Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro Suzuki has been a hitting machine ever since he burst onto the major league scene in 2001, at age 27, after a stellar career in Nippon Professional Baseball, the Japanese major leagues.
Entering 2011, he had a .331 lifetime batting average and 2,244 career hits. That's right, he had averaged 224 hits per season over the first ten years of his MLB career, and also collected at least 200 hits in each season, tying the major league record for such things, set by Pete Rose.
Ichiro has always kept himself in great physical condition and appeared to be highly focused on his craft. There didn't seem to be too many doubts that he could break Rose's record and keep cranking out 200-hit seasons for several more years, perhaps even getting to 3,000 hits in his MLB career. That would be a remarkable accomplishment for someone who started in American baseball at the age of 27.
Except it's not happening. At 37, Ichiro is having the worst year of his career; his .643 OPS entering Friday's games is over 100 points lower than his previous worst season, and with just 26 games left in Seattle's season, he has 156 hits and a career-low .274 batting average, nearly 30 points below his previous low of .303. He's played in all but one of Seattle's games this year -- and played the full game in all but two of the games he started.
Thursday night on MLB Network, the assembled commentators debated the issue: "Can Ichiro get to 200 hits this year?" The two former major league players on the panel, Harold Reynolds and Sean Casey, both emphatically said, "Yes!", primarily based on emotion rather than reason; they cited Ichiro's intensity and preparation and the fact that he's always done it.
That's all well and good, but we are now dealing with mathematics and a very short time remaining. Ichiro, prior to 2011, had averaged 1.413 hits per game over his career. This year, that number is far lower, just 1.156 hits per game. Even if he returned to that career level, he'd have just 37 hits in the 26 remaining Mariners games; that would fall seven short of the milestone.
To get to 200 hits for this season, Ichiro would have to average 1.692 hits in each remaining Mariners game. Even in his record-breaking 262-hit season in 2004, he did not reach that level; that season, he averaged 1.627 hits per game. He does have 51 multi-hit games this year; he'd have to essentially perform at that level for an entire month to reach the 200-hit plateau. He did get off to a good start in his first September game Thursday night, going 2-for-4 against the Angels.
So it would appear that unless the Mariners star has the September of all time, he'll fall short of his 11th consecutive 200-hit season.
Do you think he'll do that, and make it? Vote in our poll.