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When Optimism Goes Too Far

Dave Boling, in today's News Tribune:

It wouldn't take much to make this a benchmark summer, to elevate the Seattle Mariners' leadoff man into a position as the most celebrated and accomplished professional athlete in the region's history.

That's not overstating it. If this slender 31-year-old import from Japan could, say, bat .400, it would rate as the most impressive individual accomplishment we've seen on fields and courts and diamonds in these precincts.

So, it "wouldn't take much" for Ichiro to bat .400?

And I think Willie Bloomquist accomplishing that feat would be much more impressive.

Last season, Ichiro finished with the major leagues' best batting average (.372), and that includes what he called a slow start, in which he batted .321 before All-Star break.

Of course, Ichiro's career batting average heading into the season was .328, so that was actually a normal start.

But how many typical fans could have told you of Sisler's record? And the team surrounding Ichiro was so awful last season that it somewhat muted the impact of his achievement.

Actually, it made the achievement that much more prominent and garish, since it was the only thing worth paying attention too for most of the season.

What if getting 262 hits was only a prelude to bigger things this season?

Let's round it out for mathematical purposes. If he gets 700 at-bats, Ichiro would need 280 hits to reach .400. That's 18 more than he had last year in 704 plate appearances.

In a 26-week season, he needs fewer than one more single a week to become an international legend.

And he needs one fewer single a week to fall to being a .347 hitter. What's easier: getting more hits or making more outs?

Ted Williams compiled a .406 average in the momentous 1941 season, in which Joe DiMaggio also put together a 56-game hitting streak - another seemingly unreachable achievement that Ichiro might be quietly plotting to overtake.

Some math:

Ichiro is a career .339 hitter, and he averages 4.29 at bats per game. Based on his BA and average number of AB's, he has an 83.1% chance of recording at least one hit in any given game. Squaring that figure gives Ichiro a 69% chance of recording at least one hit in two consecutive games.

His odds of getting at least one hit in 56 consecutive games are .003%, or once every 319 opportunities. In other words, over a 17,884 game span - just over 110 full seasons - you could expect Ichiro to put together a 56-game hit streak once.

Going by last season's .372 BA and 4.37 AB/game, Ichiro's chances of tying the hit streak are .039% - once every 26 opportunities, or once over a 1435-game (about 9 seasons) span.

Over the post-break portion of last season, Ichiro batted .429. For the month of August, .463.

Over the post-break portion of last season, JT Snow hit .387. For the month of August, .452.

Spring training not only doesn't count, it's sometimes not even an accurate indicator of the season a hitter will have. Still, in Arizona this spring, Ichiro batted .436 and had a hit in every game he played through Thursday.

Add it up and get him off to a good April, and it's likely we could be on .400 watch all summer.

Ichiro hit .429 last spring, and followed that with one of the worst months of his career.

But the pressure, the strain, the physical and emotional drain, the defenses stacked up against him ... there's a reason nobody has batted .400 since 1941.

Yeah, it has to do with the odds, not the strain. The Elias Sports Bureau estimates that the chances of a career .300 hitter reaching .400 in 600 at bats is one in 1,919,940,000,000,000.

He should stay healthy and at or near full physical effectiveness the entire season.

Ichiro's only missed 14 games over four seasons, and he's still 61 points away from .400.

(Other reasons)

Pretty worthless support.

There's a case to be made for Ichiro having a shot at .400 - if you pick up an issue of Grand Salami this month before a ballgame, you'll see that I wrote an article that touches on that very subject. As a speedy contact hitter who doesn't strike out, doesn't walk much, and who puts the ball on the ground, Ichiro gives himself the best odds in baseball of getting a hit in any given game.

Dave Boling didn't make that case, and the result is a pretty weak article.

(Opening Day: just over four hours away!)