Even though the Major League Baseball season is officially over now, I still have baseball on the brain. One thing I've been wondering about lately is if Ichiro can reach the 3,000-hit plateau in the MLB.
He already has 3,083 hits, if you count his numbers in Japan. But if Sadaharu Oh has taught us anything, it's that those Japanese stats don't count
I like crunching numbers, especially when sports are involved; so away we go.
In eight years (2001-08) in the MLB, Ichiro has 1,805 hits. That's an average of 225 hits a year. In Japan (1992-2000), he had 1278 hits in nine seasons, for an average of 142 hits a season.
Let's break this down even further by looking at his numbers year by year in both leagues (hits, avg.).
1992 - 24, .253; 1993 - 12, .188; 1994 - 210*(single-season record), .385; 1995 - 179, .342; 1996 - 193, .356; 1997 - 185, .345; 1998 - 181, .358; 1999 - 141; .343; 2000 - 153, .387
Again, that's 1278 hits, with a .353 average in nine years. That includes just 36 hits and a .221 average in his first two seasons.
In Japan, they only play 144 games a year and Ichiro has played at most 135 games (twice). Ichiro played 951 games in Japan. They also don't play past the 12th inning if the game is tied, costing players some bonus at-bats; or in Ichiro's case, a hit or two.
2001 - 242, .350; 2002 - 208, .321; 2003 - 212, .312; 2004 - 262*(single-season record), .372; 2005 - 206, .303; 2006 - 224, .322; 2007 - 238, .351; 2008 - 213, .310
That's good for 1805 hits and a .329 average in eight years. We all know that the MLB season is 162-games long. Ichiro has played at least 157 games every year. He has missed only THREE games in the last five seasons; how's that for dependable? Ichiro has played 1280 games in the MLB.
He has 333 extra-base hits, and I'm not quite sure how many infield singles Ichiro has, but it's probably a high number. Take a look at his MLB numbers again, at least 206 hits every year, amazing!
Let's continue with the whole numbers theme; Ichiro averaged 1.34 hits per game in Japan and 1.41 hits per game in the MLB, for a 1.38 in his entire 17-year professional baseball career. That may not mean much to the average fan, but consider these other prolific hitters' hits per game averages (3,000-hit club members).
Tony Gwynn (1.28), Cap Anson (1.36), Rod Carew (1.24), Honus Wagner (1.23), Robin Yount (1.1), Ty Cobb (1.38), Tris Speaker (1.26), Pete Rose (1.19), and Nap Lajoie (1.31).
Ichiro is ahead of all those Hall of Famers (using his 1.41 in the MLB), especially the two greatest hitters to play the game in Cobb and Rose. Granted, the game has changed immensely since Cobb's, and even Rose's days, but that doesn't change the fact of Ichiro dominating opposing pitching.
So what does all this number crunching mean?
It means that Ichiro can reach the coveted 3,000 hit mark in the MLB, even with his nine years played in Japan. That is provided his amazing track record for health and effectiveness stays put.
What will it take for Ichiro to get there though?
If he keeps his pace of 225 hits per year, he will only need to play six more years in this league. And that means playing until he is 40 years old and possibly completing a 23-year professional baseball career.
This may also mean an eventual move to DH (a highly-disputed position) or not, but Ichiro can amass more than 3,000 hits if he can manage to stay in the game through the 2014 season.
I must add that Ichiro also excels on defense. In his seven full seasons in Japan, Ichiro has won a gold glove every single season.
In eight MLB seasons, he has eight gold gloves. 17 years in baseball and 15 gold gloves, mixed with his hitting prowess; that's what I call a great baseball player.
An eight-time All Star and a two-time batting champ in the MLB; not to mention the Rookie of the Year and the league's MVP in 2001. He was a three-time MVP in Japan.
Now, there's only one question left in all of this. In what city will he continue to play?
There's talk about him getting moved out of Seattle (he is the best player on a crappy team), but that city might just fall apart if he goes. First the Sonics and then Ichiro?
Where ever he ends up though, he needs to continue to be a leadoff hitter, because if Ichiro gets on base in that first inning, you're team is in good shape.
It will also guarantee him an at-bat in the first inning, thus keeping his percentage of getting at least one hit per game rather high.
I have never seen Ichiro play in person, but there's a saying for certain players of, "that's a guy you'd pay to see". I would gladly open up my wallet to see Ichiro play at least once.