Ichiro Suzuki is somewhat of a polarizing figure in Seattle sports. Some fans love him and embrace his uniqueness; some fans despise him and call him selfish. Regardless of you are the former or the latter, Ichiro's contributions and accomplishments on the field cannot be ignored. Has this season been a struggle? Certainly. And while his $17 million salary makes the struggles seem perhaps bigger than they have been, it is also possible that Ichiro will never return to his 2001-2010 levels of performance.
Once his career ends, Ichiro will likely be an easy Hall of Famer, possibly even a first ballot guy. Last season, of course, Ichiro tied Pete Rose for the most 200-hit seasons in a career (10) and he had passed Willie Keeler for most consecutive such seasons a year earlier. But as a so-called slap hitter, what value have those hits and the high batting average brought to a Mariners franchise that has struggled on the field for most of his tenure?
Ichiro is often portrayed as out of position as a leadoff hitter by fans. They say that his free-swinging style does not play into the natural role of someone who should be leading off. But is that true? Through games of September 13th, Ichiro's career OBP of .370 ranks just 31st among players with 4,000 or more plate appearances between the start of 2001 and today. But looking a little closer, Ichiro one of only two players who has seen anything close to significant time as a leadoff man among those players. In fact, only three other leadoff types are even in the top 50 (Derek Jeter, .378, Luis Castillo, .367, and Grady Sizemore, .358). Ichiro has been on base the second most among all players in that stretch. 2,962 times on base, behind only Albert Pujols' 3,107.
The other big complaint is in the production. Ichiro simply doesn't hit with power or accumulate extra base hits, people say. Yet again, people are wrong. While he is "only" 28th in extra base hits with 446 and 59th in Isolated Power with a .096 mark, Ichiro ranks sixth in the major leagues in total bases over the 1,735 games since he entered the league with 3,123. That's 1.8 bases per game. And that is well ahead of every day players such as Michael Young, Paul Konerko, Bobby Abreu, Lance Berkman, Todd Helton and David Ortiz who have been seen as much more dangerous hitters and run producers during the past decade. His wOBA--one of the more trusted stats of the new sabermetric community--ranks 34th at .349, which is well above league average.
As you may expect, Ichiro has also been incredibly hard to double up over that span. He indeed also ranks sixth in that category with just 55 GIDPs on his ledger. But the thing that stands out is that Suzuki has nearly 3,000 more plate appearances (7,999) than all but one other player (Johnny Damon, 7,224 PAs and 60 GIDPs) in the top 10.
So let's review: He doesn't make multiple outs. He gets on base. He accumulates total bases. Oh yeah, Ichiro also has the seventh fewest strikeouts over that span. Once again, most of the others on this list have thousands fewer plate appearances.
Ichiro ranks only 2nd in steals with 422, well behind Juan Pierre's 545. But while Pierre has been successful on 123 more attempts, he has also been caught nearly twice as many times as Ichiro: 181 to just 95.
He's been worth more batting runs (146) than Torii Hunter (91), Alfonso Soriano (90), Johnny Damon (80), Michael Young (68), Adrian Beltre (67) and Vernon Wells (52) and he ranks 14th in batting wins (14.34), too. And of the 65 players with 5,000 or more plate appearances since he entered the league, Ichiro ranks 14th in runs produced (runs scored + RBI - HR) with 1,625.
He's 5th in WAR (53.0), behind Pujols, A-Rod, Berkman and Carlos Beltran but ahead of Jeter, Chipper Jones, Jimmy Rollins, Miguel Cabrera, Todd Helton and others. He ranks as the fourth best fielder by fielding runs over that time, too, but since this is about Ichiro the hitter, I won't dive deeply into those statistics.
Ichiro certainly isn't your prototypical right fielder. He's also not the normal leadoff hitter. But he has not been miscast in that role, and he most assuredly has not done anything to hurt the Mariners by "underperforming" as some claim. Ichiro Suzuki is a very unique player, and one who ranks among the best players in the game over the last decade-plus.
Unfortunately some just can't see that.
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