Ichiro and Boxes

I know Matthew wrote about this a few weeks ago, but hopefully, you’ll bare with me as we revisit the topic of Ichiro’s value. It has become prominent again in the local discussions of the Seattle Mariners, as J.J. Putz and Adrian Beltre have expressed frustration with his style of play.

In the last three years, here’s the Win Value leaderboard for major league outfielders.

1. Grady Sizemore, +20 wins
2. Carlos Beltran, +18.4 wins
3. Matt Holliday, +18.1 wins
4. Curtis Granderson, +14.7 wins
5. Ichiro Suzuki, +14.5 wins

Over the last three years, Ichiro has been a more valuable player than Manny Ramirez, Magglio Ordonez, Alfonso Soriano, or Vladimir Guerrero. Do you see their teammates complaining that they don’t play the game the right way (okay, Manny, but that’s a different kind of issue entirely)? Do you see them continually being derided for what they don’t do?

We’re in desperate need of a paradigm shift. For too long, baseball players have been put into boxes and defined based on how well they fit a preconceived notion of what is valuable. If you don’t do those certain things, then your value is diminished, regardless of how well you do everything else.

A player’s value is the sum of his total contributions on the field. And those contributions come in all shapes and sizes. You don’t have to hit home runs to be a star. You don’t have to play defense to be a star. You don’t have to be nice to the media to be a star. If you have a deficiency in one area, you can make up for it with superlative greatness in another.

Ichiro is a star. That he doesn’t produce like Guerrero or Ramirez doesn’t make him less valuable, just because he doesn’t look like a right fielder.

Let’s just toss our preconceived notions of what a player should do overboard and evaluate them on what they actually do. We care about their tangible value, not our interpretation of whether their value fits the mold.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

19 Responses to “Ichiro and Boxes”

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  1. K-Bomb says:

    But, but… he doesn’t dive for balls!

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  2. lookatthosetwins says:

    It’s funny, because Seattle seems to have two guys, Ichiro and Beltre, who many would say are overrated. And offensively, people thought too highly of Beltre’s one great season, and too highly of Ichiro’s batting average. But their greatness defensively evens this out. Now they are two guys who are probably significantly underrated. Funny world we live in.

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  3. Brian says:

    Wow seattle lost 100+ games last season and Ichiro was worth 3.9 and Beltre 4.2 wins 2008. If I understand the stat well (new to the site) those two make you a 89 win team if everyone else is average. I guess everyone else was pretty bad!

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    • Hi Brian,

      Win values are relative to a replacement level player, not an average player. An average player is worth about 2 wins above a replacement level player, so you could say that Ichiro was worth about 1.9 wins above average, and Beltre was worth about 2.2 wins above average.

      A team full of replacement level players would win something like 48 games. So Ichiro and Beltre would push that number up to an expectation of about 56 wins all by themselves.

      To get an idea of who are real-life replacement level players, and to learn more about win values in general, click on the glossary link in the upper right hand corner. Then scroll to the bottom and read Dave’s series on win values.

      Welcome to FanGraphs!

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  4. rwperu34 says:

    One thing I will say, Seattle is going to have a very difficult time scoring runs. They really do need a middle of the order bopper. Ichiro and Beltre, for all their greatness, are not going to be that guy. Maybe the M’s should get in on Nick the Stick? Or just sign Manny? In fact, they really dropped the ball on Abreu and Dunn.

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    • D Wrek says:

      At what point do you give the kids a chance to play and grow though? They traded for Gutierrez and Chavez. So one of those guys has got to play, right, or what was the point of the trade? Its time to see what Balentiens got. And of course they have Ichiro.
      They could sign a 1B, but why waste the money when they’re not going to compete? Save the cash (or put it back into scouting/development) and see what the kids got so you can begin to project your future model.
      Sure those guys would help, but not enough to make them a contender, so why bother?
      You could be right, that just what I would do.

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    • Skip says:

      Were talking about a team that was not very good last year, to the tune of 95 Pathag L’s. They’ve made incremental improvements but to expect them to turn it around completely in a year is unrealistic. Regardless, there’s a shot they might be quite competitive this year in a poor AL west.

      While yes, they will probably have a sub par offensive team, the defense should be much improved in the outfield continued improvement for Felix and Morrow is probably pretty realistic. Hopefully Bedard can stay on the mound and you have a team that is likely to give up far less runs than last year.

      Winning in baseball doesn’t require you to score some set amount of runs, only that you outscore your opponent. A run saved defensively is just as important as one you score on offense.

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      • rwperu34 says:

        There is a rule that you must score at least one run to win;) The issue is, you’ve got two guys in the starting lineup that could reach most of their value as a 4th OF. With so many good defense/bad offense players, not only would you get the runs a big bopper would add, you’d get an extra few by distributing the PA properly.

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      • D Wrek says:

        Runs dont do them much today as they are not a contender. Runs are needed “tomorrow”. So why pay for runs now instead of developing runs for later? Its not just about giving the kids a chance to play, its also about using that money not spent on free agents on scouting (locally and internationally) and coching/development. 2 years of Manny, Abreau, or Dunn will just keep them stuck in mediocrity.
        If one of those guys turns them into a contender, pull the trigger, if not its a mismanagement of funds. Why spend millions for a couple of meaningless wins?

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  5. belle&sebastian says:

    I would argue that the complaints about Manny & Ichiro are no different. New England media (and the players who’d like to work for them(!)) bash Manny relentlessly. If Ichiro were near such outlets and denied them what they wanted he’d be portrayed as aloof and to cool for school as well. The players in Seattle? That’s called ‘Ichiro is way way way better than you, so shut up.”

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  6. Alireza says:

    I just don’t see how one can express frustration with the way Ichiro plays. The guy is 5’9″, 160 pounds. The only guy that small ever to really hit for power was Mel Ott, so I don’t see why people complain that Ichiro doesn’t swing more for the fences. While he might be able to hit 20 HR if he was swinging more wildly, he almost assuredly wouldn’t crank out the same AVG and OBP. In fact, you know what Ichiro becomes if he plays the game like Putz things he should? Kosuke Fukudome. Now, which player would you prefer to have on your team?

    The truth is that the guy’s legs are worth another .100 in SLG and his defense is stupendous. The problem is that we so often try to pigeon-hole players into certain types based on position played, which creates a problem with a guy like Ichiro who doesn’t have the stereotypical skill set of a corner OFer, but plays there.

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    • Doug says:

      I agree with most of what you say, but there are a lot of short guys who can mash. Maybe they’re not Papi, but Jimmy Rollins, Dustin Pedoria and even Matt Stairs pack a pretty good wallop for their size, and those are just modern players. If you look back into history you run into even more guys. Joe Morgan at an iffy 5’7″ led the league in slugging in ’76.

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      • Alireza says:

        Morgan was a guy I left out. Then again, he is one of the best all-around baseball players in history, broadcast booth antics not withstanding.

        On the other hand, Rollins has really only had one huge power year, and he did it at the expense of BA and OBP. Pedroia is a good 20 pounds heavier and hasn’t shown that his power production last year is maintainable. Stairs weighs at least 200 pounds, so I really don’t see the comparo there.

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  7. Fresh Hops says:

    Here’s a multiple choice quiz for people complaining about Ichiro. You don’t need to be a sabermetrician to answer this question. Okay here’s the question*:

    Rank each of the following players according to how much their performance hurt the Mariners in 2008, with 1 being the most and 5 being the least:

    Jose Vidro
    Miguel Cairo
    Miguel Batista
    Richie Sexson
    Ichiro Suzuki

    While I get the point that Dave is making about a paradigm shift, the fact is that anyone who’s blaming Ichiro is just blind to or ignoring very obvious facts about performance. The Mariners problem last year had very little to with chemistry or clubhouse vibe or whatever and a lot to do with a simultaneous collapse of several players that weren’t very good to begin with. The alleged problem in the clubhouse (and by the way, Larry Stone did an interview with Riggleman in which Riggleman said he thinks that clubhouse issue was overblown in the media) would have more to do with scapegoating than with paradigms about performance.

    *Answers: You can quibble about 1-4 or go look up the answers on fan graphs. Ichiro is 5 by a few wins.

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  8. studes says:

    hopefully, you’ll bare with me

    Well, that’s asking a lot, isn’t it?

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  9. kensai says:

    But he doesn’t hit sacrifice flies, bro!

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