Milestones: Ichiro vs. Sisler Redux

On the anniversary of Bucky Dent’s shot over the Monster—and, coincidentally, the birthday of SF—we extend our congratulations to Ichiro Suzuki on his record-busting 258th hit of the season. It is an extraordinary accomplishment, by any measure, and one worthy of applause. But how does Ichiro’s season stack up to George Sisler’s campaign of 1920? A few weeks ago SF argued that the new mark would be inferior to the old, given the preponderance of singles in Ichiro’s hit total and Sisler’s general superiority in most other statistical categories. (YF basically agreed. We also hate to see the heros of old fading from the books.) But of course comparing across eras is difficult, if not ridiculous. We revist this debate here on the occassion of Ichiro’s new record, and with the addition of a reasoned defense of the Mariner rightfielder by a fan of great conviction and knowledge.

2 comments… add one

  • SF’s original post:
    It’s hard to say this, but for some reason I am rooting for the ghost of George Sisler. Perhaps it has something to do with watching Ichiro trying to bunt for base hits with men on base and two outs against the Sox last weekend, positively selfish acts. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that 83% if Ichiro’s hits are singles. William Rhoden might (unfairly) accuse me of rooting for the old “BE”, but if one looks at Sisler’s statistics the year he set the record, which included 19 homers, 49 doubles, 19 triples, and 42 steals, it seems to me that this new mark, if set, will be a case of an accomplishment of the inferior. I have asserted that it’s absurd to compare players across eras, and this may be a bit of a double standard for me, but something doesn’t sit right with Ichiro’s run. It’s not unimpressive what Suzuki is doing, and he’s certainly a world-class player (as exciting to watch as most of them), but some part of me wants this record to stand, even as I root for the surly Bonds to catch and pass the legendary Babe.

    SF October 2, 2004, 1:37 pm
  • HBK’s response:
    I don’t know why you guys are dissing Ichiro. Just because he doesn’t hit towering home runs or hit triples. Why not look at his overall situation. He plays for the last place Mariners, he is basically there only weapon, everyone focuses on getting him out. Tell me one player you fear in that Seattle line up. But he still beats them day in and day out. He raises the team average 25 points, without him, Seattle is last in the majors in hittting.
    Some complain that some of his hits are flukes, it’s just luck, well, it is hard to get lucky 250+ times. Some point out that he has 50+ infield hits. So Ichiro is fast, does that make him less of a player? Speed is part of the game, speed didn’t blemish our feelings about Willie Mays, Rickey Henderson, or Barry Bonds.
    Some say that he doesn’t have the runs or the RBIs. Well, it’s tough to score when your team is hitting .240, all he can do is get on base for them. he is 8th in the majors in OBP. And he is a leadoff hitter, RBIs are hard to come by, especially in seattle. Compare this, Ichiro has scored 98 of his team’s 686 runs, that is 14.3%. Barry Bonds have scored 127 of his team’s 833, that is a 15.2% these are similar figures. You don’t see people complain about Bonds.
    Ichiro have 60 of his team’s 647 RBIs, that 9.3%, Bonds 100 of 788, 12.7% but then again he’s a lead off hitter. But if you compare him to Johnny Damon, who is leading leadoff hitters in RBIs, 88 of 889, a 9.9%. There just isn’t a big drop off, in fact, he has a higher percentage than most leadoff hitters. So the arguement that his numbers are too low just isn’t true. People often forget he doesn’t hit third. Look at his number with RISP: 44/117, a .376 clip good for 4th in the majors (50+ PA) RISP with 2 outs: 25/53 .472 tops the majors. Second: Bonds .423. Bases loaded 7/12 .583. “Close and late” 48/122 .393. His batter average by count never dipped lower than .256, which was his 0-2 count. But if you want to look at the overall picture. He is 9th in Runs Created and no one who plays for a last place team even came with in the top 30. He is 18th in Runs created per 27 outs with 7.78. And let’s just say no one in the top 100 is considered a singles hitter except for Juan Pierre who comes in at No. 87. He doesn’t strike out, only 8.5% of his plate appearences. He leads the AL in intentional walks. Is that an indication of a feared hitter or what? Managers and players are in awe of him and still have not found a way to get him out consistently, yet the fans still refuse to see him for the player he is.
    Now let’s compare Ichiro and Sisler’s season.
    Ichiro’s Mariners hit a combined .269, Sisler’s St.Louis Browns hit a combined .308. Ichiro’s BA – Team BA .372-.269=.103, Sisler’s BA – Team BA .407-.308=.99
    ~look at that Ichiro holds a slight edge. It is obvious that Sisler had better protection in the line up since his 122 RBIs were equaled by one of his teammates. Bret Boone leads the Mariners with 82 RBIs. The AL back in those days only had 8 teams compare to 13 now, that means you face a team many more times. There were only white pitchers back then, so the pitching talent is lower than it could have been. Pitchers also pitched longer, as the result, more than half of the games were complete games. That means Sisler faced the same pitcher through out the game most of the time. That makes it easier to know the pitcher’s stuff and adjust accordingly (by the way, Ichiro’s avg. when facing pitchers for the 4+ time is .404) Sisler played in a slight hitter friendly ball park (rating of 103, anything over 100 favors hitters,-baseball-reference.com-) while Ichiro played in a pitcher friendly park (rating of 97). If you don’t believe it was more offensive baseball back then, look at the league leaders.
    1920 AL BA Leader 2004 AL BA Leader
    Sisler-SLB .407 Ichiro .372
    Speaker-CLE .388 Mora .343
    Jackson-CHW .382 Guerrero .338
    Ruth-NYY .376 Rodriguez .337
    Collins-CHW .372 Durazo .323
    Jacobson-SLB .355 Guillen .318
    Tobin-SLB .341 Kotsay .315
    Rice-WSH .338 Lopez .313
    Felsch-CHW .338 Young .313
    Cobb-DET .334 Tejada .312
    I think it’s safe to say, getting a high batting average is not as hard as it is today. Sisler minus runner up .407-.388=.019, do the same with Ichiro .372-.343=.029. So comparing him to his peers, Ichiro is superior in that category.
    Still can’t convince it’s easier to hit back in those days?
    Get this, 19 of the top 20 batting averages (with the exception of Ted William’s .407 in 1941) were posted no later than 1924. 38 of the top 40 ( with the exception of Tony Gwynn’s .394 in the strike shorted season of 1994) were posted no later than 1929. 75 of the top 80 were not posted later than 1937. During Sisler’s time from 1876 to 1930, a span of 54 years, there were a total of 27 times where a batter hit over .400. (27 of the 28 times anyone has ever gotten to 400). Compare that to only 6 times anyone has ever hit over .378 in the last 54 years,
    Gwynn .393 in ’94
    Brett .390 in ’80
    Williams .388 in ’57
    Carew .388 in ’77
    Walker .379 in ’99
    Hitting sure have gotten harder over the years. So anyone saying that Sisler was way better cause he hit .407, think again. It easier to do it in those days. If he continues at the current pace, he will have the second highest avg. in the last 10 years, only second to Gwynn’s shortened season in 94. Sisler’s .407 is only the 4th best from 1910-1920.
    Let’s put the hit record into cosideration. 10 of the top 11 seasons (exception of Ichiro’s 242 Hits in 2001) were posted between 1911 and 1930, take out Ty Cobb’s 248 hits in 1911, we get 9 of the top 11 seasons established between 1920-1930. So with all due respect to Sisler, getting 240+ hits was not hard in those days. Sisler broke a 9 year old record (Cobb in 1911) Ichiro is breaking a 84 year old record. The closest anyone has come to Sisler post 1930 is Darrin Estard in 2000 and Wade Boggs in 1985 with 240 hits each. There has been only 4 season with in the last 74 years where a player got 240+ hits (and Ichiro owns two of them). What Ichiro is doing is incredible. He will also break Bill Terry’s record of most hits over a 4 season span. Sure, Ichiro has played over in Japan, but the caliber of play is nowhere close; to best any player ever over a four year period, (he only has 4 years) is quite an accomplishment. It shows skill and longevity, he is not a one hit wonder.
    As I am typing this Ichiro has passed Sisler and stand alone at 259 hits. No one has more hits in the history of baseball. Ichiro is a great player, he plays his own way, by no way I think he is the greatest to ever play, or in the top 10, 50 or 100, but what he did this season was truly amazing, and I look forward to see him to continue the trend and climb higher and higher in the all time greats ranking. Did I write all this to diss Sisler? No, he is a great Hall of Famer and I would not mind having his career numbers. I take nothing away from Sisler, he had a great 1920, where he lead the league in a lot of category. But as far as comparing players from different time frames, the best way is to compare them to peers, and when we did, we see little difference between Sisler and Ichiro. Ichiro has an advantage over the hits and avg but Sisler has an advantage over his power numbers. I wrote this to defend both of them, for saying Ichiro’s accomplishments are ‘inferior’ to those of Sisler is not only dissing Ichiro but also dissing Sisler himself. It is absurd to say that Ichiro’s accomplishments are not as good based on the fact that he does not dazzle you with monterous home runs, or that his team is not competing. Ichiro is a leadoff man, Sisler bats third, there is no way to compare their RBIs and R numbers. Sisler’s team was potent, Ichiro’s Mariners were a mess. Ichiro re-invented the art of hitting, proving that you don’t need to hit the ball 450 ft to be succesful. In an age where people swing for the fences, he is not affected by the crowd and do things his own ways. Just because his way are different and have not been seen before does not mean it is cheap or inferior. In an age where hits are hard to get, where the quality of pitchers and the diversified league, Ichiro and his 5’9 170 lb frame have done something that no one has ever been able to do for 84 years. So please give him some respect for the things he could do better than anyone, his exceptional eye hand cordination, this handling of the bat like a point guard handles a basketball, rather then downplay his accomplishments by focusing on his weaknesses. his season and Sisler’s is a dead draw in my eyes, given the time frame, the team, the league. Sisler was better in some aspect, but Ichiro was superior in others. Some might mention about the schedule difference, but given the familarity of pitchers and how abundence hits were back then, things balance out. Bottom line, comparing against peers, the two are very close.
    So please give both players their well deserved dues and stop the talk that diminishes the legacy of Ichiro Suzuki.

    hbk October 2, 2004, 1:38 pm

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