Ichiro Suzuki recently gained his 2000th hit. According to this story, (hat tip, BTF he achieved that distinction in the second fastest time ever, 1,402 games – whereas Al Simmons did it in 1,390 games.
That’s nice to know, but it leaves me with a question. As I’m sure everyone out there in reader-land knows, Ichiro came to MLB a fully formed player in his prime. Usually, guys have to spend a couple years growing into the game and for the best players that’s usually in their early 20s. Thus Ichiro should have an advantage in reaching 2000 hits if one measures it purely by games.
Let’s look at age instead. Ichiro was 27 in his rookie season and is age 35 now. Using, Baseball-Reference’s Play Index let’s see where Ichiro stacks up. I should note in advance doing it right now is actually a tad unfair to Ichiro, as his age 35 season isn’t completed, but we can account for that after seeing the results. My own hunch is that if he’s 2nd fastest to 2,000 hits in terms of games, he’ll do worse when comparing him to others from ages 27-35.
So you can imagine my surprise when I saw the results. Ichiro, even though he hasn’t even finished his age 35 season is in first place, and not by a small amount. Not only is he the only guy to tally 2,000 hits in that time, he’s the only one over 1,900 hits as well. Assuming he stays healthy and doesn’t trail off too badly (both fair assumptions), only Pete Rose will achieve 90% of Ichiro’s hits in these ages.
I suppose that makes sense. The man is averaging over 220 hits a season and will probably end up averaging 225 when 2009 is all said and done. There’s only been 62 times in all baseball history someone got that many hits in a single season, let alone averaged it for almost a decade. While I was right to note Ichiro missed the early warm up period, I forgot to account for the decline most players experience by age 35. Ichiro keeps on a-chooglin’.
What I also find interesting in that list is that only 5 of the top 19 currently have 3,000 hits in their careers – I have to say currently because both Ichiro and Derek Jeter are legitimate shots to reach that plateau.
All this leads to a new question: is this the most hits anyone has ever had in any 9-year period? Well, let’s see:
Most hits by the following ages:
Ages 20 to 28: Ty Cobb 1,786 hits
Ages 21 to 29: Joe Medwick 1,801 hits
Ages 22 to 30: Willie Keeler 1,905 hits
Ages 23 to 31: Paul Waner 1,860 hits
Ages 24 to 32: Jesse Burkett 1,891 hits
Ages 25 to 33: Jesse Burkett 1,882 hits
Ages 26 to 34: Jesse Burkett 1,846 hits
Ages 27 to 35: Ichiro Suzuki 2,000 hits
Ages 28 to 36: Bill Terry 1,861 hits
Ages 29 to 37: Pete Rose 1,837 hits
Ages 30 to 38: Pete Rose 1,840 hits
Ages 31 to 39: Pete Rose 1,833 hits
Ages 32 to 40: Sam Rice 1,821 hits
Ages 33 to 41: Sam Rice 1,762
I guess I could go further, but the point is clear: no one has ever had such a hit-terific 9-year stretch as Ichiro. No one has even come close.
Well, one last question then: what may the future hold? He was Japan’s annual hit-king and has lashed out base hits like no one else in the history of MLB since his arrival year. As an added bonus: he does a great job staying in shape. Barring an unexpected injury (which is always a possibility regardless of conditioning, especially as one ages), Ichiro has a good bet to get more hits from age 36 onward as anyone in history.
With that in mind, here is the list of most hits by anyone from their age 36 season onward. Seven guys topped 1,000 hits, so I really like Ichiro’s odds to crack 3,000. If two guys approached 1,500 hits, then I think Ichiro is a serious contender for 3,500 hits – provided again that he doesn’t suffer from an injury (which is far from a given). After all, he should end this season over 2,030 hits.