Three Strikes: Ichiro did the impossible

It may be November, but Three Strikes' ever-popular History Watch is still in midseason form ...

Strike One -- Ichiro's Hit-And-Run Dept.

You don't need to be a descendant of Charlie Lau to know that Ichiro Suzuki is one of the greatest hit machines who ever lived. But what fascinates Three Strikes about this man isn't the number in his hits column.

Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro Suzuki

#51 RF
Seattle Mariners

2010 STATS

  • GM162
  • HR6

  • RBI43

  • R74

  • OBP.359

  • AVG.315

It's the number in his runs-scored column.

And by that, to be honest, I mean: his runs not scored.

Once again this season, nobody in baseball got more hits than Suzuki (214). But amazingly, 84 players in baseball scored more runs than Suzuki (74). And you sure don't see that much. For instance:

• Not only did Suzuki score the fewest runs in history by a player who got as many hits as he did, only two other players have even made it to within 10 runs of him:

Kirby Puckett, 1989 -- 75 runs, 215 hits

Beau Bell, 1937 -- 82 runs, 218 hits

Always good to get Beau Bell some much-needed pub, by the way.

• But thanks to the Mariners' pathetic offense, which this year scored fewer runs than any team in any full season in the DH era, this not-scoring thing is practically becoming a habit for our man Ichiro. And it's not one you'll find on his Hall of Fame plaque, I'm predicting right now.

Last year, when he got 225 hits, he scored only 88 runs. So that's two years in a row of this stuff. And only three other players in history have ever had back-to-back seasons of 200 or more hits and fewer than 90 runs. It's quite a group:

Pinky Whitney, 1929-30

Dale Mitchell, 1948-49

Steve Garvey, 1975-76

Garvey, as I once wrote in my book (caution: book plug ahead) "Stark Truth," was the all-time king of the Runs Not Scored crowd. He had six 200-hit seasons -- and didn't score 100 runs in any of them. No one else has even had three 200-hit seasons like that. So Suzuki has a long ways to go before he can fairly be compared with King Garv.

• Fortunately for him, Suzuki did not set the record this year for fewest runs scored by a man who led the league in hits, although it was close. In the half-century in which teams have been playing 162-game schedules, I uncovered two famed hit leaders who managed to score fewer than 74 runs in a non-strike season:

Felipe Alou, 1968 -- 72 runs, 210 hits

Rafael Palmeiro, 1990 -- 72 runs, 191 hits

• Finally, here's Suzuki's most incredible feat of all, and one I still find hard to believe:

Even though he got the most hits in the American League, he somehow scored fewer runs than the guy who got the fewest hits in the National League (among players who batted enough to qualify for the batting title). Here. See for yourself:

Suzuki -- 74 runs, 214 hits

Mark Reynolds -- 79 runs, 99 hits

I don't know if that's a record. But it ought to be impossible. Shouldn't it?

Strike Two -- Quality Control Dept.

So if I asked you which pitcher led the Kansas City Royals in wins this season, how many of you would answer, immediately: Zack Greinke?

Great try. Excellent guess. Sound thinking. Just happens to be incorrect. That's all. But thanks for playing.

Bruce Chen

Bruce Chen

#52 SP
Kansas City Royals

2010 STATS

  • GM33
  • W12

  • L7

  • BB57

  • K98

  • ERA4.17

Now how long do you think most of you would have had to guess before you stumbled upon the actual answer -- Bruce Chen? An hour? A week? A month?

Hey, don't feel bad. If I'd asked the Royals themselves in spring training which pitcher was going to lead their team in wins, they probably would have guessed for a month, too, before they got to a guy who had gone a combined 1-13 in the big leagues over the previous four seasons. And yes, you read that right: 1-and-13!

Nevertheless, this is a true fact: This man really did lead his team, with 12 wins. But it's how Bruce Chen led the Royals in wins that's most astonishing. Here's why:

• This guy led his team in wins even though he had only eight quality starts all season. Yessir, eight.

Just so you know, there were 136 pitchers in the big leagues who had more quality starts than that. That includes a guy who went 1-11 (Ross Ohlendorf), a guy who went 4-16 (Kevin Millwood) and a guy with a 6.34 ERA (Brian Bannister).

• But on a brighter note, at least Chen isn't the only pitcher ever to pull off this feat. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, there have been six other starting pitchers in the 50-season expansion era who had eight quality starts (or fewer) and still led their team in wins, in a season in which they made at least 20 starts. But the only other pitcher to do it in the past 14 seasons was Cleveland's David Huff in 2009 (11-8, with eight QS).

• And, finally, one other factor adds to the degree of difficulty here: Chen didn't start a game until May 30 -- meaning he spotted the incumbent Cy Young winner an 11-GS head start -- and still led the team in wins.

Now that's not unprecedented, either. But it ain't easy. Last time a starting pitcher (with 20 or more starts) led his team in wins despite not starting a game for that team before May 30 was two decades ago. That was Ron Robinson, for the 1990 Brewers. And only eight other starters have done it in the entire expansion era. It's incredible there have been that many.

Incidentally, Chen is a free agent this winter. In fact, except for Carl Pavano, he's the only starter on the market who led his team outright in wins. Much as I'd love to see him get a raise, I sure hope whichever team signs him doesn't base the contract just on that last sentence.

Strike Three -- Zero Hero Dept.

Once upon a time, in another life, I invented a lovable little term for men whose specialty was not making home-run trots. I called them ...

The Zero Heroes.

So when guys like the great Al Newman and Rafael Belliard went years and years, and thousands of at-bats, without hitting a home run, there was a Zero Hero Club around to admit them, embrace them and honor their unique talent.

Then along came the dreaded steroid era -- and ruined everything.

But just when you thought the Zero Hero Club was out of business, uh, your attention please: It's back.

In 2010, we had four different players march to the plate more than 400 times without hitting a ball that left the park. Ladies and gentlemen, your Zero Heroes:

Jamey Carroll


Jason Kendall


Nyjer Morgan


Elvis Andrus


Elvis Andrus 674 PA, 0 HR

Nyjer Morgan 577 PA, 0 HR

Jason Kendall 490 PA, 0 HR

Jamey Carroll 414 PA, 0 HR

Let's hear it for them, friends. Great to have that Zero Hero Club up and running again. Now here's what you need to know about that foursome:

• That's as many zero-homer seasons (among the 400-PA crowd) in one season as we had seen in the previous four seasons combined.

• This was the first time since (ready?) 1992 that there were this many members of the No-HR Association in one year. Back in '92, six players did it (Luis Polonia, Ozzie Smith, Omar Vizquel, Jose Lind, Willie Wilson and Doug Dascenzo).

• And now for the historical perspective: In the first 24 seasons of the division-play era, there were 19 seasons in which at least four hitters (with at least 400 plate appearances) went trot-less -- including 1976, when 11 men did it in the same year. But in the next 17 seasons? There wasn't even one season like that. In fact, there wasn't even a season in which as many as three different hitters were homer-free.

So here's my question: How come that wasn't in the Mitchell report? I'll let you know if Sen. George Mitchell ever gets back to me on that one.

Shameless Book Plug Dept.: Finally, it's true. Those book-signing plugs are back. It's that time of year. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Next Tuesday evening (Sept. 16), from 7-9 p.m., my old friend Glen Macnow and I will be talking sports and signing books as part of the annual Kaiserman Book Festival in Wynnewood, Pa., on Philadelphia's Main Line.

I'll be signing copies of "Worth The Wait: Tales of the 2008 Phillies" and "The Stark Truth: The Most Overrated and Underrated Players in Baseball History." Macnow will be signing "The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies," which he co-authored with Ray Didinger.

The event takes place at the Kaiserman JCC. Seeya there!