Ichiro’s Final Push – Is 200 Hits Achievable This Year?
“If I’m in a slump I ask myself for advice.” – Ichiro Suzuki
Be glad I opened with a ‘wink and a smile’ quote from Ichiro. I almost went with a song and dance number – “one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t fit in.”
Ichiro – like the great Albert Pujols – is having one of those seasons that ‘ just doesn’t fit in’.
After a decade of 200 + hit seasons (the high point being the record setting 262 in 2004) Ichiro is scraping the bottom of the barrel (yes, I am kidding about the scraping – bottom barrel or any other kind) this year with a meager 154 hits in 133 team games. He, like his brother immortal Albert Pujols, will have to hit like hell in his final 28 games if he wants the streak to extend past ten years.
You might be saying he has very little chance of pulling it off – and you might be right. I myself think it will be quite an achievement to see him get there. But when you inspect the situation a little closer you may be surprised at how easy it may be for Ichiro to actually pull it off.
First a little history lesson to get all five of the new borns on the planet who have never heard of Ichiro up to date.
Starting in Japan in 1992 at the tender age of 18, Ichiro would begin the first of 9 monsters Japanese League seasons for the Orix Blue Wave. By 20 he was a full time player and on his way to averaging 177 hits a year in the much-shorter-than-the-Major-League-Baseball-Japanese-League-Season. He finished his Japanese League career with 1278 hits.
In 2001 he took his talents west and bitched slapped the American League into submission. He lead the Mariners and league in hits, at bats, plate appearances and stolen bases on his way to a batting title (.350), the AL ROY and the AL MVP. He became the second rookie ever to win the Most Valuable Player award (Freddy Lynn was the first in 1975 for Boston). For the next 9 seasons Ichiro was – if there ever was one – a hitting machine. Here are his single season base knock totals:
- 2001 – 242
- 2002 – 208
- 2003 – 212
- 2004 – 262
- 2005 – 206
- 2006 – 224
- 2007 – 238
- 2008 – 213
- 2009 - 225
- 2010 – 214
Entering 2011 no one suspected a precipitous decline – but it happened none the less – or has it? Here are his hit totals per month in 2011.
- April – 39
- May – 22
- June – 31
- July – 26
- August – 36
That’s an average of 30.8 per month. If he continues that average Ichiro will finish the 2011 season with 185 hits – a great hit total but far from Ichiro-esque.
As of this writing Ichiro has 28 player games in which to get the 46 hits he needs for 200 this year. That’s only (and I use the term ‘only’ in moderation here) 1.65 hits per game for the former MVP to continue his 200 hits or more streak into 2012.
So can he do it? History says he can. Just two years ago Ichiro had 49 hits in a single month (May of 2009). In 2007 he had 4 months during the campaign in which he had 42 or more hits (46 in May, 47 in June, 45 in August and 42 in September). In his record setting 2004 year he had 3 months of 50 or more hits (50 in May, 51 in June and an ungodly total of 56 in August). That same August Ichiro hit .463 over 28 games.
So it can be done. But he hasn’t done it since May of 2009 and he will be turning 38 in late October. So is age catching up with him? Or perhaps the real issue is he may be tiring of playing for a bottom feeding team. Losing can wear any hitter – great or small – a little thin. The Mariners and Ichiro haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001. Despite four team records over .500 since that 2001 season the team has finished in 3rd place or lower in the very winnable American League West eight times in ten seasons. Maybe it isn’t age that is bringing his hit total down – maybe it’s environment.
One thing I believe for certain – Ichiro won’t go down without making a run at it. He is quite aware of his place in history and if he goes down he will go down – pardon the pun- swinging.
So what say you dear reader? Give us your vital opinion. Does he have a shot? Will he be close at years end or will he come up several hits short? Or will he blows us all away and finish the season with a total well over 200 hits? Let the discussion begin…