Ichiro is good.
As you've probably heard by now, Ichiro Suzuki recorded the 2,000th hit of his (American) Major League career. And just in case there was any doubt about it, that's amazing. But, maybe not everyone is clear how amazing it is. You've probably heard or read some form of the statement that he's the only player to get to 2000 hits in less than 10 seasons, or that he's the 2nd fastest player to 2000 hits in terms of games played - but you might say "hey wait a minute - Ichiro was 27 when he showed up in the Majors, after nine years and 1,278 in Japanese pro ball. You can't just compare him to other guys first 9 seasons, because they were much less experienced when they started playing in the majors". Well, that seems like a logical arguement so lets take a look at all the players who have had 2000 hits in any 9 consecutive year span - that way we can see if these years, which are clearly Ichiro's prime, match up against other players in their prime.
Players with 2000 hits in 9 consecutive years:
Well hey, that's not a very long list is it? From 1894 to 1902, Willie Keeler had 1905 hits. Prior to this year, that was the best span of 9 consecutive years ever, and that was a long time ago. He was the only player to break 1900 hits in 9 consecutive years, before Ichiro joined him in June. Pete Rose had 1,863 hits from 1968 to 1976. Al Simmons, the guy who got to 2000 hits in fewer games than Ichiro, had 1813 hits from 1925 to 1933. Ichiro's first 8 seasons were actually the 36th best NINE year span in history.
It is true though, that Ichiro has had longer seasons to work with than the guys who played before 1962, and none of his years in the Majors has been interupted by a labor dispute. To level the playing field, lets let Ichiro have his first 9 seasons, and we'll see how many other players have 2000 hits in their 9 best seasons, regardless of where they fell in the player's career.
Players with 2000 hits in their best 9 seasons, not necessarily consecutive:
That's another really short list, isn't it? Ty Cobb's best season was 1911 when he had 248 hits. His next best was 1912 with 226, and 1917 after that with 225. If you throw in his next 6 best season (1909, 1907, 1922, 1924, 1915 and 1916), his total for those 9 is 1,958. That used to be the best 9 season total ever. Only 5 other players have broken 1900 hits in their best 9 seasons combined -
Paul Waner - 1,937 (1927-30, 1932-34, 1936-37)
Rogers Hornsby - 1,926 (1917, 1920-22, 1924-25, 1927-29)
George Sisler - 1,913 (1917, 1919-22, 1924-25, 1927, 1929)
Pete Rose - 1,910 (1965-66, 1968-70, 1973, 1975-1976, 1979)
Wille Keeler - 1,905 (1894-1902)
It's not as though Ichiro is just squeeking by these totals either and the Mariners still have 24 games left this year.
From the beginning of the 2001 season to this morning - the span of Ichiro's career - he has 2000 hits, and the next best player in those years has 1,710 (Derek Jeter). Ichiro could have take a season off and still have the most hits since 2001 - even if the season he chose to sit out was the year he broke the single season record for hits.
Perhaps most impressively, this season has been the most consistent of Ichiro's career, with a BACON of .917. Here are his year-by-year BACON scores:
2009 - .917
2008 - .825
2007 - .845
2006 - .784
2005 - .791
2004 - .859
2003 - .803
2002 - .822
2001 - .883
And did I mention that he also holds the record for career HBPs by a major league player in Japan, with 42?