I’ve mentioned numerous times that today’s game lacks pure hitters. It’s hard to find a player that cares immensely if they strike out because it’s a wasted at-bat. There are two schools of thought to the strike out from the offensive prospective. One school of thought is that an out is an out, whether you strike out looking or hit a pitch to the warning track because either way, a player does not get on base, so they are equal. That’s what Mark Reynolds and Ryan Howard keep telling each other. On the other hand, people view strike outs as a complete waste because the hitter fails to put any pressure on the defense to make a play. If a runner is on base and they put the ball in play, there is an opportunity to move the runner over, making that out more productive than getting punched out. I, obviously agree with the second school of thought. Even though there is a lack of pure hitters in the Major Leagues today, Ichiro Suzuki is one of the purest hitters I have ever seen.
Since he debuted with the Mariners back in 2001 at the age of 27, Ichiro showed every single year that he is a complete hitter. Although each year ends up showing his statistical dominance in one way or another, the 2004 season was the most special of all of Ichiro, when he broke George Sisler’s 84-year-old record of 257 hits in a season by besting that total by five. The all-time top-ten list for most hits in a single season are as follows:
1. Ichiro Suzuki (2004): 262 hits
2. George Sisler (1920): 257
3. Lefty O’Doul (1929): 254
Bill Terry (1930): 254
5. Al Simmons (1925): 253
6. Rogers Hornsby (1922): 250
Chuck Klein (1930): 250
8. Ty Cobb (1911): 248
9. George Sisler (1922): 246
10. Ichiro Suzuki (2001): 242
The only player to show up in this list within the last 80 years is Ichiro, and he was so good that he was able to crack into this elite group on two different occasions. How hard is it to rack up this many hits in a season? The next highest active player on this list is Michel Young (the ultimate utility player) holding on for dear life in 79th place with his 2005 performance of 221 hits. Now, the idea that Ichiro is a five-tool player is widely accepted. He’s won a rookie of the year and MVP award (in the same year), has been elected to 10 All-Star games and has won 10 Gold Gloves. However, I feel that most impressive part of Ichiro’s game is what he does at the plate and on the base paths.
How consistent is Ichiro on the offensive side of the game? Just look at what he’s accomplished in his 11 seasons in the Majors:
- has led the league in plate appearances four times
- has led the league in at-bats eight times
- had 200 hits in a season 10 years in a row (leading the league seven times
- has won two AL batting titles and his .326 career average is second among active players, and 38th all-time
What is one of the keys to his success? His ability to stay on the field, which seems to be another lost art in today’s game now that Cal Ripken has retired. Ichiro has played in at least 157 games in a season 10 times, with the one lone occasion he didn’t coming in 2009, when he slacked off and only played in 146. One of the keys to being able to pile up so many hits each year is being in the line up on a daily basis. Also, being the lead off man for the duration of his career (until this year) has helped him out greatly because batters hitting at the top of the order generally get more plate appearances than their teammates. Finally, the last key for Ichiro being able to break George Sisler’s record and consistently record over 200 hits in a season is using his speed.
The Mariners outfielder average 39 stolen bases per season since he debuted in 2001, but he is one of the quickest men I’ve ever seen run from home to first after making contact. For the last decade, if Ichiro hit a slow roller to shortstop, the chance of him getting a hit was virtually the same as making an out, if not better. So, the fact that he consistently strikes out less than 80 times in a season is proof that putting the ball in play and forcing the defense to make a play can work to a hitters advantage. They say that the difference between a .250 hitter and .300 hitter is one hit a week. That’s it. One measly hit a week separates an All-Star from a run of the mill ballplayer. So, it’s not surprising to me that Ichiro has collected over 450 infield hits in his career. If you take away half of those infield hits throughout his time in the Bigs, his career average would be an above average, but relatively normal, .295.
Will this record ever be broken? It’s possible, but we may have to wait the same amount of time we did to see Sisler’s mark fall, if not longer since it takes a special kind of hitter to amass this many base knocks in 162 games. Do you think this record will fall or will it stand the test of time?