Getty Images

Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #13: Ichiro Becomes the All-Time Hit King

16 Comments

We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Yes, I phrased that headline in a provocative manner. In my defense, annoying Pete Rose and Pete Rose fanboys is kind of fun, and a good 60-65% of the enjoyment from this story was derived by Pete Rose and Pete Rose being annoyed.

To be sure: no one claims that Ichiro holds the record for most career hits. But he notched 1,278 in nine NPB seasons with the Orix Blue Wave and entering play against the Padres on June 15, he had 2,978 hits in the United States. That made the double he smacked down the right field line in the ninth inning of that game his 4,257th career professional hit, which put him past Pete Rose if you combined both U.S and Japanese safeties.

That such a thing is worthy of note should not be controversial, but it was to some all the same. A lot of people felt it necessary to correct those of us who called Ichiro the “Hit King,” as if we didn’t know that Rose was still the MLB record holder and as if we weren’t simply congratulating Ichiro for a great accomplishment. Even Rose himself got snippy about it, wondering if people would now think of him as “the Hit Queen,” to Ichiro’s “King,” which Rose took to be disrespect.

For his part, Ichiro was amused at it all and drew a pretty decent insight from it. Here’s what he said to ESPN The Magazine:

I was actually happy to see the Hit King get defensive. I kind of felt I was accepted. I heard that about five years ago Pete Rose did an interview, and he said that he wished that I could break that record. Obviously, this time around it was a different vibe. In the 16 years that I have been here, what I’ve noticed is that in America, when people feel like a person is below them, not just in numbers but in general, they will kind of talk you up. But then when you get up to the same level or maybe even higher, they get in attack mode; they are maybe not as supportive. I kind of felt that this time.

Yup.

The hits kept coming for Ichiro in 2016. Less than two months after the hit which put him past Rose, he notched his 3,000th career hit in Major League Baseball with a triple in Coors Field. He finished the season with 3,030 in his big league career. His 2016 line: .291/.354/.376 in 365 plate appearances. Not bad for a guy a mere three months younger than the old man writing this story.

And good enough for the Marlins to exercise his 2018 option. Which means the hits will keep on coming.

Justin Turner is a postseason monster

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A not-insignificant amount of the Dodgers’ success in recent years has to do with the emergence of Justin Turner. In his first five seasons with the Orioles and Mets, he was a forgettable infielder who had versatility, but no power. The Mets non-tendered him after the 2013 season, a move they now really regret.

In four regular seasons since, as a Dodger, Turner has hit an aggregate .303/.378/.502. His 162-game averages over those four seasons: 23 home runs, 36 doubles, 83 RBI, 80 runs scored. And he’s also a pretty good third baseman, it turns out. The Dodgers have averaged 95 wins per season over the past four years.

Turner, 32, has gotten better and better with each passing year. This year, he drew more walks (59) than strikeouts (56), a club only five other players (min. 300 PA) belonged to, and he trailed only Joey Votto (1.61) in BB/K ratio (1.05). He zoomed past his previous career-high in OPS, finishing at .945. His .415 on-base percentage was fourth-best in baseball. His batting average was fifth-best and only nine points behind NL batting champion Charlie Blackmon.

It doesn’t seem possible, but Turner has been even better in the postseason. He exemplified that with his walk-off home run to win Game 2 of the NLCS against the Cubs. Overall, entering Wednesday night’s action, he was batting .363/.474/.613 in 97 postseason plate appearances. In Game 4, he went 2-for-2 with two walks, a single, and a solo home run. That increases his postseason slash line to .378/.495/.659, now across 101 plate appearances. That’s a 1.154 OPS. The career-high regular season OPS for future first-ballot Hall of Famer Albert Pujols was 1.114 in 2008, when he won his third career MVP Award. Statistically, in the postseason, Turner hits slightly better than Pujols did in the prime of his career. Of course, we should adjust for leagues and parks and all that, but to even be in that neighborhood is incredible.

In the age of stats, the concept of “clutch” has rightfully eroded. We don’t really allow players to ascend to godlike levels anymore like the way we did Derek Jeter, for instance. (Jeter’s career OPS in the playoffs, by the way, was a comparatively pitiful .838.) Turner isn’t clutch; he’s just a damn good hitter whose careful approach at the plate has allowed him to shine in the postseason and the Dodgers can’t imagine life without him.