Ichiro, one of the premier leadoff men of the past decade, might not be batting leadoff next season for the Seattle Mariners. Seattle Mariners manager Eric Wedge told MLB.com that he is not exactly sure yet where he wants to play the best Japanese player to ever come to America.
One option is obviously to keep him in the leadoff position. The problem with that is that last season he only hit .272 with a .310 on-base percentage. Ichiro doesn’t draw very many walks, and normally that is okay. When Ichiro was able to hit .315 in 2010, his on-base percentage rose to .359. Notice, the spread between his batting average and on-base percentage were virtually identical (.38 in 2011 and .44 in 2010), but when the calculation starts from .315, the end result looks a lot better.
If he doesn’t bat leadoff, where else would he fit? Wedge also mentioned hitting Ichiro second or third in the lineup. Let’s see how both of those work out.
If Ichiro hit second, I feel as if that wouldn’t best utilize his talents. First of all, he is a slap hitter. He hits a lot of ground balls (59.9% of his at-bats), and normally that is okay. He is fast enough to get to first base on many of these ground balls and pile up infield singles. However, if he is hitting ground balls in the second position, he might simply eliminate the advantage they’re trying to get.
For example, assume that some unknown player hits first. Because he has a better on-base percentage, let’s assume that he gets on base. Ichiro will then come to the plate. Approximately 60% of the time he will hit a ground ball. That runner going to second will probably be out on a fielder’s choice, and Ichiro will be on first. Most of the time, he will be able to beat out the double play.
The problem with the situation is that Ichiro is on first with one out. If Ichiro was hitting leadoff and yet that same ground ball, he may have beaten it out to first. Therefore, the Mariners would still have Ichiro on first base with no outs. I know that this is hypothetical, but my point is essentially that having a ground ball hitter in the second position could potentially be problematic and essentially eliminate the advantage they were trying to develop.
The other potential option would be hitting Ichiro third. People who have watched Ichiro taking batting practice have marveled at the power he has shown and wondered why he can’t do that during games. He has never hit more than 15 home runs in a season. If he moved to the third position, he would need to tap into that power. I’m not saying that he needs to become Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder. However, he would probably need to hit around 20 home runs and regain his roughly .300 average to fulfill the stereotypical third hitter position. It is pretty late in his career to substantially change the way he approaches the game.
So what should happen? If I were Eric Wedge, I would keep Ichiro as the leadoff hitter. As I have shown throughout this entire piece, it doesn’t make sense that he hit him either second or third. Perhaps last year was just an anomaly. He had never hit below .300 in his career before 2011. It is not that hard to believe that he might rebound and return to his normal self. Granted, he is getting older, but he is one of the best players of this generation, and I don’t think he is done yet.
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