. Like Cabrera, Crawford has seen his infield hits decline- he had 70 in 03-04, but is down to 15 this year. There's no clear explanation for this beyond the fact that he's striking out a lot more (19.6% K% this year, 4.5% above his career average), which only explains part of it.
As you've probably noticed, nobody is at all likely to break the record. In fact, there's only a 1 in 56 (strange coincidence) chance that any of these 10 guys reaches DiMaggio's mark. Regardless of how good you are, getting a hit every game for two months is extremely difficult. If I had done this for DiMaggio before the 1941 season, his odds would have been 1 in 84 for his career, and 1 in 833 for '41. (I'm guessing he hit 3rd, but that could be incorrect, please correct me if it is.)
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