Honoring Ichiro

For his first ten seasons, Ichiro Suzuki frustrated opposing pitchers as much as any other hitter in Major League Baseball. He was impossible to strike out, he could turn ugly slap-hits into singles, and despite (or because of) his disinterest in walking, he would still take a ball off his shoelaces and gap it for a double. He possessed a Rod Carew-like uncanny ability to square up un-hittable pitches coupled with a rock star identity and a rather elegant stoicism. What’s more, Ichiro was putting backsides in seats when the Seattle Mariners sorely needed something to boast about.

From 2001-2010, Ichiro amassed 53 wins above replacement, second only to Barry Bonds for qualified outfielders. He was in every way a superstar. But the decline in the last two seasons has been swift. For the last two seasons, Ichiro has hit a combined .268/.302/.341. Among the 58 qualified outfielders over the last two years, Ichiro is 58th in wOBA at .286 and 58th in wRC+ with 80. Go ahead and look beyond the stat sheet — your eyes can clearly see that he’s lost more than a step on the base paths, and his offensive skills have diminished to a level where he rarely makes much of an offensive contribution anymore.

Despite this trend, depending on the day and the delivery method, Ichiro is either likely coming back to the Mariners in 2013 or the club is having discussions about bringing him back. If the Seattle Mariners are sincerely interested in winning (more) baseball games, either position is rather negligent.

I get why it’s easy to love Ichiro. He’s been at the middle of a franchise that was stung by the departures of stars before him in Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, and Randy Johnson. He’s put together an MLB resume that will certainly be in the discussion for Hall of Fame worthiness despite arriving from Japan as a 27-year-old. He has been the face of the Seattle Mariners for more than a decade. But from an organizational standpoint, there are only a couple of reasons you consider retaining his services for 2013: as a fourth outfielder or sentimentality (also described as showing him respect, having loyalty to a player, etc.). Or both.

The Mariners aren’t likely to compete for a playoff spot in 2013, and they’re stuck in what seems like a never ending cycle of rebuilding, waiting for their youth movement to start actually hitting the ball. It seems extremely unlikely that Ichiro would accept a bench role, so if the Mariners did indeed bring him back, he would likely start in right field once again and block players that the organization needs to evaluate for 2014 and beyond.

The club ought to be thinking of trotting Franklin Gutierrez, Casper Wells, and Michael Saunders out there every day in 2013 to evaluate what their outfield will look like going forward as their touted young pitching develops. Even if you were an optimistic fan and you anticipate the Mariners to go shopping for one or more bats in the winter in an effort to compete in 2013, outfield is one of only a couple offensive positions they are likely to want to fill.

Ichiro only makes sense to the Mariners in 2013 as a bench bat/fourth outfielder, and if that’s mutually agreed upon, then fine. But that’s not likely.

The other notion is that Seattle owes him another year out of respect. You want to honor him. Be loyal to him. I think that’s nice. Even super nice. But even if the organization is getting pressure (or a directive) from their majority Japanese ownership to bring him back for a final year, is it really respectful to anyone — the fans, the organization, even Ichiro — to have him play another sub-par season?

The way you honor Ichiro if you’re the Seattle Mariners in obvious re-re-building mode, is to say this is his last year and you start planning the celebrations now. Give the fans an opportunity — both in Seattle and in cities he will play in — to stand and pay tribute to his amazing career with the knowledge that this very well may be the final curtain. Not by extending him to not help a stalled organization win baseball games. Certainly not by letting him play and play badly. If Ichiro doesn’t want distracting grand celebrations, fine — honor that. But watch the ovations pour down, regardless of his performance. That’s respectful and it’s better for the future of the team at the same time.

Some will say you need Ichiro to sell tickets for a team that has only one other draw and he pitches every five days. But what puts people in seats is entertainment. Winning is entertaining. Watching a 39-year-old bounce out to the second baseman four times is not.

When the rumors spread that the club might be thinking about bringing him back, there was some sentiment that the wide criticism on Twitter and other sites somehow belittles what he’s done. That it sullies his legacy with negativity. This is, of course, hogwash. When the Seattle Mariners re-signed a broken Dan Wilson for several million dollars in 2004, people cried foul, they just did it in front of their morning newspaper instead of lighting up social media from their iPads. Twitter didn’t exist.

Regardless what player we’re talking about, the criticism is of the decision making, not the player’s legacy. It’s an outcry for logic, not sentimentality.

Seattle fans love Ichiro. But they also want to see the Mariners win baseball games, and having Ichiro start in 2013 isn’t going to help much to that end. If he winds up signing elsewhere, so be it. But his legacy in Seattle ought to come to an end in September for the good of the organization, and the fans deserve the opportunity to say farewell with that knowledge.



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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.


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Romogenized Melk
Guest
Romogenized Melk
4 years 2 months ago

????????

kid
Member
kid
4 years 2 months ago

Seattle will almost assuredly find a way to screw this up – they are great at that. I really dislike the idea of a team “owing” an aging star something. For as much as Ichiro has given the Mariners, I’m quite sure he’s been handsomely compensated, and then some. Let him ride off into the sunset with some semblance of dignity, instead of doing it the heartbreakingly awkward way they did it with Jr. Having Ichiro clog up the upper-third of the lineup for another year is only keeping the organization from moving forward and embarrassing his legacy. His skills are barely replacement-level now.

mcbrown
Guest
mcbrown
4 years 2 months ago

If signing Ichiro is a baseball decision, you’re probably right.

If signing Ichiro is a business decision, you’re probably wrong.

Person
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

So I take it that you’re selling his 3-year UZR of +24 and 2012 WAR to date of 1.6?

J6takish
Guest
J6takish
4 years 2 months ago

His 1.6 WAR is propped up by a flukey UZR. He is OBPing under 300. If he wants to be more than a defensive replacement, he needs to change his mind on whether or not he feels like hitting 40 home runs

Pacoheadley
Guest
Pacoheadley
4 years 2 months ago

No matter how good his defense has been historically, it is hard to bank on defense for a 39 year old, especially when he plays the outfield and relies on his speed.

Person
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

Fair replies. Just thought it was something missing from the article that perhaps deserved attention. Ichiro hasn’t been worth nothing this year, while the article suggests otherwise.

NEPP
Guest
NEPP
4 years 2 months ago

Because when I think RF, I think of defense first players with no bat.

Jon in CUO
Guest
Jon in CUO
4 years 2 months ago

Also one should mention his insane durability. In 11 full seasons, he’s averaged 159 games a year. To my knowledge, he’s only been on the DL once, in 2009 for a leg injury. But he still managed 146 games that year.

D.t.
Guest
D.t.
4 years 2 months ago

He had that stomach thing after the World Baseball Clasic.

Eric Dykstra
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

I agree that Ichiro is probably past the time where he’s going to put up an average or above season again, but between the short sample of Saunders being good at a major league level, Gutierrez not being good and healthy since 2009, and Wells having a pretty small sample of major league success, I don’t think bringing back Ichiro for $4-6 million is the worst thing.

The organization is thin on OF past those four (not that it’s a tremendous group to begin with): Peguero and Carp are not major league players, and there are no real prospects knocking on the door. Going into the season with only Saunders, Wells, and Gutierrez as major league quality outfielders would be foolish. They could certainly upgrade via free agency or trade, but to just ride those three and hope they’re all decent and healthy would be a disaster.

ThirteenOfTwo
Guest
ThirteenOfTwo
4 years 2 months ago

Peguero, sure, is not a major league player. I don’t understand where you get off dismissing Carp so easily. A more than cursory look at his 2012 season line reveals a BABIP hanging around .150– and he produced at a 75 wRC+ level with that. Couple it with his shoulder injury and his 2011 line, and, well…

Give Carp a chance.

D.t.
Guest
D.t.
4 years 2 months ago

I think he meant major league outfielder, as a dh or first basemen, yes.

D.t.
Guest
D.t.
4 years 2 months ago

I think your second paragraph is key and why Ichiro will be back next year. If I was the Ms I would over pay Ichiro to get him to take a one year deal and see where we are at the end of next year as to his chances at 3000.

hailey
Guest
hailey
4 years 2 months ago

If he wanted to come back, I’m sure he would but he saw what happened to Griffey between management, the media and the fans. He’s a very proud man and I think he’d think hard before putting himself in the same position.

jrdo410
Guest
jrdo410
4 years 2 months ago

Ichiro could make this a lot easier on everybody and announce he’s retiring from MLB (leaving open a return to NPB). But I just don’t think that’s his style. Pretty tough for the Mariners to plan all these celebrations of Ichiro if Ichiro doesn’t like being shown the door.

jj
Guest
jj
4 years 2 months ago

career high 25.7% linedrive and career low BABIP of .275. If this was an article on Bryce Harper it would be talking about how unlucky he is and pull out a xBABIP calculator to show how his WAS should be 3.5 at this point. I don’t watch him everyday, but his numbers don’t show that he is Willie Mays circa 1973.

Phantom Stranger
Guest
Phantom Stranger
4 years 2 months ago

His career BABIP was always superficially high because of his blazing speed to first. He’s lost almost all those cheap infield singles he used to get because of his speed and they are never coming back.

jj
Guest
jj
4 years 2 months ago

True he may not be as fast to 1B, but that doesn’t explain why his high LD% is not bringing up his BABIP like we would expect. Or is he hitting liners to RF and getting thrown out at 1B? BTW, Fangraphs says his Spd score is at it’s highest since 2008. Not that it means a lot, but it doesn’t look like he is THAT slow. Either way, I still think his LD% should have him with a much higher BABIP.

Salo
Guest
Salo
4 years 2 months ago

jj

yes his LD% is higher that should help his BABIP

But his FB% is up and his IFH% is way down (5 point lower than career avg) that doesnt help his BABIP

You can not say hi is unlucky just looking at LD%, as noted there are other BABIP boosters that, in Ichiros case, are in the wrong edge.

GOB
Guest
GOB
4 years 2 months ago

M’s fans: Let me ask you something. Is this a business decision, or is it personal? ‘Cause if it’s business, I’ll go away happily. But if it’s personal, I’ll go away, but I won’t be happy.
Mariners: It’s personal.

Well-Beered Englishman
Guest
Well-Beered Englishman
4 years 2 months ago

Says the guy in the $12,000 suit.

brian
Guest
brian
4 years 2 months ago

He wants 3,000 american hits BADLY….

I think he also deeply cares about being the unofficial “hit king”

NEPP
Guest
NEPP
4 years 2 months ago

Well, he’s a long, long way off from that. He wont get there.

amoc21
Member
amoc21
4 years 2 months ago

I wouldn’t dismiss that so easily. Sure, he’s lost some speed and doesn’t get all those infield singles anymore, but he’s still a guy who can get 170-180 hits a season. Doesn’t take much math to figure out he’s 3 seasons at most from getting 3000. And as Jon in CUO pointed out a few posts up, Ichiro is one of the most durable players around.

Is it a given he’ll get 3000? No. But I wouldn’t be shocked at all if he gets there, especially if he sticks around in Mariner purgatory for a few more seasons.

Garrett
Guest
Garrett
4 years 2 months ago

Plus defense with a .278/.317/.409 line against righties this year, with a .130 ISO.

Maybe the solution is to just stop running him out there against lefties so much and find a RHB platoon in RF.

JamesDaBear
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

The solution is to bat him 8th or 9th where nobody will care much what his stat line is and instead give him credit for what he is… an asset with his glove and keeping fans happy. It’s not the Mariners fault they haven’t found a way to move him down in the order respectfully, which he’s earned many times over.

Jeff Mathis does Steroids
Guest
Jeff Mathis does Steroids
4 years 2 months ago

The problem with the comment is that, despite his offensive struggles this season, he is as good a choice as anybody on the Mariners team to bat 2nd in the order.

Mike B.
Guest
Mike B.
4 years 2 months ago

What will he do in 2013? Hopefully sign with the Giants and put up a 4-5 WAR season.

koopa
Guest
koopa
4 years 2 months ago

Also, consider his home/away splits this year and you might be quite right regarding a move to a new home being beneficial.

SafeCo:.214/.255/.289/.544
Elsewhere: .298 /.313/.400/.713

bcp33bosox
Guest
bcp33bosox
4 years 2 months ago

Advanced statistics are awesome and make the game I love even more fun, but making a definitive decision based on a few (even if thay are my favorite hitting ones), does not seem to be in the spirit of sabermetrics. I am sure you could whip out more, especially ones from last season and I am a relative novice, so I would not be able to make a stronger argument than the following.

However, last season was by far his worse, I am sure we could all agree, but isn’t he obviously playing at a higher level this year? He has more HR, more 3B, on pace for more 2B all mean a higher ISO (which would be his 7th best of his career!), also on pace for around 30 steals, and with improved defensive marks. Couldn’t he easily be in the 2.5-3 WAR range? If someone wants to talk about flukey UZR, well why was it so accurate last year? Looking at his 3 year marks, I still see an above average defender.

As a few posters have pointed out with his numbers (UZR, BABIP/LD%, platoon splits), I see some bad luck and I also still see some value there.

What do fans want? Well I am an Ichiro fan, not a Mariners one, so I admit my opinion is surely biased, but what I want is to see him get 3000 or at least be given the chance even if it means he is a 2-3WAR player. Is he trending down? Sure. Is he a 0.2 WAR player? Well, he hasn’t been so far this year.

AndyS
Guest
AndyS
4 years 2 months ago

What about the revenue that Ichiro brings back to the team?

Hutch
Guest
Hutch
4 years 2 months ago

It hasn’t been poured back into the payroll, that’s for sure.

JamesDaBear
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

They’ve had under 12k at some of their games… they really can’t afford to jilt the only everyday player fans cheer for.

Monroe
Guest
4 years 2 months ago

As one who has been to several of those 12K games, Ichiro brings about as much electricity as a dying transistor battery. The only thing that will bring fans back to Safeco is winning … or bobblehead night.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 2 months ago

I think what the team owes Ichiro is to ask him what he wants to do. When Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were done as everyday players they got the opportunity to go “home”. If his ego is too big to work with the team on an mutally agreeable solution, then the team must do what is best for the team.

FreeJohnJaso (with purchase of catcher of equal or lesser value)
Guest
FreeJohnJaso (with purchase of catcher of equal or lesser value)
4 years 2 months ago

I just came here to say, fuck Jay Buhner.

Detroit Michael
Guest
Detroit Michael
4 years 2 months ago

He also missed some games when he had that bout of venereal disease that was characterized by the press as a stomach ache from eating too many hot dogs.

Oh wait – that was the other HOFer George Herman Ruth.

Jeff Mathis does Steroids
Guest
Jeff Mathis does Steroids
4 years 2 months ago

The worst part about Ichiro is that there will always be the matter of “what if”. Personally, I believe that if he had gotten a chance to play in the MLB when he was 20 or so years old, Pete Roses’ record would at least be in serious jeapardy right now.

Phil
Guest
Phil
4 years 2 months ago

He’s put together an MLB resume that will certainly be in the discussion for Hall of Fame worthiness”

Almost no doubt he will be. Probably ahead of the suspected and confirmed steroid users.

RC
Guest
RC
4 years 2 months ago

Which is ridiculous, becuase there’s no more or less reason to suspect him than anyone else.

Chad
Guest
Chad
4 years 2 months ago

Bringing him back expecting him to be a replacement level player isn’t going to make the team worse than it is now if you consider how bad the rest of the team currently is. It would be good if the Mariners brought him back with a reasonable contract that of course includes the revenue his popularity brings.

jack
Guest
jack
4 years 8 days ago

Having been an Ichiro fan since his first year in Seattle I can say with confidence that he is done as a ballplayer after the 2012 season ends..he offensive skills have greatly diminished and he is no longer considered an elite hitter…
Its time to take a bow as you round third base ….and headin’ home.

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