Brian T. Chan, Sports Editor

There is only one player who would round first base and run towards center field after hitting a walk-off single. Anticipating a mob chasing him, Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners unsuccessfully escapes from Mike Sweeney and a beer can in a 14-inning marathon against the Chicago White Sox.

Ichiro always electrifies the sport with his unique and unorthodox presence, but for him to be considered one of the top baseball players in his generation, Ichiro would have to outperform his counterparts in his own league, which he certainly does not.

As a 21-year-old in 2001, Albert Pujols debuted with the St. Louis Cardinals and won the National League Rookie of the Year award and finished second in the MVP voting. At the same time, the Japanese invasion reached a whole new level in Major League Baseball with Ichiro’s emergence in the Pacific Northwest. As a 28-year-old rookie, Ichiro took home the American League Rookie of the Year and AL MVP award.

In just his fourth season in the major leagues, Ichiro not only won the batting title with a .372 batting average, but he set the single-season record with 262 hits to provide a bright spot in a bitter season for the Mariners. Oddly enough, Ichiro does not hold the highest career batting average among active players. That belongs to Pujols, who leads Ichiro by one point. However, Ichiro’s batting averages have greater volatility than that of Pujols.

The focal part of this argument is the obsession with the batting average. In each of his first nine seasons in the major leagues, Ichiro recorded at least 200 hits and finished above the .300 mark. Batting .351 this season, Ichiro trails only Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins for the batting title.

The batting average alone is not the best indicator. It is one of the most misleading statistics in baseball. A .385 on-base percentage is typically solid, but it is quite disappointing for Ichiro, whose OBP is just 34 points higher than his batting average. I will denote this as OBP-BA.

OBP has a similar flaw as the batting average since a high batting average can influence a relatively high OBP. Ichiro eclipsed the .400 mark in OBP only once in his career. In that season, his OBP-BA was .041.

The best way to judge Ichiro as a hitter is by his on-base plus slugging percentage. Yet, he does not rank in the top 50 in that department. Since the range in SLG is greater than that in OBP, batters with a lower OBP and higher SLG than Ichiro also hold the advantage in OPS. Being a pure singles hitter does not justify him to be one of the top players in the league.

Let us do a side-by-side comparison of Ichiro and J.D. Drew of the Boston Red Sox. Drew is a career .283 hitter and has not batted over .300 since the 2004 season with the Atlanta Braves. What I want to show here is that Drew, whose style of play is different than Ichiro, is just as competent despite batting 50 points below Ichiro.

In each of the past six seasons, Drew consistently posted an OBP-BA of at least .100. Both do not share the characteristic in plate discipline. Ichiro, the hacker, swings at 31.9 percent of the pitches out of the strike zone while Drew tends to be more patient, swinging at 15.3 percent outside the zone.

The results show that Ichiro has a significant advantage in batting average, but Drew’s power and patience give him the edge in OPS. When valuing baseball players, it is not whether there is a discrepancy between a .275 and a .300 hitter because batting averages fluctuate from year to year. On the other hand, OBP-BA tends to be more consistent with career lines.

Although Ichiro is seen as an enigma, in which opposing pitchers struggle to figure him out, he is highly predictable in the sense that he will swing away and somehow reach base, especially when a bulk of them are infield hits. In his pursuit for 3,000 hits, Ichiro is by far one of the most unique players in the league. It fascinates me along with a number of people that his unorthodox approach has lasted him nine seasons.

Following his walk-off single, Ichiro came back the next night and stunned Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees with a walk-off home run. This time, he could not avoid his teammates at home plate. It is the small things that make Ichiro a great player, but when you look at the big picture, I do not think we should get carried away and say that Ichiro has no flaw.