Lyle Spencer

Ichiro exemplifies value of singles

Base knocks are often underappreciated, but they remain as important as ever

Ichiro exemplifies value of singles

Two of the most prolific offensive performers in history are visible this season in Marlins uniforms. Barry Bonds, the new hitting coach, needs no introduction. Nearing the finish line of his career, Ichiro Suzuki is the greatest singles hitter the game has ever known.

Ichiro is seventh all-time in singles since 1900, getting to 2,390 in nine fewer seasons than it took leader Pete Rose to reach 3,215. Ichiro has led the Majors in singles nine times, missing a 10-season streak in 2003 when Juan Pierre stroked six more than he did.

Pierre, Ty Cobb and Nellie Fox each led their league six times in singles, Tony Gwynn five times. Maury Wills, Rod Carew and Willie Wilson each did it four times.

Ichiro is the single-season king with 225 singles in 2004, and he owns four of the six best singles seasons since 1900. Counting his 926 singles in Japan before joining the Mariners in 2001, Ichiro has 3,316 -- 101 more than Rose.

Tied with Bonds for 33rd on the all-time hits list, Ichiro needs 65 this season to reach 3,000. Hank Aaron, a pure hitter who went deep 755 times, had 799 more singles than walks leader Bonds, the man who surpassed him by seven in the home run chase.

Suzuki's RBI single

Singles have been marginalized somewhat in the modern game with its focus on home runs, walks, on-base percentage and OPS. But singles are better than walks, in spite of what parents with the best of intentions tell their overeager kids.

Walks are helpful, but you've probably never seen one score a runner from second, move a runner from first to third or drive in two runs -- the way a single routinely does.

The value of singles could not be missed in the Royals' World Series title run last fall. Kansas City created havoc with 100 singles in 627 postseason plate appearances. The National League champion Mets had 68 singles in 527 plate appearances.

This was the culmination in Kansas City of an aggressive attack plan that developed across six seasons. Since 2010, the Royals are third in the Majors in singles, last in walks and home runs. In 2015, Kansas City had 10 fewer singles than MLB-leading Detroit, 93 fewer homers than the Blue Jays.

Moustakas' go-ahead single

The singles party ran up and down the Royals' lineup: Alcides Escobar led with 129, followed by Eric Hosmer (122), Lorenzo Cain (113), Kendrys Morales (100), Mike Moustakas (99) and Salvador Perez (92).

The Royals put together rallies from April through October. In the Giants' three Fall Classic championship runs, including 2014 at the Royals' expense, they used the same formula: pitching, defense and hit-fueled rallies.

Jose Altuve (570 singles the past four years) and NL batting champion Dee Gordon, Ichiro's All-Star teammate in Miami, are the new singles kingpins.

Gordon led the Majors with 169 singles last season. Rounding out the top five were Xander Bogaerts (151), Ben Revere (150), Altuve (141) and Brandon Phillips (140).

Gordon's single

Asked last summer if Gordon's style reminded him of his own, Ichiro beamed and said, "He does. Very similar, the way he hits, runs. I think I was like that. He can bunt, go the other way. He's exciting, fun to watch ... a very good player."

As a Yankee for three seasons, Ichiro played alongside another singles machine. Derek Jeter is fourth in history since 1900 with 2,595, having led the American League three times.

Ichiro, 42, finally showed signs of erosion last summer, hitting .229. New Marlins manager Don Mattingly, a 1984 AL batting champion and .307 career hitter, figures to find Ichiro enough at-bats to get him to 3,000 hits.

Ichiro passes Wheat on hit list

Mattingly finished in the top 10 in the Majors in singles three times with a high of 152 in 1986 -- the year he led the Majors in hits (238) and total bases (388).

Other current managers understand the impact of singles. The Twins' Paul Molitor collected 2,366 of them, 10th all-time since 1900. The Nationals' Dusty Baker, known like Mattingly for his power, was seventh in singles in the Majors in 1981.

"I learned from Hank at a young age the value of putting the ball in play," Baker said of Aaron, his immortal Braves teammate. "Singles start rallies, keep 'em going and finish them. When you make contact and put pressure on a defense, a lot of things can happen."

Baker never whiffed more than 89 times in his 19 seasons and had more career runs scored and RBIs than whiffs.

Mike Scioscia had 1,131 career hits and only 307 strikeouts. Dave Roberts (721 hits/362 K's) also was a guy who put it in play.

They might not be as thrilling as home runs, but singles win games -- and championships. Witness the reigning kings from the "Show Me State."

Lyle Spencer is a columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.