Friday, September 24, 2010

Ichiro In Context


Here's a clip from Buster Olney extolling the "greatness" of Ichiro Suzuki:

The most significant game in the majors Thursday had no bearing on the top of the standings: In Toronto's victory over the Mariners, Ichiro Suzuki collected his 200th hit(...)

About Ichiro: He's a lock to be voted into the Hall of Fame five years after he retires, and he's been so good you wonder if he'll have a shot at challenging the highest standards for voting percentage. Incredibly, he has a shot at 3,000 hits for his career -- he's at 2,230 and counting -- and he has been a dominant, shutdown defender who has won the Gold Glove in every year of his career. He's been one of the sport's best baserunners in every year of his career.

Fine. All of these points are factually accurate. But are they true? Are they fair? Is Ichiro as great as everyone seems to suggest or is he the epitome of the selfish stat compiler? The player who not-so-subtly uses his status as one of the Mariners few gate attractions and behaves like a diva to get his way in terms of management and salary? Someone who is more interested in his lofty hit total than doing what he needs to do to win?

If you're reading me at all with any regularity, you know I'm no stat guy; that I believe stats to be a tool for a conclusion rather than the conclusion in and of itself; Ichiro's stats, on the surface are impressive; but the tale of Ichiro cannot be told simply by relating statistics to bolster the case for his "greatness".

Ichiro is overpaid; he's selfish; he's a diva; and he's calculating enough to survey the situation and adjust his game based on what's happening with the team.

I don't want to hear about WAR; I don't want to hear about his defense; I don't want to hear about his batting average; and I don't want to hear about his speed.

Ask yourself this: is Ichiro a player for whom the opposition has to plan? Do they need to worry about him and that he can singlehandedly wreck a game like Albert Pujols? Alex Rodriguez? Miguel Cabrera? Ryan Howard?

What does he do to help his team win?

He hits singles. He plays great defense. He has a great arm. And he can run.

If Ichiro were an Otis Nixon or even a Jason Tyner and didn't have the capability to do more than he does, then fine, but Ichiro could hit home runs if he was willing to sacrifice points off his precious batting average; if he decided to do more to help his team----a team that desperately needed someone to hit the ball out of the park----win. Instead, he chooses to collect singles.

Of his 2230 hits, only 417 have been for extra bases. Is this good? Is it useful for a team like the Mariners? In comparison, Tony Gwynn had 3141 hits and 2378 singles. Gwynn altered his game based on what his team needed. In 1997, he drove in 119 runs because he was the only one who could do it in lineup that was essentially popgun; the 1984 pennant winning Padres had men behind Gwynn who could hit the ball out of the park in Steve Garvey, Graig Nettles and Kevin McReynolds.

He adjusted his game.

Pete Rose was the same way----did Rose need to hit homers for his contending teams, the Reds and the Phillies? Of course not. In a lineup with George Foster, Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan with the Reds; and Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski with the Phillies, he did what he had to do for the team.

Does Ichiro do that?

Look at Ichiro's annual output and compare it to the amount of money he makes. Ichiro is paid $17 million a year and used his impending free agency, popularity in Seattle and gaudy numbers to: A) get the contract; and B) force the Mariners to dump manager Mike Hargrove in favor of John McLaren.

It's not as if the Mariners can't afford to pay Ichiro----they have money to spend; but a player who has the audacity to dictate to the club who the manager is going to be had better have the hardware to back it up; and I'm not talking about individualistic hardware like MVPs, Rookie of the Year, Gold Gloves, and batting titles. I'm talking about championship hardware. Magic Johnson and Mark Messier famously forced out coaches with whom they clashed----but both had championship pedigrees. If things had continued to spiral for the Yankees in early 2009 under Joe Girardi, I'm convinced that Derek Jeter would have gone to GM Brian Cashman and the Steinbrenners and said that it wasn't working----and he'd have been right to do it. Occasionally in the player-coach/manager battle, the player is right.

Was Ichiro right? Was it his place to do such a thing as leverage his free agency and popularity to force Hargrove out in favor of a manager more palatable to him? And how did it work out?

This isn't to imply Hargrove is Connie Mack because he's not; Hargrove was a competent manager. McLaren was a disaster and the Mariners wouldn't have been any better without Ichiro than they were with him. He is not a difference-maker for a weak lineup. If he played for the Yankees; Phillies; Red Sox; or Rays, he'd score so many runs because he's always on base with his singles, then his slap-hitting would be useful. But for the Mariners? He might as well be playing for the Pirates or Royals. He doesn't do anything other than what suits Ichiro's relentless pursuit of numbers.

The most glaring aspect of all this is that if he chose to do it, Ichiro could hit 25-30 homers. So what if he'd sacrifice 20-30 points on his batting average? For a team that has been so offensively challenged that their lack of offense has been called "historically horrible" by Jayson Stark, the Mariners needed more from Ichiro. The numbers back Stark up.

Here are two of the most disgusting points about the Mariners from Stark's blog (it's ESPN Insider content, so linking it does no good unless you're a subscriber, but here it is in case you are----link):

With only 13 games left in the season, the Mariners have scored 472 runs. That means they still haven't scored as many runs -- for the whole season -- as the Red Sox scored before the All-Star break (481).

The Mariners also have a .298 team on-base percentage. And they'll be not so delighted to learn that no AL team in the DH era has ever had an OBP under .300 in a full season. The '81 Blue Jays (.286) and Twins (.293) did pull that off during the '81 strike season, at least.

I'm not going to turn this into another written bombing campaign against the "genius" Jack Zduriencik. All you need to do is look at the Mariners on and off the field to come to your own conclusions regarding that; he inherited Ichiro and can't trade him.

This is about Ichiro himself.

That's the operative word.



I got my hits.

An offense that houses the likes of Casey Kotchman, Jack Wilson, Jose Lopez and Rob Johnson is historically inept. Could Ichiro's penchant for hitting singles have worked if the Mariners acquisition of Milton Bradley as their main power guy succeeded? Yes. But could someone from the Mariners have approached Ichiro and said, "we need you to bat third; and we need you to hit for more power even if it means sacrificing some hits" and gotten a positive response? Considering the way he's exerted his will on the team for years, what do you think he would've said and done?

He'd have pouted and rebelled.

This is not greatness.

This is a collector of numbers and a complementary player paid like a superstar. You can parse it any way you choose; laud his magic wand-style bat handling; look at his stats and talk about how "great" he is; but examining the entire story and everything he's done since coming to the Mariners and----most importantly----that the team has been consistently horrible after his initial three seasons in North America (and when there was a solid supporting cast to prop him up), and you know the truth; the truth that Ichiro is going to amass a statistical profile that will make people in 50 years look at them and say, "wow" when they should actually be saying "what?" and wondering what the big deal was; why he's been allowed to get away with the ruse on the public for so long, been paid so lucratively and accorded the team-wide power he still has.

  • More honorifics:

What world are we living in which public outcry and the masses dictate to an independent entity what they should or shouldn't be doing to honor a rival? And if the rival has said negative things about the boss of said entity, why should any such thing have been expected?

There's been much ado about nothing regarding the Florida Marlins decision not to have a ceremony/farewell to Braves manager Bobby Cox as he makes the rounds in his final season as Braves manager.

For what?

Are the Marlins obligated to give a plaque to Cox? Even if Cox hadn't invited the ire of Marlins tempestuous owner Jeffrey Loria with his comments about the Marlins' firing of Fredi Gonzalez, they'd still have reason to ignore the peer pressure that comes with "everybody's doing it".

Cox said the following about Loria after Gonzalez's ouster (you can read the whole article here):

“I know that guy [Loria] is unpredictable, but I was still….After everything [Gonzalez] has done for that guy, are you s——- me?,” Cox told reporters before Wednesday’s game against the White Sox. “[The Marlins] have gone down to the end every year, playing their asses off. That guy doesn’t appreciate anything. He’s one of those guys that thinks you change [for the sake of change]. He’s always wanting to fire the coaches, always. That’s his history.”

And the Marlins, owned by Loria, were supposed to give Cox a plaque after that?


I have the greatest respect for Bobby Cox; he's a Hall of Fame manager; but to say that a team----any team----has to be ostracized for refusing to give him a day for his accomplishments with another organization is ludicrous. If I were Loria and Cox had said those things about me, I wouldn't have given him a day either; nor would I care about what anyone said regarding the decision.

  • Viewer Mail 9.24.2010:

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE the Mets:

You've been predicting a Bobby Valentine job for a long time now, so I'm going with him as the Mets next manager.

I'm done predicting because I've said just about everything concerning Valentine that can possibly be said. The Mets, Marlins, Mariners, (insert team here)----and he's still sitting at a desk for ESPN. In a way, I'd be right in a betting on every horse in the race sorta way. Doesn't count.

Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State writes RE Bobby Valentine:

Following on Jane's comment, Bobby Valentine better be managing somewhere next season. You've made me jump in on the hype, Prince. I wanna see Bobby, at someone's helm, stirrin' up crap!

He was "getting" the Marlins job and then....POOF!!! Maybe it was Bobby V being Bobby V or some other reason it didn't work out. I'll say he's managing again next year, but who knows?

Max Stevens at The Lonely One writes RE the Mets:

Prince, you are more optimistic than I am that the Mets will implement a coherent plan for growth and success in the near and long term. I've come to the painful conclusion that as long as Jeff Wilpon is making decisions, the organization will continue to make reactive, short sighted moves, and they will continue to flounder, perhaps remaining competitive for flashes here and there, but ultimately fading at the decisive moments.

The Brooklyn Trolley Blogger (Brooklyn Capo) also writes RE the Mets:

OK...I guess everyone left the job of contrarian to me then. I want no part of Bobby Valentine here again. That's just my moving forward mentality. We've been there and done that. What I feel has nothing to do with Valentine per se. I just can not envision Valentine and Jeff Wilpon co-existing peacefully. The relationship between Valentine and Fred Wilpon is already compromised. You once told me they (Fred and Valentine) need to get over it. That may be true but it is what it is. The two do not like each-other no matter what you or me want for this team. The truth is, there is no better place for Valentine and his ego, not to mention his ability and acumen, than right here. I agree with all that. But in Met Year 8 A.D. in the Age of Wilponianism...Bobby is a round peg in a square hole.

Here's my problem with the continued attacks on Jeff and Fred Wilpon: the Mets were one game away from a World Series they would've won in 2006; they had playoff spots essentially locked up in both 2007 and 2008 had collapses, injuries, hot streaks from other clubs and other circumstances not sabotaged them. Would Jeff be so awful then had the club made the playoffs and copped a World Series in one of the three years? Even if it had played out identically as it has in 2009-2010?

He's a convenient target and given the reputation he has, it's somewhat understandable that he's seen as such a buffoon; but putting oneself in his position is constructive. I know if I owned the club, I wouldn't see it as so absurd to want my head of baseball operations to run his decisions through me----it's not too much to ask. People speak from both sides of their mouths on the issue of "outsiders" running teams.

No, Jeff supposedly has no background in scouting and is treated shabbily because of it, but then you see the likes of Ari Kaplan and Jeff Luhnow----with no inside baseball experience----hired by teams (the Cubs and Cardinals respectively) and these hirings are called "outside the box" and "progressive".

Which is it?

The Mets are too responsive to public ridicule and rather than doing what's best for the club, they react before coming up with a coherent strategy. Perhaps now they're going to do something constructive for the future of the franchise----a franchise that has the money, fan base and foundation to compete very quickly. If they do as they did with Omar Minaya and basically beg him to come and "save" the franchise, it's going to be the same mess in a year or two. If they make an intelligent, well-thought-out hire like Bobby Valentine or Tony La Russa to manage; and a Rick Hahn/Logan White/Jerry DiPoto to help Minaya, then they're on the right track.

I find it laughable that the quotes from media-types always emanate from "rival" executives or "people with knowledge" of the Mets. Who knows where these are coming from and whether it's someone who's saying things to bolster the talking points of the writer? It might be someone trying to manipulate his way into running the Mets himself. I take anonymous quotes with a truckload of salt (and it's one of the reasons I go so bonkers when someone comments anonymously here)----if you have something to say, say it and be quoted; and if you're in a position where you can't be quoted for one reason or another, then don't say anything at all; at the very least, give a reason for the anonymity.

None of this helps the Mets come to a solution. We'll see what they do, then analyze. Not before.

I was a guest with Sal at SportsFan Buzz a week ago talking about the stretch run. Go to Sal's site to download it on I-Tunes or click it directly here.

My book is still available on Amazon, I-Universe and Barnes and It's available for download as an E-book here. You can also now get it for less that five bucks on BN via download here.


She-Fan said...

Ichiro is the greatest player I wouldn't want on my team. Did that make sense? He has all the skills you mentioned, but he gives me the creeps.

Anonymous said...

You are full of it. Your whole argument against Ichiro relies on your belief that he can hit 25-30 home runs "if he chooses to". Who made you the God of "what if"? You don't know what he can or can't do. The fact is, hitting a MLB fastball or breaking ball is not as easy as you seem to think. The fact that Ichiro does it so consistently is extremely praiseworthy. The only reason the Mariners are so bad is that there is no one else on the team advancing Ichiro after he gets on base. All he needs is some better teammates. You compare him to batters like Gwynn and Rose, but it sounds like their stats are pretty similar to Ichiro's stats. You assume it is because they adjusted their games because they had decent teammates who could help them out, but you ignore the possibility that maybe they, like Ichiro, just weren't power hitters. Here's what I suggest, look at the Mariner's seasons. Look at how many 1-2 run games they lost. Now, imagine if Ichiro just had one individual averaging 1-2 more hits per game. Even if that only led to an additional score in half those games and the Mariners only went on to win a quarter of the games, they would be a completely different team. They would be in the playoffs every year. You would be eatine your words. Ichiro would be an MVP candidate every year.

Anonymous said...

I'm no "stat guy" either, so this isn't coming from that perspective, but man ... how do I say this kindly ... that was a pretty bad article.

Just as the 2nd commenter said, your *cough* "analysis", is based on your "belief" that he can hit 25-30 home runs. Really? That's your argument?

And let's say he does try to hit 25-30 HR's, and he does it, sacrificing, as you say, "his precious batting average". Fine. Let's say this is possible. Well do some "analysis" and tell me what you think his batting average will drop to. Or what number will be acceptable.

He's a career 330 hitter, so what is your assumption? That it will drop to, 315? 300? Let's say it drops to 250. Do you know it won't? You seem to think it will drop to a slightly less number, allowing him to be unbelievably better. But maybe Ichiro, while switching his game to make it more appealing to you, doesn't become the player you think he could become. Maybe the 25-30 homers makes him worse than he is now (based on the other numbers used to judge a hitter).

On top of that, it's not enough to do the following: "He hits singles. He plays great defense. He has a great arm. And he can run." All things that help a team win. No, Ichiro, with his new stat line of 25-30 HR's, will cause the Seattle Mariners to score 200 more runs (as a team) on top of what he is contributing now. Because 200 more runs is about what is necessary to make the M's a decent team.

So, because every other player in the M's lineup is dog poop, it's Ichiro's fault. He should have adjusted and drove in 300 RBI's this year (which even with 125 HR's may be impossible, because no one on that M's team can get on base). Pick your favorite player: Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols, etc. You put them in Ichrio's position, and you know what?, the M's would still stink. And then you'd tell us how Pujols should adjust his game too.

I mean, this is just terrible analysis and thinking. And you put it out to the world to see. I'd be embarrassed. Anyhow, I've already wasted enough of my life posting, and I'm not even an M's fan or an Ichiro fan. I just couldn't believe what I was reading and had to respond.

Mike in LA said...

Saw this linked on Baseball Reference while researching Gwynn. Gotta ask: who goes "diva" to get singles? Ichiro or Gwynn or Rose would make any team better. Torture that any way you like to be a negative.

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, Ichiro doesn't care what you think.

Ultimately most of your claims are based on your unsubstantiated theory that because Ichiro hits the occasional home run, he could hit many more without sacrificing anything, which is pretty much completely bogus. It also comes off as stupid and whiny when you tell us how you don't want to hear about how good a player he is statistically, just because you want to trash him, but can't find a stat to do it.

Jeff said...

Totally with you on the Ichiro thang. And if I can figure out who Anonymous is I'll put in a work order for ya.

Anonymous said...

Really, you are full of it. Ichiro is one of the greatest baseball players of all time in two countries and the pitching in Japan is just as good or even better than the USA. YOU go and collect 200+ hits for 10 years straight and then talk. Otherwise, shut your mouth, idiot! You don't understand baseball, you silly little blogger/keyboard warrior!

Anonymous said...

Do you work foer Pete Rose? Trying to preserve "The American Way"? Here's the news: Ichiro is a great hitter. He's a great baseball player. He will be in the Hall of Fame (unlike Mr. Rose) and he is better for baseball than ALL the steroid bums of the last few years ( yes, that includes A[nal]-Rod). Ichiro is a once-in-100-years player.

I suspect there is anti-Japanese sentiment or, at least, "Americans are the best at baseball 'cause it's OUR damn game" sentiment behind your comments. Well, one day America's World Series Champion needs to play Japan's champion baseball team. We'll see if America can claim to be best. You might be surprised when the Japanese whip the American team.

Ichiro's "problem" is that while doing his job, his American-born teamates are not good enough to match his skills. Get that? His American-born teamates "ain't got da goods!"

Anonymous said...

You didn't do much valuable research to back up your theory.

First, you obviously haven't seen how teams pitch to Ichiro or how he approaches that pitching. If you'd done any research, you would have noticed that while many commentators feel he could hit homeruns, his only home runs are to right or right center. That means either he doesn't have the power or its how he's pitched. Second, you'd notice, if you watched him that he swings at EVERYTHING. He was once quoted that he feels like a failure if he doesn't get a hit while at the plate. Walking isn't much of a goal for him. His style to swing and jump out of the box adds to this. Those two things have lead many teams to pitch him down and away to make him lean over the plate or give him complete garbage. He can foul off those pitches all day long but they don't lead to easy pitches he could park either. Often times the only thing he can do with those pitches is weakly ground them to the shortstop and go for an infield hit - which he does suprisingly often. They've learned after a couple huge seasons that he can hit anything, so nobody pitches to him - they figure if they throw him garbage and he'll swing at it, the worst he can do is an infield single. With he being in the leadoff spot with weak hitters behind him and at #8 or #9, there's no danger to pitching to him with garbage. The real weakness is he needs better guys behind him.

Besides you mention Rose and Gwynn adjusting their style to fit their team needs. That's crap too. Neither of them hit more than more than 16-17 home runs and often they were hitting 0-1 a year, on a full season. Notice Rose hit ZERO while playing 151 games for Philly. Gwynn recorded a few SINGLE homerun seasons as well. Both of them averaged between 5-10 most years. Rose had double figures in HRs in 8 seasons of his first 14 and averaged just 12 in those 8 seasons. Rose had his last 200 plus hit year in his 17th season in 1979. In that time he averaged 6.7 homeruns a year. Neither averaged 20-25 much less ever made it past 17 a year. Neither adjusted their game that much.

They did what every other great hitter does - hey went to the plate and hit they way they knew how. Maybe the situation changes, but if you've ever heard Ichiro speak, you'll know his situational awareness and that he has an idea of what he wants to do is as acute as any Hall of Famer.

You're theory that he could hit more homers and just doesn't want to is bogus.