Ichiro Year Six
by Asher B. Chancey
October 1, 2006
Some of you have written in asking me for my thoughts on Ichiro Suzuki. Many of you consider Ichiro overrated, citing his OBP, which is only 48 points higher than his AVG. Others have complained that, for a guy that gets so many hits, most of them are singles. Additionally, many of you have complained that if Ichiro were so great, with his speed he'd be playing centerfield.
Lets take the last one first. There are tons of weak hitting speedsters who play centerfield because they can run but not throw. Ichiro has played rightfield in Seattle because a) Mike Cameron had been stationed in center, and b) he has a canon. This season, Ichiro played centerfield in roughly 30 games, and appears headed there full time next season. I don't hold his defense against him.
As for the OBP/AVG argument, I have repeatedly stated that OBP is OBP is OBP. Let's say a guy hits .390, but doesn't take a walk all season and thus his OBP ends up being .390. Do we discredit him for not walking, or do we give him all the credit in the world for his .390 OBP? I know Bill James likes to point out how bad some players in the small-AVG/OBP-gap-mold are (Sam Rice, George Sisler, etc.) under the rubric of "secondary average," and this is fine. But OBP is OBP, I don't care what the underlying average is. And Ichiro's career OBP is .376, which is nothing to complain about. Whether his underlying average is .330 or .256, his OBP is .376, which is pretty good. And Ichiro's career average is actually .330, which is historically excellent.
As for most of his hits being singles, well, that is true. But Ichiro is Ichiro – he hits leadoff and, doesn't claim to hit for power. I don't think anyone compares him to Jason Giambi or Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols. And they shouldn't. Rather, Ichiro should be compared to Johnny Damon and Grady Sizemore and Jose Reyes and Brian Roberts and Rafael Furcal and Scott Podsednik and Jimmy Rollins and Juan Pierre and Alfonso Soriano – other leadoff hitters around the league. I might put Soriano, Sizemore, and possibly Rollins ahead of Ichiro this season, but 273 times on base is better than any of these guys. Additionally, Ichiro stole 45 out 47 bases. Amongst players to steal 25 or more bases this season, only Brandon Phillips (25/27) and Chris Duffy (26/27) managed to get caught two or fewer times.
And finally, check this out - Ichiro turns 33 years old later this month, on October 22nd. At the age of 32, Ichiro just finished his sixth major league season with 1354 hits. Ichiro has averaged 159 games per season in the majors, and he has averaged 1.414 hits per game. At his current rate, Ichiro would get his 3,000th hit in just over seven more seasons. If you don't see the significance of that, let me draw it out for you:
At his current rate, Ichiro Suzuki will get his 3000th hit in his 14th season, at the age of 40. Despite having made his major league debut at the age of 27, Ichiro would still get his 3,000th hit at the same age that most players would expect their 3,000th hit after a full career. To get your 3,000th hit at the age of 40 after making your debut at the age of 27 is simply special.
I'll just have to cry myself to sleep over his high percentage of singles to hits some other time.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Philadelphia, PA and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org