From 2001 to 2010, there were very few things that baseball stat geeks could count on. One was that Albert Pujols would hit .300 with at least 30 home runs and 100 RBI. Another was the guarantee that Ichiro would hit .300 and reach reach the 200-hit mark.
Typically in major league baseball, even the best athletes tend to have down years every now and then. If you look at the career statistics of just about any great player over the past 25 years, you are bound to find at least one or two mediocre or subpar seasons mixed in. This could not be said about Pujols or Ichiro—until this season.
Since 2001, when both Pujols and Ichiro were rookies, the two stars have each been among the very best hitters in all of baseball year after year.
Ichiro has never failed to hit over .300 with at least 200 hits, an all-star appearance and Gold Glove honors. Meanwhile, Pujols has always hit .300 or better with at least 30 home runs, 30 doubles, 100 RBI as well as a top-nine finish in NL MVP voting.
Just about all of those streaks are in severe jeopardy.
Between the two stars, it is Ichiro that is experiencing the most significant drop-off. Whereas Pujols is still on pace for a very solid season at the plate (.275, 37, 99, .353, .491), Ichiro has been a legitimately below-average hitter among AL outfielders.
As of right now, Ichiro is hitting just .269 at the plate, and the sad part is that his batting average is probably his most impressive offensive statistic. Out of his 76 hits, just 14 of them are for extra bases, giving him an awful slugging percentage of .325. Also of note, his wins above replacement has dropped to minus-0.3, which is absolutely abysmal for a player making $17 million this season.
Ichiro is still on pace to extend his record streak of reaching at least 639 at-bats. However, he is more than 20 hits off the pace of reaching 200 hits, and his chances of ending the season with a batting average over .300 are plummeting. Currently fifth in AL in all-star voting among outfielders, Ichiro's numbers are far from all-star caliber and he is quickly seeing his chances decrease of getting voted into the midsummer classic fade away as well.
Pujols, on the other hand, still has a great chance of hitting at least 30 home runs and driving in 100 or more. After a mediocre April and a disappointing May, Pujols has played like himself of late, now hitting .308 with seven home runs this month, including an OPS of 1.208. However, he will likely need to hit over .320 the rest of the way in order to hit .300 for the 11th consecutive season.
Also of note, with just 10 doubles hit all season, Pujols must pick up the pace in that category in order to reach 30 once again. As far as NL MVP voting is concerned, Pujols will be hard-pressed to finish among the top nine in votes for the 11th consecutive year. Up to this point, he has arguably been only the third most valuable hitter in the Cardinal lineup, trailing both Matt Holiday and Lance Berkman by significant margins in batting average and OPS.
After an incredible 10-year stretch for both Pujols and Ichiro, it is fitting that they would both get off to slow starts in the same year. Pujols is already the all-time leader for most (.300, 30, 100) seasons to start a career, while Ichiro already owns the record for most consecutive .300 batting average, 200-hit seasons overall.
Whether or not Ichiro or Pujols extend any of their streaks, it has already been a great run for the two stars any way you look at it. Rarely do you find players that can put up excellent numbers for ten consecutive seasons, let alone their first 10.
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