Ichiro Suzuki's 3,000 Hits Are More Impressive Than They May Seem
It's obviously no small feat for a batter to reach 3,000 hits in his MLB career. Only 30 players have done it in the history of the sport, a list that Ichiro Suzuki joined yesterday with this triple to right field.
Ichiro is the 30th member to join the exclusive 3,000-hit club: https://t.co/5YjrJbwX0o #Ichiro3000 #ThrillOfTheGamehttps://t.co/TRiqm1iw6m
— MLB (@MLB) August 7, 2016
There's a strange aspect about milestones such as this, though. Accumulating 3,000 hits is a tremendous accomplishment, but the number itself provides no additional context to how that batter reached the plateau. A guy could have simply been a solid, durable player, finding himself in the lineup every day for a long period of time, allowing him to accumulate stats without necessarily being an elite-level talent.
That's not the case for Ichiro. Getting 3,000 hits doesn't show how good he is; it may actually sell his accomplishment short.
The Age Factor
As you all know, Ichiro didn't venture across the Pacific to suit up for the Seattle Mariners for the first time until his age-27 season. That fact alone makes his 3,000th hit a big deal, and most people have been acknowledging this when discussing Ichiro. Digging deeper into the numbers, though, makes it even more impressive.
There are only two players in the history of baseball who have reached 3,000 hits from their age-27 season on. Those would -- of course -- be Ichiro and Pete Rose, two players already linked earlier this year when Ichiro passed Rose with his 4,257th career hit. None of the other 28 players with 3,000 hits in their career racked up that many at such an advanced age, further legitimizing Ichiro's greatness.
The immediate pushback on selling Ichiro as an all-time great hitter will be that he didn't bring the same pop as many of his peers. That's absolutely true, and it's illustrated in his career .405 slugging percentage, not a number about which ballads will be written.
But if you're going to make that qualification with Ichiro, you'd better be prepared to do the same with Rose.
Ichiro has already amassed two more home runs from his age-27 season on than Rose had despite sitting 2,195 plate appearances behind Rose. Ichiro has launched a dinger in 1.09% of his career times at the dish, and Rose only did so 0.89% of the time in this same stretch. If you consider Rose an all-time great hitter despite his lack of power, you need to do the same with Ichiro.
It wouldn't be surprising to hear an additional rebuttal based on how long Ichiro has played. He's in his age-42 season, helping to lessen the bump he receives for not starting until he was 27. Again, there's a bit of a misconception in trying to do this.
Of the 30 players in the 3,000 hit club, only Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Al Kaline, and Robin Yount did so without playing in at least their age-40 season. Both Kaline and Yount began accumulating hits in their age-18 seasons, though, and Clemente and Carew followed quickly at the ages of 20 and 21, respectively. All of these guys played as older athletes, making it unfair to ding Ichiro for doing so.
Regardless of age, this is just Ichiro's 16th season as a big leaguer. No player with at least 3,000 hits was limited to 16 seasons or fewer, and only Rose reached the mark within his first 16 seasons. The argument that Ichiro should be knocked for playing as long as he has also falls flat on its face.
This is all comparing Ichiro the game's all-time greats, and it should show that he is firmly in that class. When we compare him to his contemporary peers, though, his career looks even more amazing.
A Class of His Own
For funsies, let's limit the scope of our discussion to the players from just 2001 (Ichiro's rookie season) until now. This is a time frame that will obviously favor Ichiro because he'll be one of the few to play in each of those seasons, but it should also help show how much he has done in such little time.
All of Ichiro's 3,000 hits have come from 2001 on; only 15 other batters have reached at least 2,000 hits over that time, and none have topped 2,800. He has a full season of padding between himself and second-place Albert Pujols, and third-place Adrian Beltre is 460 hits behind.
There have been 53 games in Ichiro's career in which he has racked up at least four hits. The second-highest total since 2001 belongs to Miguel Cabrera at 43, and only seven others have at least 30 such performances. Ichiro has twice as many four-hit games as everybody except for 13 other players since 2001. That's sickly.
This is dominance that spans beyond just base hits. Ichiro is one of only two players (Juan Pierre being the other) to swipe at least 500 bags from 2001 on. Only three others have more than 400, and an additional seven have more than 300. This helps compensate a bit for the lack of extra-base hits.
The stolen bases allow Ichiro to fare a bit better than you may assume in Weighted Runs Created (wRC), which estimates a player's total contributions to the team in the form of runs created. Ichiro has amassed 1,288 wRC in his 16 seasons, putting him 10th among all players over that time. Each of the other players in the top 10 had at least 180 home runs (Ichiro has 113), and Derek Jeter was the only other with fewer than 250 home runs. Ichiro didn't need to bathe in long balls to provide value to his teams.
This is what Ichiro provided from a statistical point of view. His value shouldn't be limited to that, though.
Ichiro forever and ever and ever. https://t.co/THSeflHTlW pic.twitter.com/4NtAczw0Pf
— Jon Tayler (@JATayler) July 19, 2016
Getting 3,000 hits doesn't illustrate how great Ichiro was; everything else about his career does that for him.
There will always be detractors who attempt to downplay how truly great Ichiro's career has been, whether it be by looking at his lack of power or the age to which he has played. Those arguments don't hold water, though, upon further investigation, unless you're willing to also take away from the game's other all-time greats. Ichiro belongs in that grouping, and he would have even without reaching this arbitrary, yet extraordinary milestone.