Two major milestones are on the horizon for Ichiro Suzuki. An additional 134 hits would tie him with Pete Rose at 4,256 professional base hits. If he gets 22 hits beyond that, he would then reach the 3,000 hit threshold in MLB. An incredible accomplishment given that he spent his first 9 seasons in Japan before coming to the Major Leagues in 2001.
As fans, when we think of hitting, we are used to thinking about at bats [AB’s], but plate appearances [PA’s] is the more precise way to measure, since it includes walks and sacrifices which don’t count as AB’s. Barry Jackson has reported that while Ichiro’s base contract with the Marlins is for $2 million, it could increase up to $4.8 million based on additional PA’s. The bonuses start kicking in at 300 PA’s in increments of 50 up to 600.
So barring a major injury, which Ichiro has avoided throughout his 23-year professional career, getting enough PA’s is all that stands between him and international professional baseball history happening in Little Havana. In my informal review of how local bloggers have weighed-in on the subject, Joe Frisaro and Michael Jong’s article as of March 2015, both estimated 340 PA’s. Interestingly, in a Jan 2015 article before the Ichiro signing, Jong was much more pessimistic about Ichiro’s expected PA’s.
Here is a rundown on my starting point to estimate Ichiro’s 2015 PA’s:
- 385 – Ichiro’s 2014 PA’s with Yankees
- 340 – Estimated PA’s for Ichiro by Joe Frisaro & Michael Jong [March]
- 300 – PA’s at which contract bonus begins to kick in
- 201 – Reed Johnson 2014 PA’s with Marlins / Jong [January]
But how did they get to 340 PA’s? While Jong is very detailed in his use of analytics, he did not not specify his assumptions on getting to 340. Frisaro added up the PA’s by the 6 Marlins bench players used as pinch-hitters or reserved outfielders last year. As such, Frisaro’s 340 strikes me as too generous, whereas January Jong too stingy in allowing that Ichiro might only match Reed Johnson.
There is a consensus that Ichiro will not be platooned and will not play first base. So his role will be as the first pinch-hitter off the bench and a typical 4th outfielder, playing in case of injury or spotting starters a day off. Further, given that Yelich is a Gold Glove winner and Ozuna and Stanton are considered above-average defensively, it is unlikely that Ichiro will be used extensively as a defensive replacement.
Based on those factors, my search criteria for determining which MLB outfielders during 2014 best approximated Ichiro’s role in 2015, are as follows:
- National League player – due to reprehensible DH
- Started ≤50% games played – to avoid platoon players
- Min 250 PA’s – below that level there is no chance for reaching records
Here are the 2014 National League outfielders who met that criteria:
- Travis Snider [L] – PIT — 140 GP — 70 GS — 359 PA’s
- Chris Heisey [R] – CIN — 119 GP — 55 GS — 299 PA’s
- Brandon Barnes [R] – COL — 132 GP — 55 GS — 313 PA’s
That’s it. Even Snider’s 359 PA’s are a bit of an outlier, since he began the year as a starting outfielder.
Ichiro is on a 2-year plan to get 156 hits, or 78 hits per year. Unless the Marlins outfielders have a major injury, Mike Redmond will be hard pressed to get Ichiro more than 300 PA’s. Here are the number of hits 300 PA’s would translate to:
- 74 – based on .264 batting average [Ichiro’s average last year]
- 78 – based on .280 batting average
- 84 – based on .300 batting average
It will be that close. While Ichiro is a famously classy guy, I wouldn’t blame Christian, Marcell & Giancarlo for always walking behind him. As a sign of respect of course.