URL Weaver: Ichiro Forever

Be careful when forming your opinion on Ichiro Suzuki collecting his 4000th professional hit last night. We live in the era of Hot Sprots Takes, where the hotter the take the sweet the juice, or something.

Where Hot Sprots Takes are involved, good sense does not follow. Hot Takes are rarely the stuff of substance. As the great Martin Luther King Jr. once said: I’d rather be judged by the content of my character than the heat of my Sprots Takes.

You see, your opinion on Ichiro’s 4000 hits is a terrific barometer for your relative quality as a person the the hit king serves as a window into your tortured soul.

4000 hits are 4000 hits. The quality of play in Japan is not equal to the level of play in Major League Baseball – anyone arguing otherwise is selling something. Obviously the quality of Japanese baseball pales in comparison to our Major Leagues based solely on how badly Ichiro struggled when he first arrived stateside.

The long period of adjustment to superior pitching, more rigorous travel and fewer rest between games took its toll on Ichiro’s production. Thus his early struggles when he broke in with the Mariners.

Rk Player WAR/pos From To Age PA H 2B 3B HR BB IBB SO SB CS BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Barry Bonds 43.5 2001 2004 36-39 2443 573 112 8 209 755 284 239 35 6 .349 .559 .809 1.368
2 Alex Rodriguez 33.2 2001 2004 25-28 2870 741 115 11 192 329 34 510 72 14 .301 .391 .590 .981
3 Albert Pujols 29.1 2001 2004 21-24 2728 787 189 9 160 304 43 279 13 13 .333 .413 .624 1.037
4 Todd Helton 28.5 2001 2004 27-30 2751 778 191 13 144 435 76 339 15 10 .343 .447 .629 1.076
5 Ichiro Suzuki 26.0 2001 2004 27-30 2953 924 114 29 37 183 63 247 157 48 .339 .384 .443 .828
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 8/22/2013.

But the level of play in Japan isn’t so bad, in contrast with the American Big Leagues, that it should eliminate those hits from the greater conversation of Ichiro’s greatness.

Because that is what celebrating Ichiro’s latest milestone is all about. He isn’t being elected to govern his home prefecture nor does his 4000th hit ensure him some kind of financial windfall. It’s just a round counting number, one which captures a small part of what makes Ichiro one of the most compelling baseball players of his generation.

Ichiro’s numbers in Japan are better than his U.S. numbers, as far as hitting for power goes. He topped 20 home runs twice and slugged over .500 every year as a full-time member of the Orix Blue Wave.

But numbers only tell a small part of the story, only illuminate a sliver of what makes Ichiro so entertaining and singular in the baseball world. His exploits in right field stand out in our minds and, of course, his unconventional swing – which even ran him afoul of his managers in Japan as an teenaged phenom.

Ichiro still has another year left on his contract with the Yankees and is 228 hits shy of 3000 stateside base raps. He might not get there, as the Yankees wisely platoon the 39-year old. He remains a fine defensive outfielder but going into next season as a 40-year old, it remains to be seen how much the slowing of reflexes hurts Ichiro’s ability to make contact with big league pitching. His contract rate and whiff rate both trend in the wrong direction.

Today isn’t about Ichiro’s future, it is about his past and his legacy. One of the best baseball players any of us will ever see, an uncommon talent in a game and culture determined to force every square peg into all round holes.

So congratulations are in order for Ichiro, for collecting so many hits and for helping his teams win in his own way over the years. And thanks are in order, as well. It’s a pleasure watching him do his thing. We’re all better for it.

And the rest

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My Approach with Clayton Kershaw [Getting Blanked]


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