The Miami Marlins are looking for the final piece of their roster puzzle, and that name apparently is not James Shields, as much fans might want it to be. That would be Ichiro Suzuki, whom the team is pursuing to be the club's fourth outfielder. The Marlins may even consider a multi-year deal for the 41 year-old Japanese star.
One of the reasons the Fish may not mind a two-year contract might be the impending milestone Ichiro faces. To date, Ichiro has recorded 2844 hits since arriving stateside in 2001 at age 27. That puts him just a slender 156 hits away from making it to the 3,000-hit club, an exclusive mark only 28 players have ever reached. Ichiro would also be the first player who began his Major League career in the 2000's who reached 3000 hits; no other player who has reached that mark began their career later than 1996 (Derek Jeter).
Could Ichiro make it 3000 hits with the Marlins? The challenge for the potential future Hall of Famer is two-fold. For one, Ichiro will not be taking on a significant role for the Fish. A multi-year deal may be in the cards, but unless something goes drastically wrong with the best outfield in baseball, the Marlins will not be counting on Ichiro for much. The Fish are set with Giancarlo Stanton signed long-term and Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna both under team control for another five seasons each.
The other problem lies with Ichiro himself. The aging outfielder is not as spry as he once was, and it has been four years since he was a .300 hitter like in his best days. Since 2011, he has just .275 and collected 600 hits in 2324 plate appearances after being the second-fastest to 2000 hits in 2009. It is clear that Ichiro's skills overall have declined, which makes the chase for 3000 hits much more difficult in his waning years.
So what are the odds that this chase happens successfully? We have to see what we could expect of Ichiro in the next two seasons and combine that with the amount of opportunities he would be likely to see. Last season, the Marlins' fourth outfielder, Reed Johnson, recorded 201 plate appearances. If everything goes according to plan, that should be around the number of opportunities that Ichiro would get in a single season. At 200 plate appearances with an expected walk rate of 4.7 percent (career 5.8 percent), you would see something close to 190 at-bats.
Steamer projects Ichiro to hit .267 next season. At 380 at-bats over two years, with an expected drop in play when he hits 42 years of age, you might expect Ichiro to hit .263 over the next two campaigns. That would leave him with just 100 hits in two years for the Marlins. This performance would be well shy of his needed 156 hits. In fact, to get to 156 hits, he actually needs to hit .410 on 380 at-bats. That seems unrealistic, and indeed it is; using a binomial distribution, that would be a percentage far less than one percent in terms of his chances to make 156 hits in 380 at-bats.
That kind of math surprises no one. But just how many at-bats would Ichiro realistically need to make it close to 156? At an expected .263 batting average, Ichiro would really need 596 at-bats, or about 625 plate appearances to reach that milestone. That is 312 plate appearances a season, which would imply a few more injuries than would be ideal for the Marlins in both seasons. And even then, the odds would just be at 50 percent.
How fast would it take prime Ichiro to have accomplished this feat? Not a whole lot better, honestly. Ichiro's best batting average stretch in a five-year run was at .334. At an expected .334 average, it would take him 467 at-bats to make it to 3000 hits. Even at his best, his chances of making 3000 hits in just 380 at-bats is less than one percent. It just seems unlikely that two years would be enough for Ichiro to make that magical milestone that seemed to be in reach just a few seasons ago. Miami should consider signing him if they feel he will do a good job backing up their excellent trio of outfielders, but do not count on a milestone achievement during his stay in Miami.