Ichiro Suzuki and the increasing trend of 200 hits and 90 or fewer runs

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:

1 Michael Young 2011 213 88 34 TEX 159 689 631 41 6 11 106 47 7 78 6 2 .338 .380 .474 .854
2 Ichiro Suzuki 2010 214 74 36 SEA 162 732 680 30 3 6 43 45 13 86 42 9 .315 .359 .394 .754
3 Ichiro Suzuki 2009 225 88 35 SEA 146 678 639 31 4 11 46 32 15 71 26 9 .352 .386 .465 .851
4 Michael Young 2007 201 80 30 TEX 156 692 639 37 1 9 94 47 5 107 13 3 .315 .366 .418 .783
5 Juan Pierre 2006 204 87 28 CHC 162 750 699 32 13 3 40 32 0 38 58 20 .292 .330 .388 .717
6 Freddy Sanchez 2006 200 85 28 PIT 157 632 582 53 2 6 85 31 6 52 3 2 .344 .378 .473 .851
7 Jack Wilson 2004 201 82 26 PIT 157 693 652 41 12 11 59 26 0 71 8 4 .308 .335 .459 .794
8 Garret Anderson 2003 201 80 31 ANA 159 673 638 49 4 29 116 31 10 83 6 3 .315 .345 .541 .885

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.


Ichiro Suzuki and the increasing trend of 200 hits and 90 or fewer runs — 42 Comments

  1. Graham — In the 2nd ‘graf, the 2nd & 3rd sentences are garbled in the sense of “more than/less than” and percentages that don’t match the raw numbers — e.g., if 8 of 48 failed to exceed 90 runs, that’s 16.7%, not 83.3%.

      • I think it’s a good observation.

        As for the reasons, I think you touched on the biggest one — these happen to be mostly low-walk seasons.

        In the past 50 years, there were 212 hitter-seasons of 200+ hits, with an average of 209 hits and 54 walks. The 8 players in your study averaged 207 hits and 36 walks, so they’re down about 20 times on base.

        Furthermore, these guys averaged 11 HRs, compared to a 50-year average of 20 HRs.

      • In an attempt to isolate the other factors distinct from the counts of walks and HRs, I calculated the percentage of non-HR Runs out of non-HR times on base (not counting reached-on-error).

        The 50-year group scored about 35% of the times they got on via hit (not HR), walk or HBP. The 8 guys listed above averaged 31%.

        • Interesting stuff. One of my regular readers has a a theory that runners will generally score 35-40 percent of their times on base. Thirty-one percent is definitely low end.

        • Strike outs have increased in frequency. More strike outs mean fewer productive outs, which might be consistent with a trend toward fewer runs per TOB.

  2. Garrett Anderson’s number is bizarre. 80 Runs scored, 29 on his own HR’s. That leaves him with an additional 203 times on base leading to only 51 runs scored. That 25% ratio (and that doesn’t include any times he got on base via error or fielder’s choice) is distinctly worse than anyone else on the list

    • You’re right, it is strange. He actually led the league in doubles with 49 so he put himself into scoring position plenty of times. Looking at the Angel’s lineups that year, he mostly batter 4th and some 3rd. I don’t see anything particularly horrific about the hitters who came up behind him.

    • Let’s face it – the man was slooooow.

      Anderson had 3 seasons (1998, 2003, 2010) with more extra-base hits than runs scored. Of the 30 qualifying seasons like that since 1969, the top two in both Runs and XBH belong to Anderson.

      • Ernie Lombardi, Mr. Slow. 1938 he won the batting title and managed to score on less than 22%. In 1939 he beat that. He had 20 HR but only 43 runs, scoring slightly more than 16% of the time he was otherwise on base. Maybe he truly was the guy who couldn’t score from third base on a single.

          • Actually, you don’t need to do a Q&D. There are Times on Base values on B-R. The P-I query I just ran shows 23 players since 1901 with career (min. 3000 PAs) rate of Runs per TOB of less than 25%.

            Yadier Molina and Brian Schneider are currently on track to join this club. Most recent retired players are Kurt Manwaring, Mike Scioscia, Bruce Benedict and Milt May.

            Of the 23, only two were not catchers – Ken Reitz and Tommy Helms.

          • For the uninitiated, what exact specs did you put on your search to find runs per TOB, Doug? I’m also recently trying to figure out the P-I. I don’t understand how you can put runs/TOB in the drop down box.

          • bstar,

            The last criteria selection on the P-I query page allows you specify a criterion (unfortunately, just one), in terms of the relationship between two database variable.

            I selected R < 0.25 * TOBwROE

          • One thing that can’t be accounted for is how often these guys were pinch-run for. Probably not a big effect, but if you have a slow moving catcher on base in a late close game, you’re probably pulling him for someone faster.

        • Lombardi may have benefited from playing before we had enough data to fully analyze how slow he was. I wonder how many WAR he has now because of zeros in the Rroe and Rdp column? The slowest player I can quickly think of is Sean Casey, over 5600 PAs he lost about 2 WAR in these categories. Casey was only 2 runs below average baserunning in his career and Lombardi was 41, so I wonder if Big Ern would have approached -5 WAR in these categories?

  3. For the second dead-ball era of 1963 to 1968, there were only 21 seasons of 200+ hits. This was the run distribution:

    70-79 – 1 season
    80-89 – 1
    90-99 – 6
    100-109 – 5
    110-119 – 5
    120-129 – 3

    Curiuosly, Felipe Alou had both the second highest run total (122, 1966) and the lowest (72, 1968), both while playing for the Braves.

    My guess is if the run-scoring environment continues to trend down, focus will move away from power and more to speed. That may somewhat mitigate the trend you are hypothesizing towards fewer runs by players with high hit totals.

    The explanation for the recent seasons you identified is likely more to do with: a) age, b) playing on lousy teams, and c) just being slow of foot (or, at least, not particularly fast). All of the recent seasons you identified have one or more of these factors in play.

      • Shows how dramatic and swift the run decline was leading into the 1968 nadir – 2/3 of a run in 2 years for the NL.

        The Braves placed 5th both seasons and had only 4 fewer wins in 1968 (although they were 6 games under their Pythag in ’66, and 5 games over in ’68).

        • The overall run decline was part of it but the Braves also went from 1st in runs scored in the NL in 1966 to 7th in 1968 (they were 5th in 1967). Thought maybe they made some change to the park but they were 6th in ERA in all three of those years.

          • Also, Felipe Alou batted leadoff in 1966 (he had only 74 RBI), Aaron batted second. Manager Bobby Bragan had his lineup in order of what thought his best hitters were, which I’ve sometimes seen a few analysts advocate.

          • P-I seems to disagree.

            For 1966, Eddie Mathews batted 2nd 61 times, mostly in the second half of the season. Woody Woodward and Mack Jones each had 38 games.

            Aaron batted 3rd in every game he played that season.

          • “The Book” claims that playing your best hitters at the 1,2, and 4-hole would be the best play. The #3 hitter comes up too often in the first with no one on and two outs, according to the authors.

          • Hard to refute the Book on this one. Seriously.

            The counter-argument I’ve heard is that putting your best hitter at clean-up means he will lead off the 2nd inning too much. But, clearly, whatever number of times the #4 guy leads off the 2nd will be less than the number of times the #3 hitter bats with the bases empty in the 1st inning (unless the #3 hitter hits into a whole bunch of double plays to end the 1st inning).

          • @34
            Another small factor, the #3 hitter will have 16 to 18 more at bats than the #4 hitter over the course of a season.

          • Doug and Bstar – I wonder what % of managers continue to put their best hitter in the #3 spot? I would guess that it’s close to 100%. Course most of them have probably never heard of The Book.

          • Certainly too many.

            Consider Jose Bautista. Massive OPS on the 5th highest scoring team in the AL, playing in a very hitter friendly park. And he can get only 103 RBI batting 3rd, only 60 RBI other than himself. And, I do mean ONLY.

            Meanwhile, the #4 hitter Lind picks up almost as many RBI (87) in only 125 games with an OPS south of .750.

            Knock, knock. Anybody home, John Farrell.

          • Here’s the thing….what exactly is the qualification to be a baseball manager? In football, the coach is expected to constantly be thinking about strategy, innovation, outfoxing your opponent, etc. In baseball, it often seems the opposite is true. Managers are rewarded for being conservative. I remember in one of his Abstracts, Bill James suggested that prospective managers ought to be required to run through 1000 games of strat-o-matic or something similar so they could get a feel of what works and what doesn’t in terms of strategy. Nowadays you don’t really need to do that since there’s so much information available, yet I wonder how much it’s being utilized. Particularly the cutting edge stuff.

          • Joe Maddon’s Rays have led the league in UZR the last two seasons, and a lot of people are suggesting a lot of that has to do with Tampa Bay being a little bit ahead of the curve, as far as looking at batted ball data and where specific hitters tend to hit the ball and positioning their defense appropriately.

            I looked to see if Maddon had maybe batted Longoria at the 2 or 4 hole a lot last year, but Evan got most of his PA batting third.

          • The Rays are definitely a model for small-market teams, particularly since they are successfully competing against Evil Empires A and B.

          • Bill James also said managing success was first about managing people, second about in-game strategy and tactics.

            So, regardless of Maddon’s shrewdness as a tactician, his real success in Tampa is in creating an atmosphere where players want to play hard for themselves, their teammates and their manager.

            In my view, Cito Gaston was, at best, an ordinary tactician and probably worse than that, but was successful because players wanted to play for him.

  4. Fewest runs scored with more than 200 hits belongs to none other than George Sisler in 1929 while a member of the Braves. He had 205 hits and just 67 runs scored. Included among his hits were 40 doubles and 8 triples. The team BA, after subtracting Sisler’s stats, was .273. His scoring percentage was about 27%.

  5. I was intrigued by this percentage of scoring versus times on base idea, so I ran some numbers. The average has been pretty consistent between 32 and 38% since 1900. Some of the top names with more than 1,000 TOB: Harry Stovey, Arlie Latham, Ed Andrews, Joe Hornung, Abner Dalrymple

    Bottom 5: Bruce Benedict, Clay Dalrymple, Johnny Bassler, Spud Davis, Mike Scioscia

    This may be thrown off by some 1800 numbers and I would love to do a post about this, but won’t have time until next week.

  6. I like how for a 6 year stretch (2002-2007) Ichiro scored runs with a “binary” efficiency”


    He nearly scored less than 100 runs in the season he had 262 hits! It is clear that Ichiro is not as potent an offensive force as he was in Japan, but the fact is he has continued to excel at churning out hits.

    1.3889 hits per game in MLB
    1.3438 hits per game in Japan

    He has combined for 3710 hits in both leagues, with about 2/3 of that coming in MLB. This despite only playing 130-135 games a season in Japan. I think it is safe to say that if he played his entire career here he would have at least 3710 hits, and probably more.

  7. Great observations on Young and his very unique roll last year. Young is 35, but there’s no reason to think he’s on decline yet, he had a fine year last year and look for another this year. I think you may see a surprise in that the wild card team comes from the AL West this year.

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