April 19, 2014

Could Ichiro Suzuki Break the All-Time Hit Record?

June 13, 2009 by · 14 Comments 

The title of this posting is meant to be provocative. Obviously Ichiro won’t break Pete Rose’s all-time MLB hits record of 4,256, given that he played his first nine seasons in Japan before coming the USA. But what if you combine his MLB and Japan statistics? I want to review Ichiro’s career numbers and consider what his combined lifetime numbers, particularly his hits total, might end up looking like.

Ichiro Suzuki (see his stats here and here) joined the Mariners in 2001 and as a 27-yr-old rookie took home AL Rookie of the Year and MVP honors leading the league with a .350 average, 242 hits, and 56 stolen bases. He led the league in average again in 2004, hitting at a .372 rate. He has stolen 30+ bases every MLB season so far. Remarkably, Ichiro has led the AL in singles every year since joining the league, and so far is leading it again this year. He’s been an All-Star every year, and has taken home Gold Glove defensive honors every year too. He has paced the AL in hits a total of five times, collecting 200+ hits in all of his first eight seasons playing in the majors.

This means his totals so far in MLB are:

  • 1,888 Hits
  • 911 Runs
  • 78 HRs
  • 324 SBs
  • .332 Batting Average

If he retired today, would his MLB accomplishments alone warrant election to the Hall of Fame? In my view, the answer is yes. However, the MLB HOF has a 10-year minimum playing requirement rule, so unless they made an exception for Ichiro given his Japanese playing time, I fear he couldn’t yet be elected. Short of a catastrophic injury, since he is still going strong — .356 average and 9 SB so far this year — he should have more than enough playing time remaining to warrant election.

But of course before joining the Mariners in 2001 Ichiro had been a star in Japan. After two partial seasons in 1992-93, He hit .385 with 53 stolen bases in 1994. He displayed more power in Japan, smacking 118 HR in 3619 at-bats compared to only 78 HR in 5693 at-bats in the majors. His high was 25 HR in 1995. His batting average (.353) was also, not surprisingly, a bit higher in Japan as well. Here are his career numbers from 1992-2000 in Japan:

  • 1278 Hits
  • 658 Runs
  • 118 HR
  • 199 SBs
  • .353 Batting average

Before I continue, I want to grant the obvious: adding together statistics from MLB and Japan is not really legitimate, because just about everyone would admit the talent level, overall, is greater in the majors. Nonetheless, as a fun exercise, consider these combined career numbers:

  • 2,284 Games
  • 9,312 At-Bats
  • 1,484 Runs
  • 3,166 Hits
  • 196 HRs
  • 1,015 RBIs
  • 776 Walks
  • 879 Strikeouts
  • 523 SBs
  • .340 Batting Average

As many already know, this means that the combined Ichiro has eclipsed the career 3,000 hit mark already — last summer sometime.

Now, let’s do some conservative estimations. Let’s say he ends up this year with 210 hits, that would put him at 3,293 for his combined career. He turns 36 on October 22nd. So I’ll assume he has four more solid years, averaging 200 hits each season. Then let’s add on just two more after that, at ages 40 and 41, where he’ll get another 100 hits in each. That would add another 1000 hits in all, and he’d then have 4,293 — which means he will have passed Pete Rose’s mark of 4,256!

Again, I’m not really suggesting we could then legitimately consider Ichiro the all-time hits leader — since 1,278 of them came while playing in the Japanese league. But surely we would then have to consider carefully where we’d want to rate Ichiro amongst all-time hitters, and I think we’d have to consider him (if not already) amongst the top five singles or batting-average hitters (non-power) of all-time.

Keep it up Ichiro!

P.S. Per the comment I received from Gilbert Martinez, I’ve updated this post with what I now assume to be the correct numbers for Ichiro’s time in Japan, obtained from this website. I had been using the numbers from this Sportsline page, but they oddly have double entries included for his 1992 and 1993 seasons, something I noticed at the time I wrote this post but forgot to look into further before finishing my article. Sorry for any confusion!

 P.P.S. As further noted in the comments received, when I made the change noted above I forgot to update my math at the end. I’ve now re-written the last part of this article to take this into account.

Comments

14 Responses to “Could Ichiro Suzuki Break the All-Time Hit Record?”
  1. Devon says:

    He would be the all-time major league hits leader, but not the all-time MLB (NL + AL) hits leader. That sounds confusing, but seriously… his Japan days were in a major league. The only reason he didn’t play stateside, is because his contract wouldn’t allow it. His days with the Orix Blue Wave, were major league days.

    So people should rightfully put him in the 3000 hit club for major leaguers, but not for the MLB. People were talkin’ about this last summer when he slapped out his 3,000th major league hit.

    I also think people should account for the fact he played in shorter seasons in Japan. If he had played 162 game schedule during the 90′s… wow, he might be closer to Hank Aaron’s hit total by the end of this year.

  2. David in Toledo says:

    As just noted, the shorter season essentially cancels out a slightly easier hitting environment.

    Add baserunning, fielding (including ability to play center field), and durability. An easy HoF choice.

  3. Gilbert Martinez says:

    A question for clarification. You note that Ichiro’s hit total for his major league career in Japan is 1,434.

    But the figure I have seen is 1,278. What that was combined with his MLB total last summer in July, he reached 3,000 total hits for his career (MLB+Nippon Professional Baseball). Here’s a link to his Japan stats: http://japanesebaseball.com/players/player.jsp?PlayerID=28

    Where do you get 1,434 from?

    Thanks for the article.

    Gilbert

  4. Chris says:

    I loved the article. I found it because I was trying to figure out the same thing. You math is a bit off though. I think you added 210 hits to his total this year without subtracting the hits he already has this year. He is averaging 230 hits per 162 games played. So lets take that number. 1,278 + 1,915(updated w/ current hits this season)= 3,193 + 120(for the rest of the season)=3,313. Using his season average for the MLB(230 hits), at the end of the 2012 season he will have 4,003 hits. If he decides to stay two more years he will surpass Pete Rose easily. He will probably slow down a bit but he could reach 4,300 with less than 150 hits a year.

  5. Joe says:

    Why would you include Ichiro’s hits as a player in Japan, but not Rose’s hits as a player in the minor leagues? Rose had over 400 hits in the minors, so Ichiro would still need much more than 3,000 MLB hits to catch Rose’s total as a pro.

    Having said that, Ichiro is aging well, and if he is willing to keep playing, I really don’t see a problem with Ichiro getting up to 3,000 hits in the majors. If he’s willing to play into his mid-40′s for a smaller salary, he might even give 3,500 hits a run for the money.

  6. Larkin, Kevin says:

    Rose will admit he was not the most talented of players. The best thing about Ichiro’s numbers is they got better when he joined Seattle. This examplifes the fact that real baseball is played overseas and not the roid smash style in the MLB. He has found those holes that lumbering defenses give up. If the HOF are going to let players, without real stats, who never played a MLB game in the HOF. I think the proven stats of his Japan play should count to the HOF. It’s not his fault he didn’t get to play in Seattle earlier but Ted Williams and other lost possible records due to war. He has 2000 now just under Kendall. No choice who you would rather have. Jeter has about 2,700 and is no where near the bat Ichiro is or as fast and most certainlt not in his class defensively. Pujols maybe the guy most fear but Ichiro is the most prolific hitter

  7. Aalaf Alot says:

    Actually, I would rather see Ichiro Suzuki have a 300 Hit season than trying to catch up to Pete Rose all time hits.

    Also, beating all time consecutive hitting streak too.

  8. ron says:

    Ichiro is the best hitter in baseball, its’ too bad that he doesn’t play in LA, New York or Boston because he’d be a household name in North America. Playing on a dismal Seattle Mariners team since 2001, Ichiro needs to relocate somewhere once his contract expires. He’s too good to be playing on such a weak team. He’s not a young man and padding his playoff stats is a good way to ensure a hall of fame seat, even though, in my opinion, Ichiro would be elected to any baseball hall of fame that has knowledge of the game. Pete Rose was a very good hitter on a very good team, put Ichiro with some decent players and his hits, stolen bases, rbis, onbase percentage would drastically increase and so would his namesake. Ichiro best player alive, pound for pound.

  9. NPB says:

    As people have already mentioned, it’s silly to discount Ichiro’s NPB (Japan) statistics when considering the shorter seasons played there.

    As of the end of the 2011 season, Ichiro has averaged 221 hits per season in MLB.

    He only averaged 177 hits per season in his 7 full seasons in NPB.

    His current MLB total hits: 2428

    221 * 7 = 1547

    1547 + 2428 = 3975

    Had Ichiro started his career in the Majors, he’d likely surpass Rose BEFORE his 40th birthday.

  10. DoesntCount says:

    I’m sorry but it doesn’t count the same. I realize that there are less games played in Japan but the competition is entirely different in U.S. in MLB. Ichiro has been an amazing player but the elements and competition make it a completely different animal than Japan. He might pass Pete Rose’s mark between both leagues but he isn’t the all-time hit king because he played a bunch of games and accumulated stats in a league that is inferior to MLB.

  11. Tom Stone says:

    @DoesntCount – Thanks for your comment. Except I realize the differences — that is why I wrote “Before I continue, I want to grant the obvious: adding together statistics from MLB and Japan is not really legitimate, because just about everyone would admit the talent level, overall, is greater in the majors.”

    Also, as others in the comments noted… Ichiro’s hitting pace *actually increased* when he came over from Japan to Seattle. So while generally I agree that the level of competition in Japan is lower, in this case… the facts don’t bear that out. It seems logical that Ichiro would have had lots of hits in MLB had he started here as a youngster instead of in his 8th season. Exactly how many is open to debate, but it is an interesting question. He was a good hitter in Japan, and has been good hitter in the US.

  12. John says:

    The Minor Leagues are just affiliate teams to MLB teams. The Minor League Teams can be dropped, and they would be an amateur team. When an amateur team becomes affiliated, the franchise can add it’s signed/drafted players. When they’re dropped, they don’t keep the players.

  13. John says:

    That was a reply to Joe, who said that they don’t count Rose’s minor’s stats.

  14. Richard says:

    Rose’s record is one that will never be broken. Ichiro is a great hitter, but Japanese baseball isn’t
    considered quite on a par with the majors.

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