posted on Sep, 29 2004 @ 08:51 PM
The Amazing Ichiro
Everybody is keeping an eye on Ichiro Suzuki and his chase for the single-season record for hits, as well they should. What impresses me the most is
not that gaudy hit total (he's at 254 after two hits on Tuesday), but what it implicitly means.
What it means is that Ichiro has accomplished the impressive task of keeping his batting average really high while piling up a ton of at-bats. Quite
simply, the more at-bats you have, the harder it is to keep your batting average in the clouds.
Rob Neyer discussed this when Nomar Garciaparra flirted with a .400 batting average in 2000. He said that Garciaparra wouldn't reach .400 because he
doesn't walk much, and that means he's going to have to keep his average up in more at-bats, which is difficult. If that's not immediately apparent to
you, here's a summary of an example he provided that paints the picture clearly.
In any given day, a great many hitters bat .400 (36 players did so Tuesday). In any given week, there are usually at least 10-12 hitters who bat at
least .400. In any given month, a few players usually hit at least .400. In any given year, nobody's hit .400 since Ted Williams.
So, how amazing is it that Ichiro may set the record for most at-bats in a season, and he's still hitting .372?
Well, coming into this year, there had been 103 instances of a batter getting at least 660 at-bats in a season. The combined batting average of all
those players in all those seasons was .299. Ichiro will not only set the record for highest batting average by a player during a season in which he
had at least 660 at-bats, he will be the first player to hit above .355. Five players have hit at least .350.
Darin Erstad hit .355 in 676 at-bats in 2000.
Lloyd Waner hit .353 in 662 at-bats in 1929.
Don Mattingly hit .352 in 677 at-bats in 1986.
Jack Tobin hit .352 in 671 at-bats in 1921.
And Ichiro hit .350 in 692 at-bats in 2001.
This year, Ichiro has 254 hits in 682 at-bats with five games left. If he can go 13-for-24 to finish the season, he will post one of the 100 best
batting averages of all-time while setting the record for most at-bats in a season. That would be something.
Just so you know, only three of the 28 .400-plus batting average seasons came during a season in which the player had at least 600 at-bats. Of the top
100 single season batting averages, only 17 times did the player have at least 600 at-bats. Only five times did the player have at least 625 at-bats.
Only one player had at least 650 at-bats -- Al Simmons hit .387 in 654 at-bats in 1925.
So, right now we're probably witnessing the greatest instance of a player maintaining a ridiculously high batting average over a ridiculously large
number of at-bats since 1925.
Of course, after saying all that, it's just incredible that Ty Cobb was able to keep a .366 batting average after 11,434 career at-bats