Ichiro’s Career and the Hall of Fame

Ichiro Suzuki is having a down season and is nearing the end of his career. Many people would consider him an automatic hall-of-famer with the work he’s put together since joining the Mariners as a 27-year-old in 2001. But how good is he, really? Well, for comparison’s sake, I took the production of all hitters from 27 years of age and older and put them against Ichiro’s career numbers. The results are interesting and will only add to the debate.

Since starting in Seattle a decade ago, Ichiro has accumulated 53 WAR. Among all players from their 27th birthday and beyond, he has accumulated the 72nd-highest total — putting him above hall-of-famers Duke Snider (77th), Joe DiMaggio (78th), Reggie Jackson (86th) and Robin Yount (89th). Some notable players within 1 WAR of him are Sammy Sosa, Jim Edmonds, Barry Larkin, Jim Thome, Dave Winfield and Eddie Murray. Some people would consider all these players to be hall-of-fame material. Of course, some are in the hall. Still, his production level — using WAR — doesn’t compare to what you might consider to be a sure-fire HoFer.

Certainly, Ichiro isn’t done playing and he should accumulate a few more WAR before he retires. The number is anyone’s guess, but my informal poll of other FanGraphs’ writers produced a guesstimated value anywhere from 3 to 8 more WAR over the rest of Ichiro’s career. Here are the other players near these values.

56 WAR – Dwight Evans, Todd Helton, Paul Molitor and Tony Perez.

61 WAR – Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Norm Cash and Eddie Mathews.

Neither of these lists is full of the game’s greatest. Todd Helton — who is two months younger than Ichiro — has already generated 3 more WAR since Ichiro has been in the league. He will probably get little HoF consideration because he’s played his entire career in Denver. The 61 WAR category has two of the “Killer B’s” from Houston — Biggio and Bagwell. Bagwell didn’t make it on his first Hall-of-Fame vote and Biggio might have the same problem.

Biggio’s main issue is that quite a bit of his value comes from walks, doubles and playing good defense at a difficult position. Most people don’t keep track of league leaders in doubles and walks. Even though Ichiro has played great defense over the years, he ranks high in two other categories that people can connect with (hits and stolen bases), which logically would help his cause.

For players who continued past their year-27 and beyond, Ichiro ranks 14th overall with 2,397 hits. If he were to add 423 more hits in his career — getting him to 2,820 — he’d move up to third, behind Pete Rose (3,250) and Sam Rice (2,925). When it comes to hits for players in this age range, he ranks among the all-time elite. With stolen bases, he doesn’t make it to the same echelon, but he’s still highly ranked. Currently, he’s 24th with 416 stolen bases, which ties him with Tim Raines. If he swipes 60 more bags, he’d move to 15th overall overall behind Ty Cobb‘s 494. If he gets into the 500-stolen-base range, he’d move into the top 10.

Ichiro will get into the Hall of Fame base on his production in the United States and Japan — not to mention the bridge he helped create between the two baseball communities. If a person looks at his production since he was signed by Seattle at age 27 — and compare it to others after that age — his Hall-of-Fame candidacy is pretty borderline. Still, he’s among the career leaders in some pretty special categories, and that certainly counts for something.

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Jeff writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first season in Tout Wars, he won the H2H league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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