Comparing Ichiro

Baseball-Reference.com is such a wonderful invention.

I somehow found myself playing with numbers. Because I wanted to find out where Ichiro ranks when you compare him to the alltime greats who played before him. When he collected his 4.000th professional hit last year there was a lot of talk about how that was a great achievement, yes, but, but, but, he got a large portion of those 4.000 hits in a league which doesn’t even come close to Major League Baseball standards. Nice try kid, but you shouldn’t have wasted your youth in a subpar league. Is what they were saying.

Well, while that might be true, there are ways and means to find out how a player compares to another one. In this case we’ll just use the top guys in career hits ranking. Just for the fun of it. Let’s see how Ichiro compares to the likes of Pete Rose or Ty Cobb or Hank Aaron. And to make it fair, we’ll just use the first 13 years each guy played in the majors.

Player First 13 years in the Majors Total Hits
Ichiro 2001-2013 2.747
Pete Rose 1963-1975 2.547
Ty Cobb 1905-1917 2.361
Hank Aaron 1954-1966 2.434
Stan Musial 1941-1954 (1 yr military service) 2.418

Surprising, isn’t it? Honestly, I’d never thought that Ichiro would come in first here. But having yourself 10 straight 200+ hit seasons sure helps. Now, well, people will complain that this is giving Ichiro an unfair advantage since he came over to the majors after spening a lot of time in NPB honing his hitting skills. American players had to deal with major league pitchers for their entire career from an early age on. So, well, just for the fun of ot, let’s compare the age 27-39 seasons. everybody was in their prime. This should count as a level playing field. Here we go.

Player Age 27-39 seasons Total Hits
Ichiro 2001-2013 2.747
Pete Rose 1968-1980 2.661
Ty Cobb 1914-1926 2.099
Hank Aaron 1961-1973 2.200
Stan Musial 1948-1960 2.299

This is really fascinating. Of the top hitters of all time in the major leagues Ichiro ranks first when you compare them year to year. Sure, different eras, different times, different ball game. But I have to admit I didn’t expect such an outcome. But I guess one can say that through his first 13 seasons in MLB Ichiro has been the best hitter to ever set foot on a major league ballfield.

The true test comes from here on. Cobb, Aaron and Musial all degressed from their age 39 season on. Cobb played two more years, hitting 175 in 127 and 114 in 1928. Aaron’s decline was sharper with 91 hits in 1974, 109 in 1975 and 62 in 1976. And Musial ended his career with 107 (1961), 143 (1962) and 86 (1963). Even Rose never came awfully close to 200 hits in a season again (between 1981-1986 his hit totals were 140, 172, 121, 107, 72, 35, 107 and 52).

Ichiro is at the end of a very nice career and you can tell by his numbers that he might not keep pace with the big shots whoe came before him. Since his last 200+ hit season in 2010 his totals were 184 (2011), 178 (2012) and 136 (2013). He’ll have to fight for first place this year.

While I’m at it, here’s a nice nugget. Ichiro had a lot of bats during his major league career, so he had a lot of chances to make outs. How do you think he ranks in making outs? Right now he holds a respectable 126th place alltime with 6.123 outs made so far. Pete Rose is the clear leader here with 10.328. But then again he played for 24 years and that’s a lot of chances to make outs. So, to be fair, I’ll just look at the year-to-year leaders. So, How often will Ichiro’s name turn up there?

Not once at all.

Just like Ty Cobb, Hank Aaron and Stan Musial. But between 1963 and 1982 Pete Rose was in the Top10 of players who made the most outs 6 times. I found that quite interesting.

Anyway, they are and were all great players and, as I said, this is just about having some fun with the numbers.

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