Ichiro to Hit Third, Try to Slug in 2012?

For the last 11 seasons, Ichiro Suzuki at the top of the order has been the one constant in Seattle. Ichiro isn’t leaving Seattle, but as Eric Wedge announced today, he won’t be leading off for the Mariners any more:

For most of his career, Ichiro has been the prototypical leadoff hitter. Even without taking a bunch of walks, Ichiro has managed to post good-to-great on-base percentages and set the table for the rest of the Mariners’ lineups. But the third hitter’s job isn’t just to get on base, it’s also to move runners around to score. Can Ichiro — especially an Ichiro feeling the effects of aging at 38 — adapt his game to fit this new role?

At the very least, if he fails it won’t be for a lack of trying:

Ostensibly, the move to a wider base is in an attempt to generate more power as opposed to his former contact-oriented narrow stance. Ichiro once famously said, “If I’m allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40 [home runs], but nobody wants that.” It appears we may finally get to test this brash statement.

Although Ichiro has never once posted an isolated power score above the league average, that’s more because he hits too many singles (elevating his batting average) than about his ability to hit for extra bases. Even in a down year in 2011, Ichiro kept his streak of 20-double seasons — all 11 of his MLB seasons — alive. But Ichiro’s career high in home runs is just 15, and the last time he hit double digits was in 2009, when he hit 11. He then proceeded to hit 11 total in the last two seasons.

Compounding all of this: Ichiro is small. We have him listed at 5-feet 11-inches tall and 172 pounds of mass. Can Ichiro even break his own record of 15 home runs? According to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, just 18 players under six feet tall and weighing less than 175 pounds have hit 15 home runs since the 1996 season, and none of them have done it after their age 36 season. And honestly, I’m not sure some of these guys should qualify. You be the judge:

Rk Yrs From To Age
1 Jose Valentin 9 1996 2006 26-36 Ind. Seasons
2 Jose Guillen 6 2003 2010 27-34 Ind. Seasons
3 Jacque Jones 6 2000 2006 25-31 Ind. Seasons
4 Ray Durham 6 1998 2006 26-34 Ind. Seasons
5 Todd Hundley 5 1996 2002 27-33 Ind. Seasons
6 Jimmy Rollins 4 2006 2011 27-32 Ind. Seasons
7 Jose Vidro 4 2000 2003 25-28 Ind. Seasons
8 David Bell 4 1999 2004 26-31 Ind. Seasons
9 Damion Easley 3 1997 1999 27-29 Ind. Seasons
10 Brian Roberts 2 2005 2009 27-31 Ind. Seasons
11 Rob Mackowiak 2 2002 2004 26-28 Ind. Seasons
12 Chuck Knoblauch 2 1998 1999 29-30 Ind. Seasons
13 Ichiro Suzuki 1 2005 2005 31-31 Ind. Seasons
14 Bill Mueller 1 2003 2003 32-32 Ind. Seasons
15 Damon Buford 1 2000 2000 30-30 Ind. Seasons
16 Mike Bordick 1 2000 2000 34-34 Ind. Seasons
17 Tony Phillips 1 1999 1999 40-40 Ind. Seasons
18 Chad Curtis 1 1997 1997 28-28 Ind. Seasons
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/21/2012.

Forget 40 home runs — of this list, only Todd Hundley’s 1996 season managed to hit that mark. Even 25 could be trouble, as the list whittles down to just seven players.

It’s not like Ichiro has to become a slugger to be successful in the third spot in the lineup. It definitely helps — the infield single is far better leading off the inning than it is with two outs and nobody on. Still, if Ichiro were to return to even his 2010 form where he hit .315/.359/.394 it would be a boon regardless of where it appears in the lineup. But everything we’ve seen with this story indicates Ichiro is going to alter his approach to become a power hitter — or at least more of one.

History says he’s probably going to have some trouble doing so. But Ichiro is as tremendous a talent — both in terms of his production on the field and the spectacle he creates — as baseball has to offer. Even if Ichiro fails to hit for more power, or even if he continues to decline after a poor 2011 season, one thing is for sure: he will make it very, very fun to watch.



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Bobby Ayala
Member
Member
4 years 5 months ago

Awesome, Ichiro has his chance to cement his greatness! If he can hit .300 with 30 doubles and 20 home runs in the 3-hole at age 39…wow.

However, I don’t think the height argument is that compelling, since your numbers don’t seem to back up your point. 18 guys have hit 15 HR 59 times in the last 15 years? That seems like an awful lot, considering that the total number of guys <6ft, 175lbs who have played a full season in the last 15 years.

Tasintango
Guest
Tasintango
4 years 5 months ago

Go back a little farther and you find Jimmy Wynn, 5’9″ 170 lbs., and no one ever said he didn’t have power.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 5 months ago

The bigger story here is that Chone Figgins will be in the lead off spot. Personally I cannot see a better way to improve the team than to get Figgins as many at bats as possible.

Eric Wedge
Guest
Eric Wedge
4 years 5 months ago

Personally I think the best way to improve this team is to give our worst hitter the most at-bats.

Ichiro
Guest
Ichiro
4 years 5 months ago

Cocaine is a helluva drug.

billybob
Guest
billybob
4 years 5 months ago

This is kinda slick in another way: if I remember The Book on batting order, the 3 hole is lower in importance than 1,2, 4, or even 5 (?). Since he’s getting old, the 3-hole makes his importance a little less without being too overt about it.

deadpool
Guest
deadpool
4 years 5 months ago

1,2,4 were the most important. 3 and 5 were next, with the better contact hitter in 3 and better power hitter in 5 (if i recall correctly).

bstar
Guest
bstar
4 years 5 months ago

yes that’s right.

moscow25
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Yes but that analysis is based on getting high-average guys behind high OBP guys. Ichiro batting third would be great if there are guys on base of him to drive in on send to third base. Even with singles.

Professor Eephus
Guest
Professor Eephus
4 years 5 months ago

I don’t anticipate much more than double digit HRs but it would not surprise me to see him hit a high amount of doubles. He has the approach to be a good gap hitter and combined with his speed a career high in doubles is all but guaranteed. I am interested to see the Mariners lineup now though. For years they have always had trouble driving runners in and with Ichiro’s job now switching to do that things could finally change.

Mike B.
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Not that it makes a huge difference, but Ichiro is actually 38, not 39. He doesn’t turn 39 until October 22.

As for the move it seems like a combination of “why the hell not” + “let’s try to showcase Figgins at the lead-off position and hopefully move him within a month or two if he doesn’t totally stink it up again”.

If Figgins leaves Seattle during the season I’m curious what’ll happen to the batting order. But not too curious.

Robbie G.
Guest
Robbie G.
4 years 5 months ago

If Ichiro comes out and hits 25-30 dingers this season while watching his batting average and total number of base hits drop fairly precipitously, has this ever been done before in MLB history? Has a perennial 200+ hits (mostly singles) leadoff guy ever transformed into a slugger?

Scott
Guest
Scott
4 years 5 months ago

Wade Boggs hit .270 w/ 20 + HR one year and claimed it was a conscious decision to hit for more power.

Adam
Guest
Adam
4 years 5 months ago

Interesting story except it never happened. Just look at Boggs’ career numbers. He hit more than 11 HRs one time, and that year he hit .363.

Scott
Guest
Scott
4 years 5 months ago

Correct you are sir….posted that one from anecdotal memory…should have double-checked

Shattenjager
Guest
Shattenjager
4 years 5 months ago

The only year Boggs hit 20+ HR, he batted .363.

Shattenjager
Guest
Shattenjager
4 years 5 months ago

Forgot to refresh before saying something and someone else already did, so never mind.

Kris
Guest
Kris
4 years 5 months ago

Wade Boggs also drank 64 beers on a cross country flight.

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
4 years 5 months ago

Yes but did Boggs count to infinity twice, and If he did did he get Chuck Norris permission to do so?

craigws
Guest
craigws
4 years 5 months ago

Ty Cobb hit five homers over two games at the age of 38 and claimed it was to prove he could have slugged if he wanted to.

jim
Guest
jim
4 years 5 months ago

he also did it to show up ruth when he played the yankees

Eric R
Guest
Eric R
4 years 5 months ago

In those two games, he batted: .750/.750/2.083/2.933, so even in the 7 PAs he didn’t hit HRs, he still destroyed the Browns [not the Yankees].

In those two games, here is what the Tigers team did
w/Cobb .438/.526/.888
w/oCobb .382/.494/.691

They did a pretty decent job of destroying Browns’ pitching on their own– is it more likely that Cobb could have actually hit 100+ HRs while still maintaining a great batting average, or that he happened to hit a team pretty hard [that his teammates also did a number on] and it just felt like the right time to rub it in Ruth’s face?

The Real Neal
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

So Eric,

Your point is that Cobb could not have batted .750 and slugged 2.000 over the course of the season?

DJG
Guest
DJG
4 years 5 months ago

Kenny Lofton is the closest guy I could find to fitting this description and he’s not even all that close.

Chone Figgins MVP
Guest
Chone Figgins MVP
4 years 5 months ago

I know most of you will laugh but my problem the last two seasons is not being the leadoff hitter. Now that I am back in my rightful spot you will all witness my renaissance. I have a completely different mindset at the top of the order which is backed up by my amazing walk numbers with the bases empty. Watch me hit and steal whilst Ichiro drives me in!

Impossible is Nothing.

Gary York
Guest
Gary York
4 years 5 months ago

Actually, impossible = nothing

dick
Guest
dick
4 years 5 months ago

actually, impossible = {0} (the empty set) which is equivalent to nothing

Lucas
Guest
Lucas
4 years 5 months ago

Something tells me Chone Figgins doesn’t say “whilst”

TD
Guest
TD
4 years 5 months ago

Chone MVP, you do a very solid job of lightly walking the line that separates a regular commenter from a troll.

Colin
Guest
Colin
4 years 5 months ago

In similar news, I frequently sit around not doing any physical activity merely reading fangraphs articles. However, if I were allowed to play in the MLB I could totally hit 40 home runs, but nobody wants that.

Luke
Guest
Luke
4 years 5 months ago

Who knows how it will work out, but anyone who’s watched Ichiro in batting practice knows he has some power. It’s sort of surreal watching a guy who hits singles for a living hit four balls in a row over the right field fence at Safeco.

Justin Bailey
Guest
Justin Bailey
4 years 5 months ago

That Ichiro quote is one of my all-time favorites. He basically said “I could hit 40 homers a year, I just don’t want to.” Sure you could.

Gary York
Guest
Gary York
4 years 5 months ago

Justin: I don’t know how familiar you are with the Mariners, specifically Ichiro, but the guy has a sense of humor. He also said (approximately), at one point, that he didn’t want to participate in the home run derby because he didn’t want to embarrass the other participants.

I think both statements were intended as witticism (via translator).

Steven Ellingson
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

I’m not sure you understand how isolated power works. Yes, the formula is SLG – AVG, so having a high AVG, (lots of singles) does technically keep it down. But if he hit less singles, the SLG would go down, by the same amount! (well basically the same amount, different denominators and such)

Anyway, ISO *basically* works out to extra bases per plate appearance. His Iso has never been above average because he doesn’t have an above average ability to hit for extra bases, not because he hits so many singles.

DJG
Guest
DJG
4 years 5 months ago

Different denominators? SLG = TB / AB, AVG = H / AB, no?

Choo
Member
4 years 5 months ago

M’s Fan said, “This is some pretty exciting shit. No, I’m being serious.”

And sadly, he was.

b jones
Guest
b jones
4 years 5 months ago

If at some point during the season Ichiro surpasses 25 homers, how soon does a lazy journalist start the PED speculation?

Mariners35
Guest
Mariners35
4 years 5 months ago

Don’t worry, it won’t take Geoff Baker very long.

ben w
Guest
ben w
4 years 5 months ago

who was the douche who questioned ibanez? j’rod something?

RiverAce
Member
RiverAce
4 years 5 months ago

I’m imagining Ackley hitting second, Smoak 4th, Montero 5th, Carp 6th,?…
At least their lineup will look promising in March. Who says Ichiro can’t get 45-50 extra base hits – he’s done everything else with a bat in his hands. At least Safeco isn’t the black hole for left handed hitters like it is for righties.

hernandez17
Member
hernandez17
4 years 5 months ago

Smoak 4th….good luck with that.

gus
Guest
gus
4 years 5 months ago

Not about luck. I’m not worried about Smoak. I’m more worried about Figgins, Ichiro, and Guti.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 5 months ago

Short guys Met Ott 5″9″, Willie Mays 5″10″, Mickey Mantle 5’11” hit about 1,600 HR’s. I predict Ichiro hits 34, just because he’s Ichiro.

JoeC
Guest
JoeC
4 years 5 months ago

Ichiro might actually be draftable now (of course I kid… he was draftable before, but only really for BA and Steals… now he might actually turn into a legitimate 5-cat player).

All I can say is, he’s climbed my draft board. I’m not a Mariners fan, but Ichiro is a pretty amazing ballplayer. He will be highly motivated to prove himself once again. I think it would be a mistake to underestimate this guy.

jim
Guest
jim
4 years 5 months ago

“We have him listed at 5-feet 11-inches tall and 172 pounds of mass.”

what the hell is a pound of mass? why not just omit the last two words from that sentence, and avoid looking like an idiot?

Andrew
Guest
Andrew
4 years 5 months ago

Pretty obvious that you’re not a STEM major. A pound-mass is a unit of mass, like the kilogram, as opposed to a pound-force, which is a unit of force, like the newton. You’d probably know that if you weren’t so busy looking like an idiot yourself.

Nathan Nathan
Member
Nathan Nathan
4 years 5 months ago

While you’re correct, let’s not encourage the use of pound-masses (or kilogram-forces). It should say “…and 5.35 slugs of mass”. (And let’s not use snails, either).

jim
Guest
jim
4 years 5 months ago

nope, not a “stem” major, whatever the hell that is; i plan on contributing with my life

brianwilliams42
Member
Member
brianwilliams42
4 years 5 months ago

Has anyone else seen him hit in spring training before? I’ve gone and watched him the last couple years.

He can really crush the ball. He was alternating with Griffey in the cage maybe 2 years ago, and hitting them more reliably out.

Jake Fox
Guest
Jake Fox
4 years 5 months ago

Hmm spring training home runs, you say?

Dexter Bobo
Guest
Dexter Bobo
4 years 5 months ago

Hmm 40yr old Ken Griffey, you say?

Sand Man
Guest
Sand Man
4 years 5 months ago

Was Griffey awake?

Nate
Guest
Nate
4 years 5 months ago

I know this has been said before, but when people wonder if the stature and mass (pounds of it!) of Ichiro is enough to generate any power, I just suggest they catch a Batting Practice session before a Mariner’s game. I was mildly skeptical about his HR prowess myself, thinking he must have good batspeed and luck to really crack one. But with all the “They’re only Batting Practice Pitches” caveats aside, I seriously watched him hit 11 balls over the fence on 12 pitches one time before a game at Safeco. This was several years ago, but it’s something to see in person.

I’m a believer. I think he’ll hit 30+ from the 3-hole.

Cory
Guest
Cory
4 years 5 months ago

“I’m a believer. I think he’ll hit 30+ from the 3-hole.”

Wow… you really are smoking some of that Ichiro crack… I would be very surprised to see him match his career high of 15. A 90+ mlb fastball and a 70 mph batting practice fastball are not the same. No way he turns into a power hitter with that frame no matter how many he can hit out in BP.

pft
Guest
pft
4 years 5 months ago

There were a lot of sluggers with small frames before weight training became vogue. Yaz was 5 11 175 lbs when he won the Triple Crown with 44 HR (Fenway was not kind to LHB pull hitters).

For Ichiro it’s only more a question of hitting more FB and fewer GB, and being more selective to wait for a pitch he can drive. The power/bat speed is there.

The Real Neal
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

..and Newton wept.

Deelron
Member
Deelron
4 years 5 months ago

On the plus side if he matches his career high of 15 that’d be good enough to tie for second on the 2011 Mariners. Hurray!

The Nicker
Member
Member
The Nicker
4 years 5 months ago

No one here besides me thinks the guy is basically done? Really? I know we’re Mariner-heavy on here but where are the voices of reason?

Name a batting statistic besides K% and Ichiro basically had a career low in it, including and most especially ISO. His fielding numbers tanked. He’s beginning to look like Juan Pierre (yep, I said it), and not the good version of Juan Pierre.

Ichiro was an ageless wonder but his skillset (and I don’t include batting practice home runs in a skill set) essentially put him on the knife’s edge his whole career. Power corner outfielders need to hit like the dickens, run like the wind, and field like a CF in order to be elite. He’s 38, he may not be an average ballplayer again.

The Nicker
Member
Member
The Nicker
4 years 5 months ago

*No-power corner outfielders

Andre
Guest
Andre
4 years 5 months ago

This.

Eric White
Guest
Eric White
4 years 5 months ago

Thanks for adding something to the discussion, Andre

RTBenj
Guest
RTBenj
4 years 5 months ago

Wow. The guy has consistently produced 4+ WAR/season for 10 consecutive years, and you’re prepared to write him off because of a single sub-par year? I feel that a player of his caliber has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. The benefit of MY doubt, anyway.

I think he’s going to surprise quite a few people this year.

The Real Neal
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

BABIP, learn it, live it, love it.

bstar
Guest
bstar
4 years 5 months ago

Learn it, love it, but don’t overuse it. Surely you’re not suggesting all those weak ground balls he hit last year that used to be line-drive singles were all due to bad luck, are you?

The Real Neal
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

We’re talking about last year when he hit more line drives than in 2010, right?

Fangraphs player pages, learn it, live it, love it (except for UZR and FIP and deriving WARP from them).

exxrox
Member
exxrox
4 years 5 months ago

I agree with this. Maybe he hits with more power than the past couple of years, but I wouldn’t bet for him to hit any more than his previous career high.

Jair Jarrkjens
Guest
Jair Jarrkjens
4 years 5 months ago

I’ll buy Ichiro hitting 20+ dongers next year. With his bat control and cerebral approach, I think he’ll figure out what adjustments he needs to make and then promptly make them.

luckygoon
Member
luckygoon
4 years 5 months ago

Wow. The Mariners are really bad.

edcallahan
Member
edcallahan
4 years 5 months ago

I don’t understand this. If the M’s management assumed Figgins to have had 2 poor years due to hitting out of his comfort spot in the lineup why would they make the same mistake with Ichiro? Are they assuming Ichiro is tougher mentally and can handle the move, or was the Figgins talk just an excuse they pulled out of their asses?

I’m betting on the latter.

Choo
Member
4 years 5 months ago

Nobody – especially not M’s management – believes Figgins’ issues stem from his spot in the batting order. But what is Eric Wedge supposed to say?

“It appears Figgins and Ichiro have fallen off a very steep cliff. In fact, our canyon floor is strewn with bodies right now. Mangled gore everywhere you look. It’s bad. Anyhow, 2011 was fucking horseshit. No sense in repeating that. No, we owe it to the fans to pioneer new frontiers of horseshit.

Tsunamijesus
Guest
Tsunamijesus
4 years 5 months ago

FWIW, they gave us much nicer, younger horseshit after June last year, and the pitching was rather nice for the first 86 games. I’m excited, not because I think they’ll win a lot of games, but there’ll be occasional production from prospects all year long and now we get to see Ichiro swing out of his ass every day. Does no one else notice the difference in his approach when he hits lead-off homers, like the one off Becket last year? It’s very different than his slap-swing, and he puts a charge into it. Having seen probably 3000 Ichiro ABs over the past 10 years, I think this might be at least interesting and worth trying, if not fruitful.

pft
Guest
pft
4 years 5 months ago

Ichiro had a 310 OBP as a leadoff hitter, in part because his IFH plummeted from 15% to 110%. They may feel he has lost a step or two and would be better off going for the long ball

Ichiro headed into a contract year may agree. SAFECO is not really a bad park for LHB’ers with some power.

pft
Guest
pft
4 years 5 months ago

oops, mean 10%, not 110%

Jon
Guest
Jon
4 years 5 months ago

The irony of this move is that it’s actually the right thing to do with a serviceable but declining hitter. The cutting-edge theory is that the third spot is actually where your 4 or 5th best hitter should be hitting, with 1st,2nd,4th,and 5th actually being more important. The reasoning is roughly that the third spot bats with 2 outs and no one on more than any other spot in the lineup (especially if Figgins is hitting leadoff…).

Eric Wedge is pretty old school, so I’m sure he’s basing his decision on the idea that 1) they need a proven vet in the third spot to take the pressure off young guys and 2) Ichiro will bounce back. Actually none of those are true, Ichiro just happens to be roughly the 5th best hitter in the lineup.

Bryan Grosnick
Member
Member
4 years 5 months ago

Yeah, but by that same (The Book-ish) logic, you put the guy who’s basically your best hitter and can get on base a ton in the #1 spot in the lineup.

It seems illogical that Chone Figgins is that best hitter / best on-base guy. So they’re not going by the Book.

(Also, I bet that Ichiro is still better than the #5 hitter in the lineup. Ackley, Montero, maybe Smoak, maybe Carp are better?)

CircleChange11
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

Boggs, in an interview on this very site, also stated that he was never able to duplicate the power swing from 87.

87 was also a “power surge” season leading many to think the difference was in the baseballs.

Boggs also of BP HR fame and one of great bat control.

My guess is the power swing experiment doesn’t last long and hell go back to the swing he’s used for the last 20+ years.

Now if he comes in at 205 pounds it could be different, but he’s basically being asked to “Brady Anderson” at age 39.

bada bing
Guest
bada bing
4 years 5 months ago

You mean “inject steroids”?

AA
Guest
AA
4 years 5 months ago

The guy regularly hit 20+ a year in Japan, AFAIK. Smaller parks, but he also hit a similar style.

J6takish
Guest
J6takish
4 years 5 months ago

Ichiro is a great player but we have been hearing about his BP sessions and how he has 30 HR ability…. But he just “didn’t feel like it”. I’m rooting for him to put up, but I think he is going to fall flat on his face

Shane Heathers
Guest
Shane Heathers
4 years 5 months ago

Who knows, maybe. Wasn’t Cobb about 38 when he told a reporter it didn’t take any special skill to hit dingers. He stopped choking up on his bat for two games and hit three homers the first game and two the second.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
4 years 5 months ago

In 1925 at age 38 Ty Cobb did indeed hit 5 homeruns in two games
against the St. Louis Browns. He hit 12 for the year which turned out to tie his career best for HR’s. He also hit .378 that year and was hitting over .400 halfway through July before he cooled off. 46 of Cobb’s career homers (he totaled 117) were inside the park, almost 40%.

Steve Balboni
Guest
4 years 5 months ago

I think it’s properly spelled “Ichiro!”. As in, “Ichiro! could hit 40 brushing his teeth”

That’s Hiragana, not Katakana.

DLoth
Guest
DLoth
4 years 5 months ago

For what it’s worth, anecdotal evidence says Ichiro’s got plus power in the tank, he just prefers to hit slap singles. He apparently has a home-run swing he’s shown in BP in the past that looks pretty effective, but who knows how he’d fair against real pitching.

bstar
Guest
bstar
4 years 5 months ago

This would be a great poll question. How many dingers will Ichiro hit this year? I’m going 18.

kick me in the GO NATS
Guest
kick me in the GO NATS
4 years 5 months ago

Ichiro will never hit 30 home runs. But I would believe 18-20 if he is really trying to hit for power.

footbook1
Member
footbook1
4 years 5 months ago

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