Ichiro’s in the twilight of his career, a career that will eventually get him enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. (And that induction ceremony will likely draw the biggest crowd ever seen in Cooperstown — I imagine thousands of Japanese fans will make the trip.)
This year, though, at age 43 Ichiro’s mostly a pinch hitter. And it’s in that role that he has a good chance of breaking a major-league record.
He’s pinch-hit in 84 games this year, with 22 hits in 77 at-bats (along with five walks, a HBP and a sacrifice, totaling up to the 84 plate appearances). That’s very good, a .286 batting average and .337 OBP in that role.
The major-league record for pinch hits in a season is 28, set by John Vander Wal of the Rockies in 1995. Vander Wal had what could be considered the best PH year ever: 28-for-72 (.389) with four pinch home runs. Ichiro has one pinch home run this year, and that was actually a big hit, a three-run homer that keyed a six-run Marlins inning in a 12-8 win over the Phillies August 22.
After a really bad start this year — he was hitting .148/.188/.230 on May 27 — Ichiro has been quite productive in a limited role. Since that date he’s hitting .322/.390/.411 (29-for-90) with two home runs.
The 84 pinch-hit PA mean that Ichiro has pinch-hit in 65 percent of the Marlins’ 129 games so far this year. If he continues to appear as a PH in that percentage of Miami’s remaining 33 games, he will appear in 21 more as a pinch-hitter. If he continues to hit .286 as a PH in those games, that translates to six more pinch hits, enough to tie Vander Wal’s record.
So it’ll be close, although if the Marlins are eliminated from postseason competition late in September, Don Mattingly might give Ichiro more chances to break this record if he’s close.
The Cubs’ team record for pinch hits in a season is 20, set by Thad Bosley in 1985, tied by Dave Clark in 1997. For a time it looked like Jon Jay had a shot at that mark, as he had 10 pinch hits by the All-Star break. But with more time in the starting lineup, Jay’s PH appearances have dwindled.
Anyway, just thought I’d share with you this little slice of potential baseball history. Ichiro has had a magnificent career and might just add a record to it before the end of 2017.