The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

Ichiro is slumping

And this guy apparently called Les Carpenter knows the solution: just start hitting way, way more home runs. Damn, Ichiro, why didn’t you think of this?

Ichiro Suzuki has been in a slump most of the season. This, in itself, is not unique; Ichiro has been in slumps before. He is no more immune from imperfection than anyone else. But in the past Ichiro’s slides were brief and usually followed by such a ferocious cluster of line-drive singles that everyone forgot the slump ever happened.

In the past, Ichiro was not 37 years old. There’s at least a decent chance that this isn’t a "slump" that he can voodoo his way out of. See also Pope Derek I.

But this season the slump has been prolonged, lasting well into June, with only a splurge of base hits coming the last few days. From May 19 to June 9 he hit .149, which is not like Ichiro.

I just checked: that stretch is only 87 AB. Lots of weird things can happen over 87 AB, Les. Especially when a hitter is looking at a .171 BABIP over that same period, which is awful. His season total is .302, which is bad for Ichiro, but come on. You’ve clearly cherry-picked a hard-luck stretch.

So much of his game is built on slapping singles to left field and beating out ground balls to shortstop, but he’s 37 now and doesn’t seem as fast as he once was.

Now, we all know that science is about our feelings, but let’s get crazy and look at some actual data instead of spending the whole damn evening trading in "seems" and "feels." Fangraphs has Ichiro’s speed as 6.4, which is considerably better than he’s been since 2008 and about bang-on career average. Detailed breakdown on BR concurs: Ichiro is stealing more bases and at a better rate than he has since 2008, and is taking the extra base on a hit more often, too. So I guess this is why we should ignore numbers: they don’t tell us that our feelings are important.

On Tuesday night in a game against the Washington Nationals, he grounded into a double play. It was his fourth double play this year. Once second basemen rushed throws to first on routine grounders, afraid they would be too late to catch him. Now infielders are turning double plays on him at a greater rate than ever in his career.

That’s ridiculously melodramatic. It’s four GIDP! Four. Project that out for the rest of the season, and he gets up to nine — which is, yes, just barely the most he’s ever had in a season. By one. But for fuck’s sake, it’s still only nine. This guy’s had nine already. This guy’s had ten. This guy? Sixteen. Seventeen for this one. And these are all super awesome players. You’re worried about four GIDP? Damn. Get a grip.

He has always appeared ageless with his lithe frame stretched to perfection, a rubber band that would never break. Many are beginning to wonder if his speed is finally leaving him.

And then the Mayor used math to prove that it isn’t, and you never wrote this awful article and we all got pie. Right?

And if it has, why doesn’t he use the one weapon he has consistently refused to employ? His power.

Ichiro Suzuki, career ISO: .097

Consistent indeed.

Anyone who arrives at the ballpark early is dazzled by the amazing sight of the tiny, slender Japanese left-handed hitter in the batting cage, swirling with that awkward but beautiful swing and smashing baseballs deep into the right-field bleachers. It’s a display as awesome as any of the great sluggers who made batting practice a show, like Mark McGwire, Darryl Strawberry and Albert Pujols. But these are giants, men whose arms ripple with muscle. Their games were built around home runs.

It’s batting practice! They don’t throw nice, easy meatballs in live games, dum-dum. Carlos Zambrano is notorious for putting on big power shows during BP. Maybe that guy needs to sack up and stop forgetting to hit homers, too.

As soon as batting practice is over, Ichiro returns to trying to outrace the throw from shortstop.

Two possibilities come to mind:

A) Ichiro can’t hit actual Major League pitching into the bleachers as easily as he can BP meatballs.
B) Ichiro’s a inscrutable, crafty Asian genius, and not hitting home runs is all part of his Secret Baseball Plan.

I know which one I’m choosing.

Ichiro’s power is not a secret. He hit more than 12 home runs in each of his seven full seasons in Japan before coming to the United States in 2001. Once he hit 25. And Japan’s seasons are some 30 games shorter than those here.

He averages nine homers/year in the States. That ain’t too far off twelve, man. Also, you know who hit 55 home runs in a season once in Japan? This guy. Career home runs in MLB: 13. So can we just please stop assuming his Japanese numbers mean dick?

Those who have coached or managed him are certain he is capable of hitting 30 home runs in a season.

They’re fooling themselves. Eighteen players in all of MLB hit thirty homers last year. Not on that list: V. Guerrero, D. Wright, A. Beltre (career year!), M. Holliday, T. Tulowitzki, J. Werth. But it’s an absolute certainty that 5’11”, 170 lb., 37-year-old I. Suzuki would join that club if he just tried? Uh-huh.

John McLaren, a coach and later a manager with the Mariners for large parts of Ichiro’s career in Seattle remembers how he looked overmatched when he first came to the team, lining foul balls over the third base dugout. One day Mariners manager Lou Piniella came up to Ichiro as they were walking onto the field.

"Do you ever try to turn on the ball (and pull it)?" Piniella asked.

Ichiro nodded.

In the first inning of that day’s spring training game, Ichrio did indeed turn, crushing a long home run to right field that could best be described as jaw dropping. When Ichrio returned to the dugout, he looked at Pinella and said in his then-awkward English: "Is that turn enough, Lou?"

Oddly precise quoting on that ten-year-old anecdote. Never mind. Here are the takeaways:

• Anecdote
• Spring training
• Smallest possible sample size
• Much younger Ichiro

Also, for whatever it’s worth, this page — which really, really hasn’t been updated since 2001 — says Ichiro hit a whacking great 2 HR during spring training that year. So either he was being a complete dick or else he got lucky.

He does not discuss his power much and has granted few interviews this season, even to the large contingent of Japanese media who cover every Mariners game. His most famous answer about the subject came in the news conference after he was named MVP of the 2007 All-Star game when he said: "If I’m allowed to hit .220 I could probably hit 40, but nobody wants that."

Five players hit forty home runs in 2007. Their names are A. Rodriguez, P. Fielder, R. Howard, C. Peña, and A. Dunn. Ichiro? He hit six. I’m sorry, but there’s no evidence his claim is true, and I’m not believing a dude could go from six homers to forty just based on his say-so.

"When he says that he’s not lying," said Mariners hitting coach Chris Chambliss, who is in his first year with the team.

He may still be wrong, however. Also, perhaps a first-year coach who’s only seen the guy while he’s in a huge slump doesn’t count as an authority.

"Guys like Ichiro can do anything with the bat. There is a way he can hit for more power but his focus is on being consistent, too."

Ah, I see we attended the Joe Morgan School Of What The Hell Do Words Mean Anyhow. If he hit a shitload of home runs year-in year-out, that would be consistent too, dummy. "Consistent" does not mean "batting average."

Through 72 games in 2011 Ichiro is batting .279. He’s a career .329 hitter and has never hit below .303 in any of his 10 full major league seasons.

Ichiro has had 301 AB this year. If he’d had just eight more hits all year long to this point, his batting average would be .305 and what the shit would the purpose of your article be then? Eight, Les. This tells you two things:

1) Batting average is something you do not understand
2) You are a nitwit who should stick to covering rock-paper-scissors tournaments. He lost on scissors! Scissors is a choker with no championship mettle!

Oh, also? His BABIP was a ludicrous .171 for 87 of those PA. Fluke.

Those who know him say Ichiro will never change his approach, that he was taught years ago to keep hitting singles, to get his 200 hits a year and steal bases.

And his offense has been worth about four WAR every year, which is pretty good.

It is an older style of game. One from a long-ago era, revived at times in the 1960s and 1980s, in which hitters were valued for getting lots of base hits and trying to disrupt pitchers by threatening to steal. In the modern era, where statistical analysis has replaced gut instinct, a bigger value is placed on doubles and home runs. Things like 200 hits and a .320 batting average aren’t perceived as helpful if the hits are only singles.

What? No, that’s wrong. I just replaced your guts with statistical analysis, and it said that Ichiro’s averaged slightly over four oWAR per year. Did you miss that part? It’s, like, right above this bit, though there’s no sense scrolling up to read it, since you just made me goddamn repeat it anyway. God, Les. Pay attention.

Also, aren’t you the one saying that Ichiro needs to stop everything he’s doing and swing for the fences instead? Yeah, I just checked: you, Les Carpenter, are the man making that argument, and you’re making it based entirely on your gut feelings and like tea-readings and séances with the ghost of Lou Piniella and shit.

For clarity: getting a lot of base hits is valuable so long as you get a lot of base hits, and then don’t piss them away by running into outs. Ichiro is good at these things, so he’s been valuable. Juan Pierre is not, on the other hand, so he has not been valuable. Do you see?

As time has gone on, Ichiro has been called selfish for his approach. And now that he doesn’t beat out as many ground balls or hit as many line drives into left field – the last week aside – those criticisms have grown louder. Isn’t it time for him to adapt?

No, because you’re making all this shit up.

"He’s like Wade Boggs, he does what he does best, he’s superstitious," McLaren said. He did not say this as a criticism, but rather as the frank assessment of a baseball man who has been around Ichiro as much as anybody in the major leagues.

I’d like to repeat part of this for you, so you can marvel at the insanity:

He did not say this as a criticism

Now once more:

He did not say this as a criticism

Now in Haitian Creole:

Li pa t ‘di sa a kòm yon kritik

And what is it that the man said that wasn’t intended as a yon kritik?

He’s like Wade Boggs

Les felt the need to explain to us that comparing Ichiro to Wade Boggs shouldn’t be taken as a criticism. Wade Boggs. Who is in the Hall of Fame. For hitting a shitload of singles.

Thanks for clearing that up, Les.

Ichiro is Ichiro.

And even if he is in a slump he will not change.

You know, I can only think of one player who went from being a slap-hitting speedster to a hulking power hitter at a late age. His name? I think you know perfectly well what it is. Is that your recommendation, then, Les Carpenter?

He always had more power than Ichiro anyhow.

June 22nd, 2011 Posted by | Baseball | no comments

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