2015 was a (mostly) unremarkable season for the subject of today's festivities, Ichiro Suzuki, but that's to be expected when you're 41 and passing the 14,000-PA mark for your career. But there was one thing Ichiro did that he had never done before: took the field as the oldest position player in baseball. Barring something shocking, like the Dodgers sustaining enough injuries to push Raúl Ibañez from the front office and back onto the field, he'll do it again in 2016 while joining a very exclusive club.
In the 115 seasons since 1901 (the limit of the Baseball Reference Play Index), there have been 80 position players as old or older than anyone else, while reaching 200 PAs, in at least one year. Ichiro, if he reaches the playing time threshold, will be the 36th player to be the oldest player in baseball at least twice, and only the 20th since 1960.
Being the oldest even once is a good sign for your career; of the 80, 36.3% are in the Hall of Fame, and that's not including likely future inductee Chipper Jones (oldest in 2012) and deserving players Gary Sheffield (2009) and Barry Bonds (2006–07). If a player was the oldest at least twice, though, it's becomes a coin flip whether they're in the Hall or not (18/35, or 51.4%).
Perhaps it's unsurprising, after hearing about the pedigree of this group, to learn that Ichiro is not among the best of them. By fWAR, his 2015 was the 11th worst of the 144 at -0.8, and his -1.1 fWAR/600 compares poorly to a weighted average of 1.8 fWAR. If the projection systems are to be believed – and, unfortunately, there's no reason they shouldn't be in his case – Ichiro will not change course in 2016.
The best comp is probably to the player whose record Ichiro is seeking to break: Pete Rose. The three years in which Rose was the oldest player in baseball, 1984–86, were also the three years he was player-manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He too was statistically uninspiring during that time, averaging 0.3 fWAR per year, but the breaking of Ty Cobb's all-time hit record provided the reason for his continued playing time. His 1986 is the 9th worst of the 144, so while Ichiro is unlikely to challenge Honus Wagner's 8.5 fWAR as the oldest player in 1912, Rose provides a precedent for remaining active a little longer than necessary.
There's also a real chance Ichiro doesn't make the 200 PA minimum I've set. FanGraphs' depth charts project only 187 PAs; Baseball Prospectus projects 197. It's also unsurprising that the group of players Ichiro finds himself among tends not to play full seasons, what with old bones and joints being what they are. The average is just shy of 400 PAs, though, so it's more likely a question of whether the Marlins will make time for Ichiro than whether he'll be able to play.
Even among the league's oldest players, historically, Ichiro will be of a fairly advanced age. At 42, he will be older than 115 of these 144 player-seasons, or nearly 80 percent. However, he'll have to stick around for a lot longer than anticipated to challenge the oldest of the old, Julio Franco. Franco spent four years as the oldest player in baseball, and in the fourth (age 46), he became the oldest player to ever accumulate 200 PAs (and thereby the oldest-oldest player). Astonishingly, he played another two seasons, but ended up short of the threshold in both. In some ways, he also had a more graceful decline than Ichiro. Through all the seasons where he broke 200 PAs, he produced a positive fWAR, and again, those included a season in which Franco was four years older than 2016 Ichiro.
The next season will rightfully be a celebration of Ichiro, and chief among reasons to enjoy it will be his continued membership of this exclusive club of old, old players. However, he's wasn't one of the best of them in 2015, and unless he bucks his projections, probably will not be great in 2016 either.
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Henry Druschel is a Contributing Editor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @henrydruschel.