How many hits would Ichiro have if he came up in 1992?

Rich Schultz

Ichiro's had a long, long career, and he's sorta talented. What would have happened if he'd started his career in a Mariners uniform?

There is a mini-controversy about Ichiro's 4,000th hit.

Clarification: There is a dumb mini-controversy about Ichiro's 4,000th hit. On one side, there are the people who think it's pretty neat that Ichiro has collected 4,000 hits between Japan and the majors.

On the other side, there are people who are upset that other people think it's pretty neat. Because some of those hits weren't in the majors, which nullifies the "neat" and makes the round number uninteresting, I guess? Look, I don't know.

But I can't stand mini-controversies. They mini-threaten to mini-tear us apart. So I've come up with a solution. I'm going to go through Ichiro's Japanese stats and figure out exactly how many hits he would have had if he were playing in the majors at the time.

The first thing I did was run some SQL database queries. I parsed those, then ran some regression models. After that, I … made it all up. But it's still science.

We'll assume he was on the Mariners the whole time. Because if he were on the Rockies, he would have reached 4,000 hits before the 2000 season. Have you played with the Neutralized Batting on Ichiro's Baseball-Reference.com page? If he played in an environment similar to 2000 Coors Field for his entire career, he could have had 3,463 major-league hits and a quartet of .400 seasons.

No, we'll go with the Mariners. Here we go, year by year:

1992, 1993

Ichiro was 18 and 19 in these seasons, and he had only 36 hits. We'll assume he was in A-ball, laying waste to teenagers who were slowly realizing they were never going to realize their life-long dreams. But those don't count toward our total.

1994

This was Ichiro's only 200-hit season in Japan, as the 20-year-old hit .385 in 546 at-bats. If he were in the majors during a normal season, I'd guess that he would force his way onto a roster by May or June. The Mariners had Eric Anthony in the outfield, and I was rooting for him because if he made the Hall of Fame, I was going to buy a house with his rookie cards. But the Mariners didn't have that concern, and they would have made the transition mid-season.

There was a strike, though. That would have ruined everything.

I'll say he was called up in mid-May, and got 64 hits because I say so.

1995

A strike-shortened year again, and also the season with one of the greatest comebacks in history. The Mariners were 11½ games behind the Angels on today's date in 1995. If Ichiro's on the team, not only does Edgar double home Griffey against the Yankees, but Ichiro gets three hits off Orel Hershiser in Game 5 of the ALCS.

This was also the season in which Ichiro hit 25 homers, his career high. He had the dingers going. You know, they say he can hit home runs whenever he wants. So I'll give him 144 hits, 35 fewer than he had in Japan.

1996

The Mariners were 85-76 with Rich Amaral as the starting left fielder. Swap him out with Ichiro, and the Mariners are pretty danged close to another division title. He also sits down with a young Alex Rodriguez and teaches him humility, ethics, and the warm satisfaction of a job well done. The results are astounding, as A-Rod hits .358/.414/.631 with 36 homers as a 20-year-old shortstop. Which actually happened. Man, I miss that A-Rod.

But we're not doing Alternate Mariners History here (though they would have won the World Series in both '95 and '96 with Ichiro). This is about how many hits he'd have. And in '96, he hit .356 with 193 hits for Orix.

Ah, but the NPB plays 144-game seasons. For all the grousing about how the 4,000-hit mark is tainted because it came against lesser competition, note that Ichiro was at a disadvantage of up to 18 games every year. In Ichiro's first 162-game season, I'll guess he gets 196 hits. He was 22 that season -- not nearly in his prime, but then again, he was 36 when he had 214 hits for the Mariners in 2010. Not exactly his prime, there, either. The 196 hits is probably underselling him.

1997

He hit .345 with 185 hits in Japan. I'll say that translates to a measly 203 hits in the States, which isn't that much lower than his relatively disappointing 2005 season. He had 206 hits in that relatively disappointing season.

1998

Glenallen Hill played left field for the Mariners this season. Glenallen Hill played the outfield like he was Ryan Howard tethered to a player piano. Instead of the wacky outfield stylings of Hill, the Mariners enjoy 211 hits from Ichiro and sterling defense.

1999

The first injury-shortened season of Ichiro's career. He had just 411 at-bats that season, so it seems foolish to predict full health for him here ... except the injury was a broken wrist on a hit-by-pitch, which wouldn't have happened if he were on another team.

Seems good enough logic and #science to pencil him in for 214 hits that season. He didn't fall below 200 hits until his 11th season in the majors. That's absurd.

2000

One of the other injury-hampered seasons, Ichiro hat 153 hits in 395 at-bats for the Blue Wave, and he hit.387. The oblique tweak probably would have gotten him at some point, so I'll give him 144 hits. It was also the first season in Safeco Field, which wouldn't have helped him.

There you go. He would have had 1,176 extra major-league hits if he were in the majors the whole time. That's an objective fact, backed by science.

He'd be at 3,898 right now. And if he player-managed himself into the lineup every day, he'd have a chance to break Pete Rose's record by 2015.

At the very least, there's a chance that Ichiro would have been close to 4,000 hits in the majors if he had come over in his teens. There wouldn't be a stupid mini-controversy. Turns out that Ichiro's kind of good.

You can make a case that no one should care about Suzuki's 4,000th hit. But it's a silly case. Especially when he probably wouldn't have been that far off from the 4,000 mark if he had been here all along.

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