By the Numbers: Despite lack of spectacular numbers, Ichiro belongs in Hall

Greg Jayne: By the Numbers

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

He will. He most certainly will. But should he?

Should Ichiro eventually go into the Hall of Fame?

Actually, let's rephrase that. Ichiro definitely deserves to go into the Hall of Fame when you consider his accomplishments on the field as well as his accomplishments off of it.

In addition to more than 2,500 hits in the major leagues, he has groundbreaking status as the first Japanese position player to come to the U.S., and he probably has been the most famous baseball player in the world over the past 12 years.

It is, after all, the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of the Best Players.

So let's rephrase the question. Does Ichiro, based solely on his accomplishments on the field, belong in the Hall of Fame? Is he one of the 200 or so best players in major-league history?

He's not finished, of course. But as he leaves Seattle for the New York Yankees, it seems like a good time to examine the question.

Let's start with the obvious, with the two batting titles and the 10 All-Star appearances and the 10 Gold Glove awards. There's a .322 career batting average and a 10-year period in which he led the AL in hits seven times and finished second the other three years.

Valid accomplishments, indeed. But with Ichiro, that about sums up his value as a player. He has had little power and has drawn few walks. Despite his gaudy batting averages, Ichiro's on-base percentage of .366 is 30 points lower than Bobby Abreu's, and his slugging percentage is 59 points lower. Abreu has 260 more runs and 700 RBI.

Bobby Abreu has been a demonstrably better player than Ichiro, but he has a better chance of being elected president of Venezuela than of going into the Hall of Fame before Ichiro.

So, where does Ichiro rank?

In terms of Wins Above Replacement, according to baseball-reference.com, Ichiro stands 195th among all major leaguers in history.

That would put him right on the edge being Hall-worthy. So let's see which players are the most comparable to him.

Again according to baseball-reference.com, the players with the most similar batting statistics to Ichiro are Lloyd Waner, Edd Roush, Jack Tobin, Wally Moses, Willie McGee, Paul Hines, George Burns, Jake Daubert, Ken Griffey Sr. and Patsy Donovan.

Waner and Roush are in the Hall of Fame, but they were marginal selections at best. The others have never been regarded as Hall of Fame candidates.

In other words, the players most similar to Ichiro generally are not Hall of Fame candidates. His actual production on the field has not been what is typically considered worthy of the Hall of Fame.

Which brings us to the crux of this By the Numbers column. Five years after he retires, when voters begin considering Ichiro's candidacy and his numbers weigh more heavily than his fame or his impact, voters should consider Ichiro's accomplishments in Japan as part of his candidacy.

They should consider his seven batting titles and three MVP awards and 1,278 hits and seven Gold Gloves in Japan's major leagues. No, those things shouldn't be given equal weight to similar accomplishments in the U.S.; they're more like extra credit.

The reason is this: The Hall of Fame is designed to honor great baseball players, and Ichiro clearly was a great player for several years before he came to Major League Baseball.

The fact that he wasn't in the major leagues was through no fault of his own; it was an accident of birth. And when he came to the U.S. at the age of 27, he won an MVP award in his first season.

Ichiro's one-dimensional offensive skills mean that he tends to be overrated as a player; when you have a .322 batting average, people are willing to overlook your shortcomings.

But when you add in what he did in Japan, and you think about how many hits he would have if he came to the major leagues at a younger age, he becomes a worthy candidate.

Throw in his fame and his impact on the sport and the fact that for several years he was the most entertaining player in all of baseball, and his Hall of Fame worthiness becomes unquestionable.

Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To read his blog, go to columbian.com/weblogs/GregJayne