Column: Who is Baseball’s Real Hit King?

Wednesday afternoon in San Diego, Miami Marlins outfielder Ichiro Suzuki collected two hits in the Marlins’ 6-3 loss to the Padres.  The pair of singles moved Ichiro’s career hit total in Major League Baseball to 2,979, as the Japanese star chases the milestone of 3,000 hits, and would become the 30th player to do so.

But if you include the 1,278 hits Ichiro accumulated in nine professional seasons in Japan to his hits in MLB, the pair of hits on Wednesday would give 4,257 total professional hits, one more than Pete Rose’s MLB record of 4,256.

The MLB record belongs to Rose, and I don’t think anyone would argue that Ichiro’s hits in Japan should count towards an MLB record (MLB, appropriately, does not recognize numbers compiled in other leagues towards their own records).  However, I do believe that it would be fair to say the “professional hits record” belongs to #51.

First of all, while the Nippon Professional League in Japan is not necessarily considered equivalent to MLB, which is the best baseball league in the world, the NPL is still considered by many scouts to be at a level higher than AAA in the American minor leagues.  The level of play is obviously strong considering how many Japanese players have come to the U.S. and played superbly in MLB with little trouble transitioning.  Therefore, I have no problem combining a player’s statistics from MLB and NPL into their “professional” stats.

Secondly, the seasons are shorter in the NPL.  During Ichiro’s Japanese career, which began when he was just 18 in 1992, the NPL season varied between 130 and 140 games, much shorter than the 162 played in MLB.  Therefore, it is likely that if Ichiro had played in the U.S. his entire career, he would have already passed Pete Rose’s MLB mark, as he would have had 25 or more additional games per year, compared to the games he played in Japan.

Furthermore, about 70 percent of Ichiro’s hits came in MLB.  Sure, that means nearly a third of his hits were not in MLB, but to me that doesn’t diminish the accomplishment.  Even if you don’t want to dig deeper into Ichiro’s NPL years, he has 2,979 hits in 9,488 at-bats in MLB, while Rose needed 9,593 at-bats to reach the same hit total.  Keep in mind that, while both reached 2,979 in their 16th MLB season, Rose’s first 16 MLB seasons were from age 22-37, while Ichiro’s have been from 27-42.

Regardless of your opinion on his hit total, Ichiro has had an exceptional career, and is the greatest Japanese player in MLB history.  Ichiro won the American League MVP award in his first season in 2001, becoming just the second player to win MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season, joining Fred Lynn in 1975 (I actually disagree with players from foreign leagues being eligible for Rookie of the Year, but it was still a remarkable feat to win both).

Ichiro joins Rose as the only players with 10 seasons of 200 or more hits, although Ichiro, whose had 10 consecutive such seasons from 2001-10, is the only player to even do it eight straight times, and Rose never did it more than three years in a row.  Ichiro is one of four players to lead the league in hits seven times, and in 2004 set the single season hit total with 262.

Many see Pete Rose’s MLB hits record as unbreakable.  But while Rose still has that record, there is, at least in my opinion, a new name with the title of overall professional hits leader, and for Ichiro Suzuki that title will be the feather in the cap of one of the greatest careers the game of baseball has ever seen.

 

 

 

MLB All-Time Hit Leaders (as of June 17, 2016)
1. Pete Rose 4,256
2. Ty Cobb 4,191
3. Hank Aaron 3,771
4. Stan Musial 3,630
5. Tris Speaker 3,514
6. Derek Jeter 3,465
7. Honus Wagner 3,430
8. Carl Yastrzemski 3,419
9. Paul Molitor 3,319
10. Eddie Collins 3,314
11. Willie Mays 3,283
12. Eddie Murray 3,255
13. Nap Lajoie 3,252
14. Cal Ripken Jr. 3,184
15. George Brett 3,154
16. Paul Waner 3,152
17. Robin Yount 3,142
18. Tony Gwynn 3,141
19. Alex Rodriguez 3,115
20. Dave Winfield 3,110
21. Craig Biggio 3,060
22. Rickey Henderson 3,055
23. Rod Carew 3,053
24. Lou Brock 3,023
25. Rafael Palmeiro 3,020
26. Cap Anson 3,011
27. Wade Boggs 3,010
28. Al Kaline 3,007
29. Roberto Clemente 3,000
30. Sam Rice 2,987
31. Ichiro Suzuki 2,979

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Column: The Braves, While Losing Games, Have Lost The Draft Too

The Atlanta Braves are having a rough year, starting 17-42 in the midst of a massive rebuild.

That being said, while the team has lost six of their last seven and eight of their last 11, they “lost” something else over the last 24 hours, as they have butchered the 2016 MLB Draft.

Since the club began revamping both their major league roster and their farm system, they have stockpiled a tremendous amount of up-and-coming pitching talent that should, in due time, pan out at the major league level.  Some of these players are already playing well in the major leagues, and they will be joined over the next couple of years by more strong, young arms.

The problem for the current and for the future for the Braves franchise is offense.  This year’s edition is averaging 3.1 runs per game, which is dead last in the major leagues, and every Braves minor league affiliate is in the bottom half of its respective league in scoring.

Outside of Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies, who could both be in the majors by the end of the season, and Austin Riley (currently at Class-A), the rest of Atlanta’s top 13 prospects, as rated by MLB.com, are pitchers.  Altogether, just nine of the Braves’ top 30 prospects are non-pitchers, and one of those (Mallex Smith) is already in the majors.

Therefore, in this draft wouldn’t it make sense for the Braves to draft some hitters that could potentially be “impact bats” in the future?

Also, high school draftees typically require a longer minor league development than those drafted from college, as 18-year olds are still maturing physically, and college players have more experience.  Signability is also an issue with drafting high schoolers, who can choose to pass on turning pro and instead go to college.

That being said, for a rebuilding team that doesn’t have much offense now and doesn’t seem to have much coming either, wouldn’t it make the most sense for the Braves to take college hitters at the top end of their 2016 draft class?  Their college experience could lead to a shorter stint in the minor leagues (often just 2-3 years) than the stint of a high school prospect (typically 3-5 years or more).

But that is not what the organization did.  With each of the team’s first three picks, and six of their first seven, the Braves took pitchers.  Each of the first three pitchers, and four of the first six, are high school players.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m sure these players drafted very highly by the Braves (who had three of the first 44 picks and five of the first 80) are excellent baseball players who have earned the right to play the game for (potentially) a lot of money.  But I’m not so sure the Braves strategy in this draft was the best for an organization that is very pitching-rich, but clearly needs bats.

Three collegiate bats in particular stand out as players who the Braves could have taken with the third pick to best suit their needs:  Louisville OF Corey Ray, Miami C Zach Collins, and Mercer OF Kyle Lewis, who was thought of as one of the favorites to be picked by Atlanta leading up to the draft.

Instead, the Braves took pitchers at the third, 40th, and 44th picks, before finally taking a college bat (California C Brett Cumberland) at 76th.  The team did take college bats in the sixth, seventh, ninth, and 10th rounds, and while those players could certainly make an impact at the big league level, they do not project quite as well as players drafted in the earlier rounds.

I get the Braves mantra of “You can never have too much pitching.”  I get the fact that any player drafted this year will not sniff the majors for a couple of seasons, and most of them won’t get there in this decade.  I get the opinion that they should simply take the best available, regardless of position (I’m not sure they did, but that’s another discussion).  I get that the character of the player and how they fit the organization is important.  I get that the Braves will have money to spend in free agency this winter, or could trade some of these prospects for a major league impact bat or two.

But the backbone of any solid baseball organization these days is the core of players they have drafted and developed.  This was true for the Braves during their phenomenal run through the 1990’s and early 2000’s.  While those teams were unquestionably built on solid pitching, they still included players like Chipper Jones, David Justice, Ron Gant, Ryan Klesko, and other hitters that were drafted and developed by the club.

I’m not as much concerned about the lack of offense this year–with the Braves struggles they are likely headed towards a top-three draft pick again–but in the future when this team is supposed to be competitive.  No matter how good your pitching is, the following statement is no less profound:  You can’t win if you don’t score.

The 2016 Braves, as was expected, are losing more than two-thirds of the time.  Now, the front office may have lost the draft.

There’s a reason that Braves radio voice Jim Powell said this was arguably the most important draft in the history of the franchise.  But the front office and their team didn’t score, and now it could be a while before the team on the field does either.

 

 

2016 MLB Draft:  Top 10 Selections
1.  Philadelphia Phillies–Mickey Moniak, OF, La Costa Canyon (Ca.) H.S.
2. Cincinnati Reds–Nick Senzel, 3B, Tennessee
3. Atlanta Braves–Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa (N.Y.) H.S.
4. Colorado Rockies–Riley Pint, RHP, St. Thomas Aquinas (Kan.) H.S.
5. Milwaukee Brewers–Corey Ray, OF, Louisville
6. Oakland Athletics–A.J. Puk, LHP, Florida
7. Miami Marlins–Braxton Garrett, LHP, Florence (Ala.) H.S.
8. San Diego Padres–Cal Quantrill, RHP, Stanford
9. Detroit Tigers–Matt Manning, RHP, Sheldon (Cal.) H.S.
10. Chicago White Sox–Zack Collins, C, Miami (Fla.)

2016 MLB Draft:  Atlanta Braves Selections (First 10 Rounds)
1st Round (3rd pick):  Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa (N.Y.) H.S.
Competitive Balance Round A (40th pick):  Joey Wentz, LHP, Shawnee Mission East (Kan.) H.S.
2nd Round (44th pick):  Kyle Muller, LHP, Jesuit Prep (Tex.)
Competitive Balance Round B (76th pick):  Brett Cumberland, C, California
3rd Round (80th pick):  Drew Harrington, LHP, Louisville
4th Round (109th pick):  Bryce Wilson, RHP, Orange (N.C.) H.S.
5th Round (139th pick):  Jeremy Walker, RHP, Gardner-Webb
6th Round (169th pick):  Matthew Gonzalez, 2B, Georgia Tech
7th Round (199th pick):  J.B. Moss, OF, Texas A&M
8th Round (229th pick):  Taylor Hyssong, LHP, UNC Wilmington
9th Round (259th pick):  Tyler Neslon, OF, Texas Tech
10th Round (289th pick):  Marcus Mooney, SS, South Carolina

NBA Finals Preview: Golden State Warriors vs Cleveland Cavaliers

I don’t write much about the NBA on this blog, but I am intrigued enough by this year’s NBA Finals to look into the series as it begins tonight in Oakland.

This year’s Finals are a rematch of last year’s title series, won in six games by the Warriors after they had trailed 2-1 in the series.  However, the Cavaliers were missing forward Kevin Love (17.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg*) due to injury coming into the series, then lost guard Kyrie Irving (24.3 ppg, 5.1 apg) to injury in the series opener.

This year, the Cavaliers are healthy, and have stormed through the Eastern Conference, sweeping the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in the first two rounds, before ousting the Toronto Raptors in six games to reach the finals.  The Cavaliers are, of course, led by forward LeBron James (25.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 7.0 apg), the hometown player from nearby Akron, OH, who is trying to bring Cleveland its first professional sports title of any kind since 1964.  James is in his sixth consecutive NBA Finals, although the first four of that run were during his tenure with the Miami Heat; James has won the title in two of his previous six Finals appearances overall.

The Warriors are the defending NBA Champions, after winning that series against Cleveland last year, and reached the finals in dramatic fashion, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in a thrilling seven-game Western Conference Finals.  Golden State had previously defeated the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers in the early rounds, each in five games.  The “Dubs” are led by the two-time reigning NBA Most Valuable Player, guard Stephen Curry (26.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 6.1 apg), although they would not be in this position were it not for the exceptional performances of guard Klay Thompson (26.2 ppg) against the Thunder.  Forward Draymond Green (14.0 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 7.4 apg) has also been a key contributor, even through his controversial antics in the Thunder series (but that’s another story for another day).

The Warriors, of course, made history in the 2015-16 regular season, setting an NBA record with a 73-9 mark.  The Cavaliers were 57-25 in the regular season.  The two teams combined for the third-most combined regular season wins in history by two teams meeting in The Finals.

Guard play in this series slightly favors Golden State.  Curry and Thompson, known as the “Super Splash Brothers,” have been the best backcourt duo in the NBA for at least the last two seasons.  That being said, much of the Cavaliers success on their way to the Finals is because of strong three-point shooting, with guard J.R. Smith (12.0 ppg) and forward Channing Frye (8.6 ppg) complementing the Cavs three big-name players on the perimeter, and Irving is perfectly capable of holding his own against Curry and Thompson, so don’t be surprised if the Cavaliers hold their own in the backcourt.

In the frontcourt, I would give a very, very slight edge to Cleveland.  James and Love are two of the best forwards in the game, although no credit should be taken away from Green and Harrison Barnes (11.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg), and the job they have done all season for the Warriors.  Rebounding could certainly be a key in these games, and while Tristan Thompson (4.9 ppg, 8.4 rpg) for Cleveland and Andrew Bogut (5.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg) for Golden State are not necessarily the best rebounders in the league, they are certainly capable of contributing to their respective teams in the Finals.

Two young coaches meet in this series, with Steve Kerr, 50, trying to win his second NBA title in just his second season at the helm, to go along with five rings in his playing career, and Tyronn Lue, 39, trying to do what Kerr did a year ago and win a title in his first season, after two titles as a player.

One factor that may or may not potentially help Cleveland in this series is the fatigue factor.  Cleveland was able to comfortably close out Toronto six days ago, while Golden State had to battle tooth and nail to come from behind and beat Oklahoma City.  The Warriors-Thunder series had the feel of one that could take so much energy to win that the victor would not have enough left in the tank to battle Cleveland as hard as they would like, resulting in a Cleveland series win in five or six games.  Whether or not this actually happens is still to be seen, although if there is a team that can overcome this and go on to win the title, it is probably the Warriors.

The Warriors have home-court advantage for The Finals, hosting the first and second games, as well as the fifth and seventh if necessary, while Cleveland is home for the third, fourth, and (if necessary) sixth games of the series.

When these two teams met in the regular season, Golden State won both meetings.  On Christmas Day in Oakland, the Warriors won 89-83, behind 22 points and 15 rebounds from Green.  On January 18 in Cleveland, Golden State obliterated Cleveland, 132-98, behind Curry’s 35-point performance (in just three quarters).

Many pundits are picking the Warriors to win this series, and while that pick can certainly be backed up by the numbers, the Cavaliers should get the credit they are due as well, after a 12-2 mark in the first three playoff rounds.  These two teams are both playing at a very high level, which is why I expect the series to go the full seven games, regardless of the victor.  That being said, the Warriors have home court advantage, the league MVP, and as much or more momentum as the Cavaliers, and continue to show some of the most impressive chemistry the sports world has ever seen.

Prediction:  Warriors in 7 games

 

*All statistics in this post reflect only the 2016 NBA Playoffs

 

2016 NBA Finals
Game 1:  Thursday, June 2, 9:00 pm ET

Game 2:  Sunday, June 5, 8:00 pm ET
Game 3:  Wednesday, June 8, 9:00 pm ET
Game 4:  Friday, June 10, 9:00 pm ET
Game 5:  Monday, June 13, 9:00 pm ET
Game 6:  Thursday, June 16, 9:00 pm ET
Game 7:  Sunday, June 19, 8:00 pm ET