I've been noticing the reaction to Ichiro's 10th season of 200 hits is a little - un-amazed, including on the main page at Lookout Landing here where Jeff Sullivan said he feels bad about not being amazed anymore. I'm still amazed by Ichiro, but I'll admit it takes a little more work. It's not JUST because he holds the major league record for HBPs by a player born in Japan with 47, though that's usually the focus of my statistical work - it's really the hits. I'm amazed because it's gotten so hard to compare him to anyone else who played the game. One of the things we like, especially those of us who are sort of stat-enthusiast, is that the history of the game has given us such a detailed record of what other players have done so we can put current players in perspective to some extent - and then Ichiro comes along and blows everything away. I would argue, in a phrase that may cause english majors to fall face first on their feather quills, that Ichiro isn't just better than everyone he's playing against now, but he's more better than anyone else has ever been against their competition. Below are a couple of slightly obscure statistics you might not have seen anyplace else which might give you the idea of why I think that.First, what's everyone else in the major league's been doing while Ichiro has gotten 2,230 hits (and counting)? Here are the non-Ichiro leaders in hits since 2001 (as of this morning):
So in the span of 10 years, Ichiro has built a lead of 323 hits on his closest competition. He could have taken a year and a half off and still had more hits than anyone else since he joined the league in 2001. There has only been one other player to out hit his closest competition by such a wide margin over the span of 10 seasons - Stan Musial out-hit everyone else in the league by 363 hits from 1943 to 1952, but there were a few historical events in those years that might have kept some of Stan's competition off the field. (He missed all of 1945 himself - out with a conscription.) The best Pete Rose ever did was out-hit 2nd place (Lou Brock) by 260 hits from 1968 to 1977. Ty Cobb out hit Tris Speaker by 281 hits from 1908 to 1917, but those are the only players who have ever been 250 hits ahead of everyone else over a 10 hit span - Cobb, Rose, Musial, and Ichiro. Musial gets a little bit of an asterix for doing it during a span of two military drafts, but all I can say about Ichiro's ten years is maybe all the best American baseball players have gone into mixed martial arts or something. Or Ichiro's just amazing.
Then there's the 10 consecutive seasons with 200 hits thing - we know that's never been done, and we know no other player has had 2230 hits in any 10 consecutive seasons (Rogers Hornsby has the 2nd best 10 year total with 2085 - so Ichiro beat that by only 145). So getting as many hits as Ichiro in 10 consecutive seasons is too hard for everyone else, so to make it fair lets compare Ichiro's 10 consecutive seasons with any ten seasons any other player has put up:
Ty Cobb - 2,155 (1907, 1909, 1911-12, 1915-17, 1921-22, 1924)
Paul Waner - 2,117 (1927-30, 1931-34, 1936-27 and either 1926 or 1932)
Pete Rose - 2,114 (1965-66, 1968-70, 1973, 1975-77, 1979)
That's not very close, is it? Give everyone else their best 10 seasons, and compare them to Ichiro's first 10 seasons, and he's still ahead of them all by 85 hits - plus whatever he does for the rest of the season.
If you want to look at spans of consecutive seasons again, I think it's only fair to give everyone else one extra year. Sort of a handicap. Here are the best 11 year spans in baseball history:
Paul Waner* - 2,293 (1927-37)
Pete Rose* - 2,265 (1968-1978)
Willie Keeler - 2,251 (1894-1904)
Rogers Hornsby - 2,248 (1919-1929)
(*- Waner and Rose had other 11 year spans with over 2230 hits, but I'm listing only their best totals)
Ha! Take that Ichiro, those 4 guys beat your ten consecutive year hit total, and it only took them 11 seasons to do it! Waner got you buy a whole 63 hits! Ichiro would need another 243 hits between now and the end of next year to break the record for total hits in 12 consecutive season with a full season to spare, and that's probably only a 50/50 chance - so he IS mortal after all! (Pete Rose and Paul Waner both had 2,473 hits in their best 12 consecutive seasons).
So really - try to keep the amazement alive. He's not just re-writing the record books, he's rewriting, reformatting, and reprinting them using the ink of the genetically engineered squid-human hybrid pitcher who will be designed in 2015 when computer simulations determine that only a pitcher with at least 5 different throwing arms can shut down Ichiro. (The Yankees genetic mutation/mad science budget is going to be outrageous in 2015 - new meaning to 'director of player development', and everyone knows Ichiro can't hit 5th handed pitchers. He kills pitches from the 7th hand though.) I continue to be amazed, and will continue to believe that he is in fact more better than any other hitter ever has been.