Braves: How a lost season influences major milestones

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Earlier this month, I took a look at how the currently suspended season could ruin Braves’ outfielder Nick Markakis’ quest for 3,000 career hits. Considering Markakis is no longer an everyday regular and the fact that he’s nearing his late-30s (36-years-old), the odds are stacked against the old fashioned contact-hitter. With 645 hits until he reaches that famous 3,000 threshold, even the most optimistic fan would have a tough time projecting such an accomplishment, especially given the current circumstances regarding the absence of baseball and sports altogether. 

In fact, according to FanGraphs’ Dan Szymborski (creator of ZiPS projection system), there’s a 17% chance Markakis reaches 3,000 if there’s no 2020 regular-season — down from 32% before the COVID-19 virus put a stranglehold on our world. Not too good, eh?

But what about other Braves’ players? How does a lost 2020 season impact their chase for certain milestones? Szymborski laid all of that out in his article Friday morning.

Nick Markakis may have to settle for the consolation prize

Reaching 3,000 hits may be out of the question at this point, but Markakis is on track to rather easily join a club that consists of only 101 other major leaguers — the 2,500 Hit Club. Granted, reaching 2,500 hits would be much more doable if Markakis were still the Braves’ starting right fielder, but surely he can tally 145 knocks before he decides to hang up his cleats. 

However, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, Markakis’ playing-time situation makes things a little more complicated. With the Braves’ outfield already set, save for a significant injury, Markakis was looking at perhaps only 250 plate appearances in 2020 (which would’ve been the fewest of his 14-year career). Still, even if we’re talking pinch-hit and relief duties for the rest of Markakis’ career, you have to assume he can pull off another 150 or so hits, and that’s not even considering the possibility that Markakis winds up a starting outfielder for some rebuilding team in 2021.

Even so, according to Szymborski’s projections, with no 2020 season, there’s an 84% chance Markakis reaches 2,500 hits, which isn’t too much of a drop from the 90% chance he had entering the year (pre-COVID-19). 

 Freddie Freeman and even Ozzie Albies still have realistic shots to reach 2,500 hits

Despite a 10% drop in Freeman’s chances at 2,500 career hits (if there’s no 2020 season), the odds are still favorable for the Braves’ first baseman at 60%. With 1,451 hits so far, Freeman could be there in the next six seasons — IF he can maintain his career 162-game average of 175 knocks per season. Although, going by Freeman’s last two campaigns — one of which includes his career-best 191 hits in 2018 — he could potentially knock off a quarter to a half of a season if he keeps swinging the bat so well, meaning Freeman could hit the 2,500 mark sometime in 2025 instead of 2026. Either way, it’s going to take some work (and excellent health), but if I were forced to pick one Brave that I believe will be a successful hitter into his age 35-36 season… it’s Freddie. 

Also, If there’s a 2020 season — according to Szymborski’s projections — there’s a 35% chance Freeman reaches 3,000 hits. However, with no season, that figure falls to 29%. Using Freeman’s career 162-game average, that’s almost nine more years for the big guy. 

As far as Albies goes, who already has 418 career hits through a little less than two and a half seasons (an average of 181 per year), his trajectory already looks promising. After his first full season in 2018 (featuring 167 hits), the Braves second baseman led the National League with 189 knocks last season, thanks to improvements in his approach at the plate. 

Of course, Albies isn’t even a quarter of the way there, and it’s almost impossible to predict how his career will ultimately play out, but given how young he still is (23) and how much his hitting has progressed in such a short time, it’s not too outlandish to project 2,500 hits for Albies by the time it’s all said and done. Going by his 162-game average, Albies could be there by his age-37 season.

Szymborski has the 5-foot-8 second baseman pegged at a 56% chance of reaching 2,500, with a 2020 season, and a 50/50 shot if Albies is forced to return to the field next year. Those figures improve to 87% and 82%, respectively, for 2,000 hits.

 Ronald Acuna Jr. still has roughly a 50/50 shot at reaching 500 career home runs

Even crazier than talking about whether or not Albies will tally 2,500 hits in his career is whether or not Acuna will slug 500 homers. But the truth is, we SHOULD be talking about it AND the possibility that the former top prospect could one day enter the 500/500 club (or the Barry Bonds club). There’s a reason only one player is a member (though Mike Trout has a fighter’s chance with 285/200 through 7 full seasons. But I seriously doubt he steals 300 more bags at this point). 

Currently, Acuna sits at 67/53 through just one and three-quarters of a season. He won’t turn 23 until December, and if we assume he’ll play until he’s 40-years-old those numbers could be humongous by 2038 (his age-40 campaign). 

I would never predict a 500/500 career for anyone, and the stolen bases will most definitely start disappearing (probably even sooner than later), but I firmly believe Acuna is the game’s next Trout. It will be fascinating to see just how great his career winds up being when it’s over. 

Back to Szymborski’s projections, if there’s no 2020 season, then Acuna’s chances for 500 homers drop from 53% to 45%. Replace that HR total with 600, and his chances dip from 25% to 17%. Meanwhile, Trout’s chances sit at 80% and 72% for 500 homers and 58% and 47% for 600. For perspective, and if you had any doubt, no active player has a better chance than Trout to hit 600 homers (save for, of course, Albert Pujols, who has already surpassed 600). That’s how good that Trout guy is.

 Cole Hamels never really had a shot at 250 wins

We may never even get to see Hamels pitch a meaningful game in a Braves’ uniform, but he has been around long enough, as both a villain in the NL East and a solid contributor in the majors, that his career is worth looking at as it pertains to milestones. 

Wins are dumb, I know, but they do matter to some people. Unfortunately, though, Hamels is stuck at 163 victories through 14 seasons, and at 36-years-old, it wouldn’t be realistic to expect that number to increase by more than maybe 20 wins or so (and that might even be a stretch). Hamels’ last three seasons, starting in 2019, have featured: 7, 9, and 11 wins. Plus, with the Braves, he was set to be more of a no. 3 or 4 type guy, so it wasn’t like he was going to win a ton of games this season anyways… even if he had a great year. However, Hamels is the definition of an innings eater (he’s still averaging 217 frames per season), so maybe he stays healthy, pulls a Jamie Moyer and pitches until he’s nearly 50 (I doubt it).

Szymborski doesn’t see that kind of longevity for Hamels, either, as he projects just a 2% chance for the former Phillie to reach 250 wins, and no chance at all if the 2020 season is canceled. Sadly, Hamels is only signed through this year with the Braves, so even if he did go on a crazy win streak… it most likely won’t be in Atlanta.

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