Greatest Hitter Ever?

Is Ichiro the best hitter of all-time?

By: Chris Ross

Everybody knows that the Japanese make high quality machinery, and one of the best products to come out of Japan is the machine-like Ichiro Suzuki.

Last week, Ichiro became the first player in Major League history to have 200 hits in an astounding 10 straight seasons. Of course, with any phenomenal stat for any athlete there is always talk of where that athlete ranks towards others of his kind. There have been so many great hitters that have come and gone in the Major Leagues, and we have to wonder where Ichiro ranks among them?

There is no doubt in my mind that Ichiro is one of the greatest hitters of all time, but what is questionable is his status of the greatest ever.

How about we compare some statistics.

Ted Williams, the one player that many people have failed to mention in this discussion, could possibly be the greatest. In 19 seasons Ted Williams finished with a career batting average of .344, a staggering .482 on-base percentage and 521 home runs. However, what is even more impressive about those numbers is that he missed 3 seasons in the prime of his career from 1943-1945 because of World War II. Even at the age of 41 Williams still hit a solid .316 in 113 games. Oh yeah, he was also the last player to hit above .400 in a season.

A .366 career batting average, .433 on-base, and never having a season with a batting average under .323. The man who put up these astounding numbers is Ty Cobb. Cobb also had 9 consecutive seasons with at least 200 hits.

Whenever you speak of the best hitters in baseball history Babe Ruth is going to come into the conversation 99% of the time. This is not without good reason. We all know about the 714 home runs that he hit, but we sometimes forget that he also hit for average. Ruth finished his career with a .342 batting average and a single season high at .393. He also had an on-base percentage of over .500 in multiple seasons.

Of course there are a number of other players that I would love to go through, but the above are the ones that I felt are in need of going further in-depth of. Other hitters that I could have gone farther in-depth with include Pete Rose, Tony Gwyn, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, etc. If you feel that I am missing anyone desperately important then please let it be known.

Let’s get back to the man in question.

Ichiro is one of those once in a forever players and not just because he is a great player. It is the quirky way in which he hits the ball and conducts himself as a person on and off the field. Albert Pujols is a great hitter, but he has as technically a sound swing as it gets. On the other hand, I’m not going to be telling my kid to pull away from the ball à la Ichiro

With that being said, the way in which Ichiro conducts himself has nothing to do with how good of a hitter he is. Despite his 10 straight 200 hit seasons, there have been a number of seasons in his career that have not been too impressive. If you include this season, there will be four years in his MLB career in which he has batted under .315, and only once has he had an on-base percentage above .400.

Personally, I don’t believe that on-base percentage is a big part of being a great hitter because it does not actually involve hitting the ball. With that being said, it still is a part of being an all-around hitter and Ichiro flat out does not walk very often.

Moreover, Ichiro has played 7 of his 10 seasons in the Majors over the age of 30, which means we have no idea what he could have done if he had started his career at say 23 years of age rather than 27.

Now, even though Ichiro is my favourite baseball of all-time, I think that there is enough evidence to conclude that he is not the greatest hitter of all-time. Top 5, yes. Best ever, no.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I’m now on twitter follow me @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favour.

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About Chris Ross
Questions, comments, suggestions? Send yours to cross_can15@hotmail.com. Follow me on twitter @paintstheblack

16 Responses to Greatest Hitter Ever?

  1. Bud Denney says:

    I’ll settle for the best hitter I’ve ever seen play in my lifetime

  2. chappy81 says:

    He’s by far the best hitter I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. I can’t believe I’ve heard some people say he shouldn’t be in the HOF. If he’d played here his whole life he’d be threatening the all-time hit record before you know it. The biggest knock on him is that he doesn’t really do many interviews and stuff to let people know who he is. I feel like I know Felix Hernandez better than him, and he’s been around for a much shorter time…

  3. He just effectively hit the ball.. maybe not as a clutch hitter like Pujols, A-Rod, or Jeter but for me being effective made him one of the greatest..

  4. dabsportstalk says:

    I agree that he’s definately top 5 and you are on the money when you talk about him starting at age 27. If he started in the US as a kid, who knows what kind of numbers he would’ve posted. Great post once again

  5. I think the alarming stat for Ichiro is his increased strikeouts. He used to be very tough to strike out, but he has 86 whiffs so far this year. He may not walk much, but he walks plenty for the amount of hits he tallies.

    The last two seasons have shown a large discrepancy between his walks and strikeouts.
    2009: 32 BB, 71 K
    2010: 44 BB, 86 K

    Maybe a sign of age, but the increased strikeouts will keep his average down. By down, I mean .310 (ha!). It won’t matter, though, if he gets 225+ hits!

    He’s a great hitter, but it’s hard to say where I would rank him. You named two guys, but there’s also Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Tony Gwynn, Willie Keeler (Ichiro broke this guys streak of consecutive 200-hit seasons), etc. Gwynn’s numbers are ridiculous. He hardly ever walked, but he finished with 790 walks to 434 strikeouts. That’s incredible. Not nearly as good as Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and others, but it is remarkable for the time period.

    Anyway, it’s an endless debate, but I do think Ichiro deserves to be in the Hall for what he has done and I still think he has a very small outside chance of reaching 3,000 hits. This guy also never seems to get as much credit for his defense anymore.

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  7. Adam West says:

    Here we go…
    I am a “Yankees” fan – I use quotes because that is drifting away as they continually flaunt their money to be the best… I understand that is in the ownership (R.I.P. Steinbrenner… Not that I cared, his son is even more of an @$$ than he was… Don’t forget this guy was suspended by the MLB twice in his career for his actions…) I digress… But if you can buy the best you better win and do it with pride, poise, and dignity. There are kids out there that look up to these players. Please remember that, take a page out of Derek Jeter’s book… I would put him as one of the top 5 players of all time, not only with his numbers (which compared to the greats are mediocre) but also because of the person he presents to the public.
    Yankees have always had some of the best players of all time… But it is difficult to truly determine a best… Was it Babe’s 700+ HR? Could it be his 9 INCREDIBLE years as a Pitcher? Is it possibly his off-field demeanor? (Some of the stuff he had done in his career would get even a new age player booted from the league). Joe D.? His career will go down in the record books as one of the best all time, with other great Yankees such as, Lou Gehrig, Yogi, Whitey, Guidry, Reggie, and Mantle (amongst others).
    Ichiro is not a homerun hitter… however he has proven if he “wanted” to get 145 hits a year he could hit 45 homeruns a year, give or take… But there is no glam for that. Ask the big donkey (Dunn). It gets you paid but a slump could mean switching a team. I put the Babe in front of Ichiro on the best hitters of all time list, but it doesn’t go without batting an eyelash at it…
    How about Pete Rose’s 4000+ hits? Wow, an incredible hitter, however… after the age of 37 he was able to add on 2800+ hits to hit career totals. That means from Age 22 – 37 (15 years) he had a total of 1500 hits… So where does that put Ichiro against him… Ichiro, to this day has 2238 in 10 seasons, and is not quite yet 37 years old. If he is able to maintain his 200+ hits a season and plays to the age of Rose he will have (and this is a low end average of 200 on the dot…) 3838 hits. Again, that is a low average, and missing a solid 5 years of his early career where he pulled together 1278 hits in Japan… Tally the numbers 5116 hits… Need I say more?
    One of the most influential players of my time, and one that is forgotten about many times when speaking of the best, is Ken Griffey Jr. The swing… There are coaches that would dedicate their entire lives to trying to teach that swing. If the Gods could swing a bat, they would be taking lessons from Griffey. In my eyes, the best power hitter of all time. I am sorry Babe and Hammerin Hank, the both of you have the greater numbers, but Griffey is 1 on my list. Hank, you are number 2…
    The reason for my feelings are that Griffey came up in the beginning years when pitching was in dominance and was progressively getting stronger. Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson are up and coming superstars. David Cone, Dennis Eckersley are pushing their prime. And we just witnessed some of the best pitchers of a dim era in baseball calling it an end… The Goose, Bruce Sutter, the unforgettable Frank Viola and Bret Saberhagen were putting up the wins for their ball clubs… Finally, can you say 100 MPH? Nolan Ryan could, hitting the number over 1000 times in his career… In the time of Ruth, pitching was done by the same pitchers day in and day out. Heat was thrown but not all teams had the pitcher who could hit 90’s+ and a two pitch pitcher was considered a crafty pitcher. Ruth was a great pitcher himself, but even he gave up the long ball when that mammoth tongue of his hung out of his cigar polluted mouth. Put Ruth against today’s pitchers and I am sure that 700 homeruns would not be out of reach, but we will never know.
    It is unfortunate that Aaron does not get the attention that he should. His hitting was impressive, as was his fielding, and what many forget he was doing this as the nation was still trying to cope with the fact an African American player could be the greatest hitter of all time. His impact on baseball goes deeper than his numbers. This is why he is the greatest baseball player of all time (not hitter).
    Barry Bonds is a legend to me, and I still believe in him, but the reports are scuffing a great career. Here is my “short” list of best power hitters of all time.
    1. Ken Griffey Jr.
    2. Henry Aaron
    3. George Herman Ruth
    4. Jim Thome
    5. Willie Mays
    I know Jim Thome seems odd to many, but let’s just keep in mind he came up as a slap hitter, much like Ichiro, and ended up with over 600 homeruns. On top of his change of swing style, he also was a D.H. for a strong segment of his career, giving him many less at bats that others on the 600 homerun club list. I know an obvious name missing from the list is Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez. However, he is tainted, admittedly. I do commend him for coming out and stating that he did what he did, but my question is… Would he of told of his wrong-doing if the news never broke?
    Time to get back on track…
    Power numbers are a stat for being the best hitters of all time, but not the only stat. Contact hitting, clutch hitting, small ball, etc… There has never been a contact hitter like Ichiro. Granted his strikeout numbers have been on the rise (slowly) he is still able to put the bat on the ball at a greater ratio than most other players. He averages 50+ multi-hit games a season for 10 seasons (so far) that gives him an average of 500 multi-hit games in his career. Sure this number maybe be inflamed but I do not know the actual number for his career. Although his post-season career is very short (only time in was during the 116 win season in 2001 for the Mariners, his MVP/Rookie of the Year season) he still has a .420+ career post-season average, which is incredible. Boasting 10 consecutive 200 hit seasons, 10 consecutive All-Star selections, 9 consecutive Golden Glove awards (working on 10, with a league minimum 4 errors), and multiple Silver Slugger awards, his batting numbers are surreal. For the sake of career numbers, Ichiro’s career fielding percentage is currently .992 (99.2%) which is actively number 1 and career wise number 2. This is part of the reason he won his MVP and R.O.Y award in 2001. In that season he had 242 hits, 56 stolen bases, and an astonishing .350 BA. His fielding percentage that season was 99.7% with 1 error, 8 assists and 350 put outs. A strong part of a good hitter, is also their influence on the base path. Ichiro was not Rickey Henderson… Then again, talking to Ricky Henderson, using himself in the 3rd person, it seems he is not even “Ricky Henderson.” However, Ichiro’s career stolen base number is 382 which is an average of 38 per year. Given the chance to play till 46 (in comparison with Rose) he would end his career with roughly 770 stolen bases. That would put him at number 5 all time… Amazing numbers, well supportive of the awards he received.
    Forget the numbers for a minute and focus on the intelligence he brings to the game. He is an influential part of his team, as well as the spark plug for 10 straight All-Star games. He is provocative with the team and it lightens the mood for the team and inspires them play their game as they should. Intelligence is part of the game, and he takes his intelligence outside the game. While it took just a few years to sign a big contract, he smartly is taking a hit in pay now just to save money after his retirement. If I read it correctly, he will be getting paid for his time with the team until the year 2030 (at that time he will be 57 years old. Does it get any smarter than that?
    His numbers speak for themselves. His is definitely worthy of his spot on the list. His stock will continue to grow until his retirement, where at that point he may be number 1 on the list. As of now, here is where I would rank Ichiro on the list of greatest hitters of all time:
    1. Ted Williams
    2. Babe Ruth
    3. Lou Gehrig
    4. Albert Pujols (Wish I had more time to go into this…)
    5. Rogers Hornsby
    6. Stan Musial
    7. Ichiro Suzuki
    8. Jimmie Foxx
    9. Mickey Mantle
    10. Ty Cobb (Should probably be higher, but feel he is lacking publicity more so these years)
    Just for fun… 11 – 15:
    11. Frank Thomas / Pete Rose
    12. Manny Ramirez
    13. Alex Rodriguez (outside his admission to steroid use, he is still one of the greatest of all time).
    14. Derek Jeter (holds almost ALL Yankees records, that has to mean something)
    15. Joe D, Willie Mays, Aaron, and Greenberg.
    I ask that anybody or everybody please comment on my post. I understand it is longer than the typical post; however the input would be greatly appreciated. I am not argumentative, so I would enjoy reading comments posted by others and see where they stand on my post.
    Again, my post is all opinion, well thought out opinion…
    Thank you

  8. Greatest ever was decided long ago and will never be overthrown. Ted Williams.

  9. Fred says:

    Williams also lost two years to the Korean War.

  10. Pingback: MVN » Bottom 3

  11. Xander says:

    Chris, great post. You definitely bring up an interesting question. I don’t think I could say he’s the greatest hitter of all-time, but definitely one of my lifetime. It’s always a tough debate to compare hitters and pitchers from the 30s, 40, 50s to the ones today. I’m glad that in your discussion of Ted Williams that you added that he missed three full seasons during his prime to take part in WWII. A lot of people forget that about him and DiMaggio, and that’s just an incredible aspect that both were able to come back after three years off and still produce at an elite level. Amazing.

  12. niktigs says:

    Ichiro is the best of this era with Pujjols slightly behind but I think Ted Williams and Babe Ruth both have a big edge and Ty Cobb is hard to beat.

  13. niktigs says:

    I meant to write Pujols not Pujjols!

  14. Bryan says:

    Chris, reading this post makes me wonder how you would define “greatest hitter”. If a hitter is a guy who collects hits, Ichiro is in the conversation with Cobb and Rose and maybe Williams as the greatest hitter ever. But if by “hitter”, you mean an offensive force, which is how I would define it, Ichiro’s nowhere near the top of the list. Ichiro’s 200 hits every year provide some value, but without walking or hitting for much power, he doesn’t compare to Pujols, let alone Brian Giles.

    I think the best statistic to account for everything a player does with a bat in his hand is weighted on base average, or wOBA. Ichiro’s .354 wOBA ranks 689th on the all-time list, right between Darrell Evans and Wally Post. The leaders in this category- Ruth, Williams, and Gehrig- are certainly the greatest hitters of all-time. Bonds and Pujols, the best hitters of Ichiro’s generation, are 11th and 16th, respectively.

    This is no knock on Ichiro’s greatness, as I’m a big fan and I believe he’s a Hall of Famer, but much of his value comes from what he does without a bat in his hands. Throw in baserunning and Ichiro leaps ahead of several hundred slower, less savvy players. Add his impressive defensive accomplishments and Ichiro is a 50.6 WAR player (g00d for 215th all-time) with enough left in the tank to catapult past at least 100 of the players ahead of him. WAR might not be the most fair evaluation, since the positional adjustment discounts a lot of the value his arm brings to right field, and if you add what he did in Japan, and I think it’s safe to call Ichiro one of the 50 greatest position players of all time. But he’s no Albert Pujols.

    I wrote a post on this topic a few months ago. http://replacementlevel.wordpress.com/2010/07/04/pyramid-of-fame/

  15. adam west says:

    bryan

    great contribution to this post. as i am a huge ichiro fan it is always good to see others who also are intrigued/amazed/in awe of his talents on the field. that being said, i do like the methods you used to determine his status on the game. well thoughtout and thorough.

    sry bout the font/lowercase type i am writing from my droid and it is not allowing capital letters.

  16. Megan Shear says:

    I’m wondering if the argument would be different if Ichiro’s hits were backed up by a stronger offense. There seems to be fan criticism of him because while he racks up hits, they don’t count for much because the rest of the team can’t back him up – this is really not a well-thought-out way to look at things, but people have their opinions and there isn’t much one can do about it. Ichiro could be far more an offensive force if his teammates were able to send him home, yes? I’m likely stating the obvious.
    I will go for the best I’ve seen in my lifetime as well, being mostly new to all of this.
    Also, something that wasn’t mentioned here but should be, is that Ichiro can hit from either side of the plate – he simple chooses not to, but he is capable of doing it. There are times when I wonder what would happen if he decided to unleash the switch, but there also must be a reason that he doesn’t.

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