How Valuable was Ichiro’s Bat During his Prime?

Ichiro Suzuki made a huge impact in the bigs right away in 2001 winning the batting title, MVP, ROTY, and season’s hits leader, and was arguably the best hitter in the game the next 9 seasons, but really, how valuable was his bat? At the surface, obviously Ichiro was a terrific hitter, collecting over 200 hits in 10+ seasons (an all-time record), and gathering a batting average over .300 eleven of his sixteen seasons, but looking at the value hitting stats/sabermetrics, his bat may not have been as valuable as people may think in different scenarios. Certainly having Ichiro at the top of the lineup is key, when all the guy does is hit singles and get on base, but in order to win games, the team needs to score runs.

All batting average does is calculate hits divided by at-bats, factoring out what types of hits those are. Secondary average factors in what type of hit it was (single, double, triple, home run) and adds value for the better hit. Thus, a player with 35+ doubles, 15+ home runs, and 7+ triples will have a higher SecA than a player with less than 25 doubles, 10 home runs, and 5 triples, even if that second player has more hits overall than the first player. So, overall the player with the higher SecA is more valuable because the more bases a player collects, gets them closer to crossing home plate, hence scoring a run, hence getting closer to winning. Ichiro’s career SecA is a very poor .197. Sure that is one statistic, so take a look at some other stats that calculate the value of a bat.

Runs created per game calculates how many runs per game a lineup of nine of a certain player would score. Ichiro’s career RC/G was 5.7. Another great hitter in the conversation of best leadoff hitter of all-time is Rickey Henderson, who’s RC/G was 6.8. Another stat is OPS+, which is OPS (combination of on base percentage and slugging) factoring in league and park factors. Ichiro’s career OPS+ was 117, with league average being 100. Take another similar hitter to Mr. Suzuki; Lou Brock had an OPS+ of 125 during his prime. Finally, a stat called total average, or TotA, calculates a hitter’s total contribution with the bat. The best hitters in the league have a TotA of .915 or higher; Ichiro had a career TotA of .729. However, on the base paths he was a terror to pitchers, and despite him being mostly a singles hitter at the plate, he played the definition of small ball to a tee.

There have been several leadoff hitters throughout the history of the game that never struck out or walked much; the typical great leadoff hitter finds a way to get the ball in play and use their speed to reach base(s). Ichiro Suzuki was one of the best at that description. The way Ichiro used the small ball tactic in the American League was historic to the game. Despite Ichicro heavily being just a singles hitter, he is 9th on the all-time list for singles, and is the only one ever to have ten 200+ hit seasons in a row. Because he had so many hits in just 16 seasons, his WAR concludes that his bat actually was pretty significant, even if there are some numbers that say other wise. With over 3000 hits, a career batting average over .300, and a WAR of 5.0 or higher 4 times during his prime years, Ichiro does indeed have a worthy Hall of Fame bat.


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