A debate has been underway in the comments here at HHS today — would Ichiro Suzuki have made it to 4,000 major league hits had he played a full career in MLB? Keeping in mind that Ichiro’s first season in MLB was his age 27 season and he is currently in his age 39 season, let’s look at some numbers, after the jump.
Most regular season hits in MLB, age 27 season through age 39 season:
1. Ichiro Suzuki 2,734 (and counting)
2. Pete Rose 2,658
3. Doc Cramer 2,397
4. Sam Rice 2,374
5. Tris Speaker 2,312
6. Derek Jeter 2,308
7. Ty Cobb 2,300
8. Stan Musial 2,299
9. Tony Gwynn 2,297
10. Honus Wagner 2,287
In all, 35 players other than Ichiro have accumulated 2,000 hits from age 27 through age 39. I took those 35 guys and for each one I checked to see how many hits he had before age 27. Then, for each guy I calculated what percentage that before-27 total constituted of his age 27-39 total. On average, those 35 guys generated (assuming I’ve run the numbers correctly) 30.47% as many hits before age 27 as they did from 27 through 39. At that rate, Ichiro would have generated 833 hits before age 27 (plus 30% of whatever number of hits between now and the end of the 2013 season). That would have put him around 3,600 by the end of this season, well short of 4,000.
To be at 4,000 now, he would have needed 1,266 hits before age 27, which is 46.3% of his current age 27 through age 39 total. How many of our 35 guys who topped 2,000 hits from age 27 through 39 also managed to reach that percentage before age 27? The answer is, six of them. Ty Cobb generated 69% as many hits before age 27 as he did from ages 27 to 39. For Hank Aaron, that percentage was 59.5%; for Tris Speaker, 49.8; Eddie Murray, 48.1%, Eddie Collins, 47.5%; Nap Lajoie 46.5%. The other 29 guys on the list all generated lower numbers using this method than the 46.3% figure that would give Ichiro 4,000 now. What this all means for the question of how likely it would have been that Ichiro would have been able to reach 4,000, I’ll leave to you, but at least you have some historical data that might provide some clues.
By the way, Ichiro’s WAR numbers this season are interesting. It doesn’t require WAR to realize that he has had a terrible season as a hitter — so bad it would not normally justify a roster spot as a major league corner outfielder. But WAR suggests that his baserunning and defense have combined to make him a serviceable player despite his decline as a hitter. His positive Rfield number of 11, if it holds up to the end of the season, would be almost unheard of for an outfielder 39 or older. Indeed, the only other outfielder to generate more than 6 positive fielding WAR runs at age 39 or older was Sam Rice back in 1930. Very few players manage to keep a regular outfield spot at that age, and to do that and also be a real plus-fielder out there is almost unprecedented.
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