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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Ichiro and Sisler

Here are a couple of interesting posts from David Pinto over on Baseball Musings. He's been giving odds of Ichiro Suzuki breaking George Sisler's single-season hits record of 257. With 9 hits in the last two days Ichiro's odds have skyrocketed to 97% based on this year's performance and 92% based on his career numbers. On the high end David has him getting 23 more hits which would give him 270.

What's garnered interest in the Ichiro watch the last few days has been the critical article on CBS Sportsline. There are some interesting quotes there regarding how Bob Melvin attempted to instill a little more plate discipline in Ichiro coming out of spring training. After a slow start in April (26 for 102, .255) Melvin took the reigns off so to speak. David points out that Ichiro's slow start could simply have been accounted for by chance since he also hit just .274 in June. When you look at the splits though Ichiro only walked 8 times in April (3.91 pitches per plate appearance), 7 times in May (3.17 p/pa), 10 times in June (3.78 p/pa), and 6 times in July (3.33 p/pa). This doesn't seem like much of a difference over the first four months and although he did see more pitches in April it didn't really result in many more walks. With Ichiro you'd also want to know how many times he bunted on the first pitch during each month which would tend to skew his numbers.

It's also interesting to note that his ground out to fly out ratio has shot up this season to 2.33. In previous seasons its been in the range of 1.3 to 1.7. That might indicate that he has changed his style to slap even more than he did previously (I don't see enough Mariners game to know). In one of his at bats two nights ago I did notice that he slapped a ground ball to the right side where the second baseman fielded it just on the grass and Ichiro still beat the play by a step. When you have that kind of speed I don't blame a guy for slapping at the ball. It was his 53rd infield hit of the season.

There's also been a raging debate on the value of Ichiro's performance on SABR-L the last few weeks. Here are my thoughts in a nutshell:

1. The Mariners performance this season has nothing to do with Ichiro's. He performed about the same in their 116 win season and can certainly not be hurting the club.

2. Ichiro is a very capable leadoff hitter. His OBP is .416, near the top for leadoff hitters in the AL. He'll score 100 runs again for the 4th consecutive season.

3. That said, his total value as a hitter (his defense and base running are superb) is not in the same league with guys like Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez because he doesn't get any extra base hits (just 36 thus far to go with 211 singles). While his record chase is exciting and is good for baseball it doesn't have inherent offensive value. Ichiro's OPS is .877, about the same as Miguel Tejada, Mike Lowell, Carlos Lee, and Vinny Castilla.

4. If indeed Ichiro has more power than he shows as the rumors go, he should at least experiment with it to see if he couldn't trade 30 points of batting average for 20 homeruns. Not doing so is hurting his team.

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