By his standards, Ichiro Suzuki had a down season in 2011. For the first time since his MLB debut in 2001, the Seattle Mariners cornerstone failed to collect 200 hits, bat .300, or post better than replacement level WAR. Suzuki’s .272 clip, OPS+ of 84, and -0.4 WAR last year might all be signs the end is near for the future Hall of Famer and that the 572 hits needed for 3,000 might be too tall an order. Suzuki’s decline may also have subtler implications for a trend that’s been on the rise in baseball the past decade.
Since 2003, players have had 200 hits in a season 48 times. Of these instances, players have scored more than 90 runs 40 times, or 83.3 percent of the 200-hit seasons. That’s less than the historical rate of 89.6 percent and a marked decline from 1990 to 2002 when no player with more than 200 hits failed to score 90 runs. It’s a credit to a run environment that’s declined in baseball, in general, since tougher testing rules were enacted for performance enhancing drugs and amphetamines.
A full list of the men with 200 hits and 90 or fewer runs since 2003 is as follows:
What to gleam from this information? A few things stick out. First, the trend favors men who don’t walk tremendously often, no player on the list collecting 50 free passes. With the exception of Anderson, who had a career-best 131 OPS+ in 2003, none of the men made their mark here with power hitting either, and none had OPS scores over .900.
Looking deeper, the results get murkier. Some of the players were on abysmally bad teams like Suzuki on the 2010 Mariners, who went 61-101 and scored a Deadball-esque 513 runs or Juan Pierre, whose 3.3 WAR was second-best for the 66-96 Cubs in 2006. In all, six of the eight teams in question scored less than 750 runs, and six, though not the same six teams posted losing records. Could Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez have scored more had they not toiled for the Pittsburgh Pirates of 2004 and 2006, respectively? Perhaps.
Then there’s Young’s 88-run season in 2011 for the Texas Rangers who won 96 games and scored 855 runs. The Rangers’ offensive juggernaut was beset with injuries, however, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, and Josh Hamilton averaging 123 games apiece, and Young’s spot in the batting order varied. Excluding the second spot, where he had just 12 plate appearances, Young most often hit third, fourth, or fifth. He got his most appearances, by far, in the cleanup spot, scoring 47 runs following 392 plate appearances. But he scored most often batting fifth, 24 runs following 155 plate appearances.
Left unsaid in all this is that Suzuki turned 38 in October 2011, Young 35. But even as men like them drop out of baseball, others will surely follow in this trend if the lesser run environment holds.
Graham Womack is founder and editor of Baseball: Past and Present.