Ichiro Suzuki: The Complete Ballplayer
At first glance, Ichiro Suzuki’s sabermetric statistics may not paint him as an all-time great. His career wRC+ of 104, and 115 wRC+ from 2001-2010, are not necessarily Hall of Fame numbers. His 57.8 fWAR and 60.0 career rWAR are borderline HOF-worthy. However, Ichiro’s HOF candidacy is not solely based on his offense. Rather, his offense merely supplements his all-around game, which, when taken as a whole, is nothing short of legendary.
The Defensive Maestro
Ichiro’s defensive skills were unparalleled during his time in the league. He ranks third all-time in DRS (103) and UZR/150 (11.1) among RFs with 5,000 innings in right field. Only Mookie Betts and Jason Heyward rank higher, though Ichiro began his MLB career at the age of 27, which means that nine seasons of his professional baseball career – during which he likely put up great defensive numbers – are unaccounted for. Nonetheless, his 103 DRS is a testament to his tremendous defensive value. The ten Gold Gloves he received also attest to his defensive greatness. Only nine players in history have more.
Ichiro stole 509 bases, which ranks 35th all-time, with an impressive 81.3% success rate. What’s even more remarkable is that he stole 157 of those bases in his age 35-39 seasons, the seventh most during that timespan (2009-2013). His 96.0 BsR, a baserunning metric on Fangraphs, is the third-highest mark of all-time. Even though he played more games over the age of 40 (592) than he did under the age of 30 (473), he still managed to be the third-best baserunner ever to play the game.
The Complete Player
Ichiro’s offensive value is not just based on his wRC+. During his prime years from 2001-2010, he was the 21st most valuable player in Fangraphs’ Total Offense Metric. His offensive value stemmed from his ability to hit the ball and his prowess on the basepaths. But it’s his transcendent defensive and baserunning skills that make Ichiro’s value truly unique. When we consider his all-around game, Ichiro’s total value becomes undeniable.
It’s impossible to know exactly how good Ichiro would have been if he had started his MLB career earlier. But if we take his age 20 season as a starting point, then adjust the number of games he played in Nippon Professional Baseball to an MLB schedule, we can extrapolate what his rWAR would have been. When we do that, we find that Ichiro would have added a whopping 40.5 rWAR to his career, giving him a total rWAR of 100.5. This is evidence to suggest that Ichiro could have been a top 10-15 position player in MLB history, had he started earlier.
In reality, Ichiro’s professional baseball career is nothing short of remarkable, even if it wasn’t entirely in MLB. He will be eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot in 2025, and it’s expected that he will be voted in swiftly. It’s clear that Ichiro’s greatness extends beyond his offensive numbers and includes his defensive and baserunning abilities, making him one of the most complete players in baseball history.