Ichiro and Infield Hits

Although I am not especially a Seattle Mariners fan, I am an unmitigated Ichiro Suzuki fan. Not only is he an incredible baseball player, he is also an amazing interviewee. Over the weekend he hit us with this.

I think there’s sexiness in infield hits because they require technique.

Ichiro provides offensive value with his above average OBP, fueled not by walks, but by limiting strikeouts and a sky-high BABIP. That is were the infield hits come in. Ichiro hits a high percentage of grounders, which have a higher BABIP than fly balls so right there we should expect him to have a high BABIP. But beyond that his BABIP on grounders in much higher than league average.

BABIP
+--------------+---------+---------+
|              |  Ichiro | Average |
+--------------+---------+---------+
| Ground Balls |   0.305 |   0.242 |
| Fly Balls    |   0.119 |   0.139 |
| Line Drives  |   0.705 |   0.720 | 
| Bunts        |   0.663 |   0.441 |
+--------------+---------+---------+

Ichiro maintains his very high BABIP by beating the league average on ground balls and bunts. He uses his speed and left-handedness (that much closer to first base) to beat out throw on balls on the ground. Beyond that Ichiro also hits more opposite field grounders than most lefties. In the histogram below 45 degrees corresponds to the first base line and -45 to the third base line.
spray

These opposite field grounders are more likely to be infield hits because they are farther from first base. A good number of these opposite field grounders are on pitches away outside of the strike zone.

Combine that OBP-driven offensive value with great defense and almost never missing games, and you have one of the best outfielders of 2000s.




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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.


31 Responses to “Ichiro and Infield Hits”

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  1. radiosurgery says:

    I only see one place were you messed up Dave ;)

    Great article, Ichiro is one of the most underrated players in the big leagues and watching him as a Seattle Mariner is a real privaledge.

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    • Joe R says:

      Underrated by stat guys
      Overrated by most everyone else

      Usually what I see is one camp scream “200 HITS! .330 AVERAGE! AWESOME!”, only for the other side to take the absolute opposite path and discuss his much less spectacular OBP, his ordinary SLG, and positional adjustments, blah blah, without paying much service to his glove.

      What annoys me is how similar he is to Tim Raines, but Ichiro is a slam dunk HoF’r because his BA is high, while writers don’t pay Raines the same respect for being walk happy.

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      • Pinball1973 says:

        But the writers suck. That’s a given. I love Ichiro like my dad loved Willy Mays, but Raines is still slightly more deserving as a valuable player of the HoF at the moment. The contradiction you mention doesn’t annoy me at all – many writers will drag out the same BS against Ichiro the morans* here use EVERY SINGLE TIME Ichiro is mentioned, but he’ll be going in.
        But if baseball is ONLY about “winning”, I would give it up today. It’s about excitement and history at least as much as it’s about “winning”, for me anyway (Nothing could make me a Yankees fan. You?) For entertainment and excitement, Ichiro is the best-rounded player since… It’s hard to even find a comparison (for me, of course). Pujols is the best today: the most exciting at the plate and a presence in the field, but Ichiro is Ichiro at all times – a phenomenon.
        Nine AS games should be it’s own ticket into the HoF, frankly, much less nine in a row, beginning from your rookie year.

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  2. Evan says:

    Ichiro is on pace to break several major-league records this year. The 9 straight 200-hit seasons everyone knows, and the NYT article mentions ths single-season infield-hit record, but he’s also on pace to break the record for most games in a season with at least one hit. That record (135 games) is currently shared by Ichiro, Derek Jeter, Wade Boggs, Rogers Hornsby, and George Sisler.

    Ichiro’s currently on pace for 138, even though he spent the first 8 games of the season on the DL.

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  3. Andy S says:

    Hey Dave,

    Where can I get the hit data you used for this article?

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  4. Dave Clapper says:

    Is that BABIP on bunts for the league accurate? Considering how much easier it is to put the ball in play on a bunt, if the BABIP is that high, why isn’t bunting considered a hell of a lot more valuable than it is?

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    • todd says:

      I would assume that because most bunts put into play are sacrifices and don’t count against the average. The population of players bunting usually doesn’t include the Thomes, Fielders, so it’s not an even distribution.

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    • joser says:

      Giving up an out for a hit isn’t particularly valuable, and that’s most bunts. The Ichiro’s of the world, who can bunt for hits, are rare. If there were more of them, the bunt might be considered more valuable. (I wonder how much of the data for that BABIP bunt value is made up of Ichiro alone?)

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    • Dave Allen says:

      That is the AL average for 2008 on BABIP on bunts. I think it is high because it does not include sacrifice, which are not counted as at-bats. And the only guys who try non-sacrifice bunts are the ones who can convert at a high rate.

      The BABIP data is from here.

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  5. joser says:

    It’s been a long time since Ichiro has gone O-fer in back-to-back games. He hasn’t done it this season. I think this was mentioned on-air in one of his recent games, but I don’t know what the last time was. I believe DiMaggio’s hit streak is as secure as any record in sports, and I don’t expect Ichiro (or anyone, really) to challenge it. But that streak aside, I’m not sure even Joltin’ Joe hit as consistently as Ichiro does and (especially) is doing this year. Until recently he was actually out-pacing the rate from his record 2004 season: in his 80th game in 2004 he had 111 hits; in his 80th game this year he had 128 hits. But in 2004 he went on a tear the last couple months of the year to set the hits record, and this year of course he has at least 8 fewer games in his season. Last week, in his 113th game (August 19), his hit total stood at 181 just as it did in his 113th game in 2004 (August 13). Since then he’s fallen a bit behind his 2004 pace. But really he was just streakier in 2004 (having a down late June/early July and a booming August and September). This year, he’s been a model of consistency: a little better than three hits every two games, game after game, pitcher after pitcher.

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  6. Steve-O says:

    How long can Ichiro’s streak of 200 hit seasons last? Does he have a legit shot at 3000 career hits?

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    • Matt says:

      Yes. The guy is single-mindedly driven to set hit records. He will play until he gets 3,000, and with it, a combined Japan-MLB hit total surpassing Pete Rose.

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    • Matt says:

      I think what this article really shows is that because Ichiro controls his BABIP like no other, he does not rely nearly as much on luck as other batters for his average. At some point he’ll miss significant time during a season and the streak will end. But until that happens, there’s no reason he can’t keep this up. He’s only really had one close call in his 9 seasons.

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      • Evan says:

        Some people worried that year was this year when he started the season on the DL.

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      • joser says:

        …and he missed a game on Monday due to a strained calf. Day-to-day, and fortunately it’s not anything worse (like a hammy) but he’s probably not going to be legging out infield hits for the next week or so. So he’ll figure out another way to keep up the same rate, I’m sure.

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  7. TangoTiger says:

    Right, the bunt data should be split based on whether the bases are empty or that there are 2 outs, and then the rest (potential sacs). The new rule is practically that any bunt with a runner on base and less than 2 outs is considered a sac if the batter is out.

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  8. travdog6 says:

    One thing that has always baffled me about Ichiro is how with a runner on first base, he maintains his high average and BABIP. One would think (or at least I thought) that since he has so many infield hits, his average and BABIP would dip with a runner on first, as that runner would be thrown out at second on a groundball.

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    • Kincaid says:

      It is really hard to get the lead runner on a groundball when you would not have had time to get the guy going to first, even if it is Ichiro, so I doubt he loses hardly any hits because an infielder’s only play was at second. The advantages of defensive positioning with a runner on, such as the first baseman holding a runner as JMHawkins mentions below, would have a bigger effect on his BABIP, and they would be helping rather than hurting. Tango’s point would also make a difference: if he bunts with a runner on, he gets credited with a hit when successful, but is not docked in AVG or BABIP when he gets thrown out unless it’s a fielder’s choice. With the bases empty, he gets docked an AB if he gets thrown out on a bunt, so that would inflate his AVG/BABIP with runners on.

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  9. JMHawkins says:

    One thing that has always baffled me about Ichiro is how with a runner on first base, he maintains his high average and BABIP. One would think (or at least I thought) that since he has so many infield hits, his average and BABIP would dip with a runner on first, as that runner would be thrown out at second on a groundball.

    Well, in that situation, the Wizard simply pulls the ball on the ground sharply through the hole left by the 1B holding on the runner. Or, if they pitch him outside so he can’t pull it, he instead serves it tennis-style into shallow left field.

    At least, that’s what it seems like watching him. He really does seem to have an ability to place the ball when he hits it. He has more bat control than anyone else I’ve ever seen. Plus his feet are in motion as he swings, already starting towards first…

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  10. DavidCEisen says:

    Can anyone explain why Ichiro is 6th in the league in IBB? He’s been intentionally walked more times than player like: Joe Mauer, Ryan Zimmerman, Hanley Ramirez, and Evan Longoria. If the odds are overwhelmingly that he is going to hit a single, why walk him?

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    • Kincaid says:

      Because in a tight game with runners in scoring position and one or two outs, a single can be much more dangerous than a walk. In a situation where even a single can really hurt you, Ichiro is the last hitter a lot of pitchers would want to face.

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  11. Joe R says:

    But now I’d love to know what the OBP for bunting is. If it’s something like .400 for certain guys, I could see a very legit argument for using it more.

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    • Kincaid says:

      OBP doesn’t include sacrifice bunts either. It just adds walks, HBPs, and sac flies to the equation, none of which a bunt ever is, so the OBP would just be the same as the AVG.

      If you add sacrifices to make an OBP variation, you end up with the opposite problem because there are so many times the bunter is not trying to get on base or when the defense is playing specifically for the sacrifice bunt, and the out rate is much higher than situations where the primary objective is to get the bunter on base. That’s why Tango’s suggestion of splitting out the bunts into potential sacrifice situations and treating them differently makes sense, because combining them skews the stats on both types of situations no matter how you count them.

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  12. Brian Cartwright says:

    Gameday data for 2006-2009 (thru games of Aug 25) show Ichiro leading mlb with infield hits on 17.2% of ground balls (non bunts) which stay in the infield. Hunter Pence is 2nd at 16.0%, then Matt Kemp 15.7, Hanley Ramirez 15.5, Scott Hairston 15.3, Carlos Gomez 14.6, Ryan Braun 14.5, Rajai Davis 14.2.

    In the same time period, Willy Taveras has laid down 208 bunts, 90 for hits, 44 for sacrifices, a .433 OB, .556 not including the sacs. Ichiro has bunted 43 times, 22 hits, 10 sacs.

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