Friday, September 09, 2011

Hoping Ichiro Doesn't Make it to 200

Robbie Knopf over at isportsweb made an excellent argument that Ichiro Suzuki's off season is not due to age but due to luck. And while Knopf does an excellent job at using BABIP on ground balls and line drives to show that Ichiro is simply unlucky this season, this writer isn't quite convinced. What we need here to prove Knopf's case is a statistic that measures the MPH a ball comes off a batter's bat to see a little more what kind of contact a batter is making. Line drives are not created equal. Even if Knopf is correct, the Fan still hopes Ichiro does not make it to 200 hits.

That seems mean-spirited, doesn't it? The chase is compelling because Suzuki has done it for ten straight seasons. And he has an outside chance at doing it for the eleventh. With twenty games left on the Mariners' schedule, Ichiro needs 37 hits. Why would any writer want to deny a player from making that kind of mark for the eleventh straight season? Why indeed. It's certainly not because this writer hates Ichiro Suzuki. On the contrary, it's been a joy to watch him play for all these years. No, the real reason is for Ichiro's sake.

Say he does make it to 200 hits with a flurry at the end. The flurry would lift his final batting average to around .280 and his OPS to perhaps .650. And that's the problem. If Ichiro does indeed make it with said flurry, his numbers will still be lackluster. Wouldn't that cheapen his accomplishments to date? Here's what the Fan means by that. The run of seasons that Ichiro has reached the 200 milestone has been amazing. It's one of the coolest runs by a player in history. But it comes with its share of detractors. Critics have said that he should have taken more walks and hit less singles and he would have been a more valuable player. But you could always counter those arguments by pointing to the 200 hits for ten straight seasons and the .331 lifetime batting average (not to mention the 52 fWAR compiled in those ten years).

If Ichiro finishes with 200 hits or more, then defenders of Ichiro would lose the one bullet in their guns as the 200 hits would look cheap in light of his OPS and overall season. "See?" the critics would say, "Anyone could make it to 200 hits if they played every game and slapped the ball around enough." The truth of the streak isn't the 200 hits each season. The real truth is that he's averaged 225 hits a season. That should be the compelling part of the story. But since we western civilization humans enjoy our round numbers, it's the 200 that stands in our minds. If you took away that proclivity we humans have for those round numbers, the 225 hit average is the thing to celebrate. 

If Ichiro Suzuki gets to 200 hits with a .650 OPS, then you lose some luster on what has been one of the most amazing batting feats in the history of baseball. It would cheapen it. It would be much better to leave the streak behind at ten so that those ten years could stand the adoration test. This writer, for one, hopes he doesn't make it--not because this writer wants to deny a player a milestone, but because those first ten seasons need to be appreciated for years to come.

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