On June 15, against the San Diego Padres, Ichiro Suzuki recorded his 4,256th and 4,257th professional hits. That puts him at one more than Pete Rose. This has caused a large debate throughout the baseball world.
In Rose’s opinion, though, Ichiro is not his equal. Rose told USA Today Sports that, “I don’t think you’re going to find anybody with credibility say that Japanese baseball is equivalent to Major League Baseball.”
We can also add Alex Rodriguez to the list of people that argues in support of Rose. He asserts that the Major League is the premier league. It’s the best competition in the world.
Mark Grace also chimed in. He doesn’t say that they’re equal but does believe that a bigger deal should be made of it. He told USA Today Sports that “I cannot believe it’s not a bigger deal in Major League Baseball.”
I, for one, don’t think the numbers are equal. I believe that Rose is correct in saying that the quality of the two leagues is not the same. While baseball in Japan is still high quality, Alex Rodriguez is correct in saying that the MLB is best in the world. But, honestly, I don’t care. In the end, the only thing that matters is that Ichiro Suzuki is one of the best hitters in the history of the game.
Ichiro came into the MLB with the Seattle Mariners in 2001. He was 27 years old, but quickly made his presence felt. In his first season he had a .350/.381/.457 slash line and a 140 wRC+. He also had a 7.2% K%. He only struck out 53 times in 738 plate appearances. Trevor Story has already struck out 93 times this season. Then there was the speed. He stole 56 bases that season, enough to lead the league. That season saw Ichiro as an All-Star starter, MVP, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove Winner.
His excellence continued. 2004 was arguably his best season, even if he lacked all the hardware to prove it. That season he hit .372 with an OPS of .869. He ended up with 7.1 fWAR, good enough for seventh in baseball and tops in the American League. He finished seventh in MVP voting.
Ichiro’s play has unsurprisingly dropped in recent seasons. He’s 42 and doesn’t have the speed he used to have. But he has had a bit of a resurgence this season. He currently has a .347/.410/.388 slash line. All signs point to him reaching 3,000 hits in the MLB by the end of this season.
Now while we’ve commented on Ichiro’s ability at the plate, he also deserves recognition for his ability in the field. He’s been a historically above-average defender, winning the Gold Glove every year from 2001 to 2010. HIs arm has also been put on display countless times in his career. He has 120 career assists from the outfield and UZR/150 of 10.4.
Ichiro has played in the MLB for 16 season. He played for the Mariners, Yankees, and Marlins, totaling 2,411 games, never playing less than 143 games in a season. He’s been an ambassador for the game, inspiring countless Japanese players. He opened the door for other Japanese baseball players to come overseas. Without him there may not have been a Hideki Matsui or Yu Darvish.
Ultimately, we need to remember that the guy could flat out play baseball. He did it in Japan and proved that he could play here. He doesn’t need a hit record to prove that. He’s a 10x All-Star, 10x Gold Glove winner, the 2001 MVP, and the 2001 Rookie of the Year. He set the record for hits in a season with 262 and had 10 consecutive seasons of 200 or more hits. Had he moved to the United States earlier in his career then maybe he would have broken Rose’s record. But it really doesn’t matter. One day, Ichiro Suzuki will be enshrined with baseball’s best in Cooperstown, right where he belongs.
Stats Courtesy of FanGraphs