Is Ichiro Suzuki the Best Player of Our Time?

Jesse RobichaudContributor ISeptember 14, 2009

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13:  Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki #51 of the Seattle Mariners gets his 200 hit of the season against the Texas Rangers on September 13, 2009 during game two of a double header at the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  Suzuki became the first player to have nine consecutive 200 hit seasons.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

   On the heals of Ichiro breaking the 108 year old record of having 200 hits in 9 consecutive seasons the question has to be asked: Is Ichiro the best player of our time?

    This may not be the most popular claim because Ichiro has had only 2 seasons in the playoffs and his power numbers are nothing to get excited about. But before you judge him on those two items lets keep in mind what Ichiro's role on the team is.

    He bats lead off and his job is to get hits, steal bases and score runs. He rarely ever is given the chance to drive in runs and his job isn't to hit home runs. Anyone who has seen Ichiro take batting practice knows that he is very capable at driving the ball over the fence he simply chooses not to. Ichiro is the rare player who shows up every game and does what his manager tells him to do. Ichiro does his job and does it better than anyone in baseball.

    Even in the grand space that is baseball history Ichiro stands out. The record for the most 200 hit seasons is held by the hit king Pete Rose. Rose had 200 hits in 10 seasons, Rose also played 24 seasons. Ichiro has nine 200 hit seasons in nine years. Pete Rose's career batting average was .303, Ichiro's is .333.

    Ichiro is the best contact hitter in baseball. He has the record for most hits in a season with 262. He lead the league in hits six times and in the two he didn't lead he came in second. He is also hitting .421 for his career in the postseason. His .333 career batting average is second among active players only behind the great Albert Pujols who is currently hitting .334. Pujols is great but not better than Ichiro but I will get to that later.

    Ichiro also has numerous accolades in baseball. In his nine seasons he has been to nine all star games. In his eight full seasons he has eight gold gloves. In 2001 he won the rookie of the year, MVP and the gold glove award, the only player ever to win all 3. The league also fears Ichiro, he has lead baseball in intentional walks in 3 of his seasons, unheard of for a lead off hitter that is a nightmare for opposing teams on the bases.

    Ichiro is also the best in the league at defense. He has 8 gold gloves in his 8 full seasons. His arm is so feared runners don't even bother trying to advance a base on him anymore. Ichiro also won 7 gold gloves in his 7 full seasons while playing pro ball in Japan. That's 15 straight seasons and counting.

    The only current player in the bigs that matches up to Ichiro's production is Albert Pujols. Clearly Pujols is the better power hitter and possibly the best hitter of all time if he keeps up his production. Where Ichiro gets him is in every other category. Ichiro has the better glove winning the gold glove in every season he has played. Pujols has only won one in 2006. Ichiro also has the better arm, arguably the best arm in the bigs. Ichiro also has the better speed. He has averaged 39 steals a year. Pujols has averaged 5. To recap Pujols is the better power hitter and as good as Ichiro in batting average. Ichiro has the better glove, range, arm and speed.

    Ichiro has said that he wants to play into his 40's. Considering Ichiro hasn't missed more than 5 games in a season it doesn't sound so far fetched. If Ichiro does play until he is 40 and continues to average 226 hits per year he will have 2,935 MLB hits at the end of the 2013 season.

      I say MLB hits because Ichiro also spent nine seasons playing pro ball in Japan for the Orix Blue Wave. Ichiro has 1278 professional Japanese hits . While playing for the Blue Wave Ichiro also showed that he can hit for power when his manager tells him to. While having 200 less at bats per season in Japan Ichiro managed to hit an average of 17 home runs per year.

    If you include Ichiro's Japanese and American hits he would be looking at 4213 hits before his 40th birthday. That would be 43 short of Pete Rose's record. Even if you don't include Ichiro's hits in Japan he could break Pete Rose's hits record at age 45 if he continues to average 226 hits per year. Being 40 and having 200 hits per season seems far fetched but everything Ichiro does has been.

    Ichiro's legacy in America might ultimately not get the credit it deserves because he spent his first nine seasons playing in Japan, but Ichiro's legacy in Japan isn't challenged. If you want to send him fan mail from the United States to Japan all you have to do is put Ichiro on the envelope and he will get it.