Ichiro or 一朗? Both mean “Best Hitter in Baseball”

NOTE: since there has been increased traffic from Japanese websites, I have translated this article.  Please see the translated version.  (注:日本語のウェブサイトから、私はこの記事の翻訳があるので、トラフィックを増加されています。翻訳版を参照してください。)

Manny Ramirez receives a lot of credit for being the “best hitter in baseball.”  If it is not him, it is Albert Pujols or David Ortiz.  But the three of these have a common thread — they are all home run hitters.

There is no doubt that the home run is the highlight of a baseball game.  It is the same as a slam dunk.  Both are explosive and quickly garner attention.  Fundamental defense in basketball or an infield single just do not have the same pop.

But home runs do not make a baseball player a great hitter.  Adam Dunn can blast 40+ home runs, but do so with a .260 batting average.

The best hitter in baseball!

The best hitter in baseball!

The best hitter in baseball right now is not a home run hitter, although he did hit a grand slam last night.  As of this very moment, Ichiro Suzuki is the best hitter in baseball.

Ichiro tends to be overlooked for a number of reasons.  First off, the Seattle Mariners have been god-awful over the past few seasons.  So the Mariners do not receive a lot of facetime on ESPN.  Also, the fact that he does not jack a lot of home runs likely leads to people to not think of him immediately when they think of “hitters.”

But the numbers should speak for themselves.  As a means of providing a measure, I will include numbers for Pujols, Ramirez and Ortiz.

The batting averages of these four players are as follows:

  • Pujols – .334
  • Ichiro – .331
  • Ramirez – .314
  • Ortiz – .286

So Pujols has a better batting average than any of the four.  But Pujols draws quite a lot of walks compared to Ichiro.  In fact, the three sluggers draw more walks than Ichiro.  Therefore, let’s look at hits per game…

  • Ichiro – 1.41 hits per game
  • Pujols – 1.24
  • Ramirez – 1.14
  • Ortiz – 1.02

In this case, Ichiro is able to get a hit in a game more often than Pujols or Manny or Big Papi.  BUT, the argument against this stat is that Ichiro is a leadoff hitter and tends to receive more at bats than the other hitters.  For example, Ichiro has 4.27 at bats versus 3.7 for Pujols.  But then again, a walk takes away an at bat.  So it could go either way.

But speaking of walks, some claim that intentional walks speak to the threat great hitters present.  Big Papi and Manny and Pujols being intentionally walked is well publicized, but in 2008 Ichiro was intentionally walked as many times as Ortiz (12).  And, remember, Ichiro’s speed makes him a threat to steal second (if put on with no one or base) or to create difficulties in turning a double play.

Well, perhaps we should look at hits in a season.  Knowing that Ichiro has hit for more than 200 hits in each of his eight MLB seasons, you should know where this is going.  But here are the stats for average hits per season:

  • Ichiro – 225.6
  • Pujols – 191.4
  • Ramirez – 153.7
  • Ortiz – 145.6

Now, I only took seasons that the players participated in a large number of games.  So I did remove some of the “empty” seasons that Ortiz played in Minnesota.  Nevertheless, Ichiro tops this list as well.

And, if you want to cling to HRs — something that Ichiro does not hit often —  and using that as a measuring stick, then let’s look at something Pujols, Ramirez and Ortiz do not do often — triples.

For every triple that Pujols, Ramirez and Ortiz hit, Ichiro hits 4.8, 5.9 and 5 triples respectively.  Conversely, for every home run that Ichiro hits, Pujols, Ramirez and Ortiz hit 4.5, 4.3 and 3.8 home runs.  So Ichiro is more likely to hit a home run than Pujols, Ramirez or Ortiz are to hit a triple.

What does that mean?  Nothing.  It just shows how arbitrary using home runs to define the best hitter in baseball really is.  So hits — no matter if that hit is a single or a home run — is the only thing that matters when it comes to the “best hitter in baseball.”  So, let’s go deeper into Ichiro’s hits.

Keep in mind that Ichiro has over 3000 hits during his tenure in professional baseball.  Well, 3085 hits to be exact, which sets the record for hits by a Japanese player.

People tend to disregard this stat because around 40 percent of the hits occurred in Japan.  They argue that the quality of play in the NPB is not the same as the MLB (although I am sure that Japan would quickly point out that they are now a two-time winner of the World Baseball Invitational).

Doing what he always does.

Doing what he always does.

But 3000 hits is still an impressive feat in baseball.  And, keep in mind, the NPB plays about 20 games fewer than the MLB.  In fact, Ichiro averaged more hits in Japan (177.4 per full season) than Ramirez and Ortiz averaged in the U.S.  Furthermore, his average hits per season throughout his entire professional career (203.1) is higher than Pujols’s average!!

Is this not enough proof that Ichiro is the best hitter in baseball!?

Number 51 also holds the single-season hit record in BOTH Japan (210) and the United States (262).  In 2004, when Ichiro passed George Sisler for the MLB single-season hit record, some claimed that he did it only because Major Leaguers play in more games today than during Sisler’s time.  While true, consider the following:

Ichiro had an astonishing 46 more hits than Michael Young, who had 216 hits in 2004.  Also, and more importantly, Sisler’s record stood for 84 years!!!  Even with more games in an MLB season, no one recently came close to the record until 2001…when Ichiro hit 242!

[Darin Erstad did have 240 hits in 2000, and Wade Boggs had the same amount in 1985.  Before that, no one had come close since 1930!]

If you are looking solely at hitting, then there is little question that Ichiro is the best hitter in baseball today.  I am not claiming he is the greatest hitter of all time.  Just like with Tiger Woods, I am not calling someone the “greatest” of anything while they are still competing.

But considering that he will likely have 200 hits for a record ninth consecutive season, Ichiro is by far the best hitter playing in the Majors today.

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5 thoughts on “Ichiro or 一朗? Both mean “Best Hitter in Baseball”

  1. Pingback: イチロー = 野球で最高の打者 « Uncle Popov’s Drunken Sports Rant

  2. The “best” hitter is somewhat subjective, depending on your definition of a “hitter.” Is it merely the ability to get hits? Or is it the person who performs the best with the bat in his hand.

    The stats above are not false, and if you base your findings on just those stats then you indeed have a point. But simply using “hits” as a bases to your opinion can be misleading. When most people think of great hitters they consider average, power, the ability to get on base, performance in clutch situations and many other qualities I failed to mention.

    Lets make a simple comparison:
    G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP
    162 704 596 124 198 44 2 43 129 7 4 94 66 .333 .426 .628 1.054 172 374 21
    162 751 693 111 231 26 8 9 59 39 9 47 67 .333 .378 .433 .811 117 300 5
    162 693 585 111 184 39 1 40 132 3 2 94 128.314 .411 .591 1.003 155 346 17

    Simply getting hits does not mean that the player is the best hitter in baseball. You mentioned that a walk simply means that walk takes away an at-bat, that is not true. A walk means that the player has reached base. To win a game, you must score runs, and to score runs you have to be on base. Ichiro’s BA is .333 the same as Pujols. However Pujols has a higher OBP, Slugging % and OPS. Ichiro may steal about 32 more bases a season, but it does not make up for a difference in 34 HR, which are guaranteed runs.

    As a lead-off man, Ichiro is an excellent threat on the bases with speed and a good BA, however he does not walk enough and therefore has a respectable but not outstanding OBP -an important trait for a lead-off hitter. Even Derek Jeter who has a .317 lifetime BA has a higher OBP at .387. This could be a reason why Jeter also scores more runs per season. (Of course it also helps to have power hitters behind who can drive you home)

    There is also a difference in runs produced (RBI+Runs -HR) Pujols and Ramirez are responsible for 210 and 203 runs produced respectively, Ichiro’s is 161. This means Ichiro is resposible for 40-50 less runs a season than Ramirez and Pujols yet he has more plate appearances from his position in the line up.

    On top of all this, his OPS+ is about 17% better than league average while Ramirez sits at 55% and Pujols at 72%.

    To say Ichiro is the “best” hitter is misleading. One can say that he gets a lot of hits, but to base the greatness of a hitter purely on that statistic is subject to a lot of debate.

    In case some of you wonder, Pujols is the first set of stats, Suzuki the second, and Ramirez the third.

    • Thanks for the comment Chris. I sincerely appreciate the well-argued and “civil” response.

      The problem with your argument, however, is you are making a case for the best offensive player in baseball rather than the best hitter. Too often I have been involved in this discussion and people are quick to bring up the fact that Ichiro does not hit home runs. However, the discussion is NOT about home runs or slugging percentage or walks. It is not about adding the qualified “extra base” to the term “hit” to justify the argument. It is looking at hits, pure and simple.

      Defined, a hit is “a play in which the batter safely reaches a base after hitting the ball, without aid from a fielding error or fielder’s choice” (www.nocryinginbaseball.com). That is the only thing I am looking at. Hits. Yes, a home run is a hit…but so is an infield single, a bunt, an opposite field line drive, a ground rule double, a double, a triple, an inside-the-park home run, etc.

      So the argument here is about successfully making contact with the ball and reaching base safely without the benefit of an error or a fielder’s choice. By the strict definition, Ichiro is at the very least in the conversation of the best hitters in baseball, and at most THE best hitter.

      Allow me to throw out two sets of numbers for you. Both are 162-game averages…

      G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB CS BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS OPS+ TB GDP HBP SH SF IBB
      162 721 639 98 194 34 6 7 60 9 7 71 52 .303 .375 .409 .784 118 262 11 5 3 4 8

      162 751 693 111 231 26 8 9 59 39 9 47 67 .333 .378 .433 .811 118 300 5 5 3 3 16

      Fairly similar. One is consistent in the discussion of best hitters in baseball. The other, however, gets slighted. Notice that neither are home run hitters, though.

      Well, simply put, the second was is Ichiro. The first one is Pete Rose. Now, many would be quick to note that Ted Williams is the greatest “hitter” of all time. And it is difficult to argue against that, he was damn good. But, in terms of actual hits, Rose AND Ichiro are just as good, if not better. Neither are as good a home run hitter….but that is not the central argument here.

      As I began this reply, too often people equate “best hitter” with home runs, conflating the two different concepts. RBIs and Runs are a product (or potential product) of a hit. But, when those are brought into the discussion, the debate moves from “best hitter” to “best offensive player.” Ichiro is not part of the latter debate. He is, however, in the center of any discussion regarding best hitter.

      Placekickers in football are typically among the top scorers in football. In fact, in 2008, the top 13 scorers in the NFL were kickers (and 24 of the top 25!). No one claims that they are the best player on the field. But they are (for lack of a better word) “best” scorers in football. In the 2005-06 NBA season, Brevin Knight was second in the association in assists per game. He is/was one of the top passers in the league (when healthy). But no one would claim that he is the best player in the NBA. Kicking (in the NFL) and assists (in the NBA) are just one aspect of those respective sports.

      It is no different when discussing hits in baseball. It is just one aspect.

      Point is, I am not claiming Ichiro is the best offensive player. But he is, in my opinion, the best hitter in the Majors. While the phrase “best hitter in baseball” is misused far too often, it should not distract from what Ichiro has done, especially when hit is strictly (and correctly) applied.

    • Oh, and any argument, even when numbers are used, is a subjective one. I did not claim that it was an objective or definitive conclusion (that Ichiro was the best hitter). What is misleading is using “best hitter” to mean “best player” or “best offensive player.”

  3. “Defined, a hit is “a play in which the batter safely reaches a base after hitting the ball, without aid from a fielding error or fielder’s choice” (www.nocryinginbaseball.com). That is the only thing I am looking at.”

    If you are looking purely at the number of hits a person earns per season (not taking into account the extra base hits) than Ichiro definitely gets more “hits” than practically any other player. However, as you stated at the beginning of the article -Ichiro bats at the lead-off position, and that makes all the difference. Ichiro also has had other good hitters behind him so he might also see a decent number of good pitches thrown over the plate -this year of course may be an exception. Pujols walks quite a bit, so I do not think he would have as much hits if he hit leading off. Besides, he lacks real speed and is not a big threat to steal bases so I would rather walk him than Ichiro, the same goes for Manny as well. Just speculating here.

    Each player is thus selected and placed in the line-up according to his abilities and the other players on hand at the time. Yes, numbers are indeed subjective and sadly are sometimes the only thing that committees use to enshrine players.

    Thanks for the response, it is nice to see that people can counter point without flaming, whoring or otherwise destroying another person’s view.

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