Ichiro! in paper of record

DMZ · September 14, 2004 at 9:15 am · Filed Under Mariners 

An Artist Who Makes the Field His Canvas. Talks about Ichiro’s unique swings and style.

They also have this photo about “the left-handed advantage” which says that lefties are closer to first and so have an easier time getting hits… which isn’t actually true. You can look up overall splits and see that they’re within a point or two of each other.

The good one is the “Suzuki’s Swings: Unorthodox and Unstoppable” graphic.

Anyway, check it out. NYT is registration-required, but… Bug Me Not.


37 Responses to “Ichiro! in paper of record”

  1. Ralph Malph on September 14th, 2004 9:45 am

    Notice the right handed hitter they use in the “left-handed advantage” graphic is Jose Lopez.

  2. bob mong on September 14th, 2004 10:06 am

    I was wondering who that was. Even though it is about Ichiro!, I couldn’t bring myself to read this article. The NYT’s sports coverage is so uniformly dull/bad that I just couldn’t do it. Did check out the graphics, though. Kinda interesting.

  3. Der Komminsk-sar on September 14th, 2004 10:33 am

    “…which says that lefties are closer to first and so have an easier time getting hits… which isn’t actually true.”
    I’d argue that it is true (though for dominant hand/eye reasons over proximity to first), but is only exploitable to the margin of playability. After all, a fairly high percentage of plate appearances go to lefties, do they not?

  4. JP Wood on September 14th, 2004 10:43 am

    That he does all this in about 0.3 seconds only adds to the mystery. How long does it take you to simply hit your brake pedal, much less hit major league pitching?

  5. Ralph Malph on September 14th, 2004 10:44 am

    Righthanders have won 10 of the last 15 AL batting titles.

    Lefties might have an advantage because most pitchers are righthanded.

  6. Evan on September 14th, 2004 10:50 am

    The average reaction time of a driver to notice something worth braking for and then apply pressure to the brake pedal is something like 0.75 seconds.

    Ichiro is not average.

    The most telling part of the left-handed advantage bit was not that Ichiro’s left-handed, but that he stands at the plate. Most modern hitters stand as far back in the batter’s box as possible, even rubbing out the back line so the umps can’t tell they’re not in the box, but Ichiro is standing right at the plate, a good 2 feet closer to the pitcher (and first base) than most hitters. His dramatic pre-swing lean then exacerbates that.

  7. johnb on September 14th, 2004 11:13 am

    Ichiro will not set the record. He doesn’t perform well under pressure as we have noticed during the playoffs and stretch runs of the past few years. Now that he is nearing the record his hitting is slowing down….coincidence?

  8. Pete Livengood on September 14th, 2004 11:13 am


    Although you may be right about overall splits for lefties and righties being within a point or two (I don’t know offhand of a site where I can look at aggregate splits in this way), the fact that this is true does not prove there is no advantage to a left-handed hitter. It does perhaps show the lack of statistically significant *evidence* of that advantage, but there could be all kinds of confounding factors that hide such evidence in the statistical noise.

    You have frequently commented on the “war” between the “tools”/scouting crowd and the statistically-bent “performance analysis” crowd, advocating a place for both and often arguing that there are many areas of the game that statistical analysis does not (or does not fully) enlighten. You should be more open to the possiblity (probability?) that this is one of them. It is a physical fact that a left-handed batter stands several feet closer to first base than does a right-handed batter. I am sure there is individual variation, but as a general rule I would think the NY Times’ observation that the right-handed swing twists the batter away from first, while a left-hander is more or less left headed in the right direction, is also true. These *are* advantages, whether they are obscured by statistical noise or not.

    To me, the larger advantage left-handed batters enjoy is not being closer to first or having the torque of their swing leave them in a better-directed position relative to their path to first, though I accept that these are small advantages. It is the larger hole on the right side of the infield created whenever a man is being held on first, which is widened whenever a hit-and-run is put on and the second baseman moves to cover second base.


  9. Dave on September 14th, 2004 11:23 am


    DMZ = Derek, not Dave 🙂

  10. Pete Livengood on September 14th, 2004 11:44 am

    Oops! Thought I saw your name there.

    Same comments, though, minus the part about publicly commenting about how statistical analysis isn’t everything (though I’m pretty sure Derek at least in part agrees with what you’ve said on the subject).


  11. Dave O'Neill on September 14th, 2004 12:02 pm

    John B.
    I disagree with you that Ichiro does not hit well under pressure. He leads all of baseball in Batting average with Runners in scoring position and 2 outs (.469). Also, in the 2001 playoffs he hit .421 with a .488 on base percentage. Granted, he did fade in the Series against the Yankees (batting .222 (ouch) with a somewhat respectable .364 OBP), but overall his playoff numbers were very good (for a small sample). I think it is still too early to count him out of breaking the single-season hit record, but the odds have been against him from the start, after all, no one has been able to do it in 84 years.


    P.S. The one way I think Ichiro could be more valuable to the team is if he played center field. I apologize if you guys have touched on this topic already, but do you have any insights/speculations/rumors about why he doesn’t play center? Has he refused to play there, or has anyone ever asked him?

  12. tede on September 14th, 2004 12:02 pm


    In the 2001 playoffs, Ichiro was 16-38 .421/.488/.474


  13. DMZ on September 14th, 2004 12:16 pm

    Pete — for all that criticism, please note that I didn’t say that left handers weren’t closer to first, or didn’t get a good start. All I said was that the assertion that they have an easier time getting hits is false: if you look at the statistics, there’s no clear advantage held by LHB over RHB in their ability to get hits.

    That’s all. Maybe there’s a speed-to-first advantage that’s outweighed by something else. I don’t know. My point is that the flat assertion that LH hitters as a group hold an advantage over RH hitters is not true.

  14. Matt Williams on September 14th, 2004 12:36 pm

    It’s possible that talent pool may have something to do with that. With lefties you’re drawing from a much smaller portion of the population than righties. So if you argue that talent is spread evenly through the two groups you’ll be able to collect a higher number of higher quality from the larger group. If you take a random group of 20 people from Detroit and a group of 200 people from Ithica, which group is going to be able to make the better baseball team?

    I think a similar effect is at least somewhat noticable with pitchers, guys who wouldn’t have the ability to make the majors, had they been righties, get the opportunity since they’re lefties. It might be possible that lefty hitters of slightly less talent are brought up in order to be able to play the matchup game, while righties have to be somewhat better to make it in. Add that on top of the fact that there are going to be many fewer potential lefty superstars born each year, and that may be why you won’t see an overall advantage in the numbers.

    Of course, I can’t think of any way to test. Other than maybe randomly selecting an equal number of lefty and righty babies out of a pool and see what their MLB numbers are…and I can’t imagine how huge that pool would need to be to get statistically significant numbers.

  15. JP Wood on September 14th, 2004 12:46 pm

    I’ve hitleft and right, and right I finished my pivot with my weight toward the plate, shoulder down: toward 1st base and ready to run. Left I finished just the opposite. Ichiro doesn’t swing his weight in but out, toward 2nd most of the time, and is already one step on the way to the bag when hemakes contact. I’ve never seen anyone else hit a fast ball or anything else while starting to sprint.

  16. Pete Livengood on September 14th, 2004 1:54 pm

    Derek – I’m not trying to be too critical, just disagreeing (hopefully constructuvely). Besides, I think we are arguing past each other. I concede that the statistics don’t *show* any advantage (though I wish you would post a link where I can check that out), but I do not concede that this means the advantage doesn’t exist.

    I also think you are reading too much into the Times’ piece if you believe it made “an assertion that [left-handed batters] have an easier time getting hits . . ..” You might argue that is a fair implication, but I think it is a pretty fair leap from describing an advantage to saying that the advantage routinely produces (relatively) positive results that can be quantified in a statistically-significant way. The graphic did the former, but never asserted the latter.

    Whether or not this physical advantage (being closer to first) makes any statistically significant difference at all over a wide range of batters depends on many confounding factors: the kind of contact made, the speed of the batter (nobody would argue John Olerud’s proximity “advantage” over any right-handed hitter made any difference at all over the years), the situation and defense, etc. All I am saying is that, all things being equal, I think it is hard to argue that you wouldn’t rather have a left-handed hitting Ichiro running out a ball hit into the hole at short instead of a right-handed hitting Ichiro.

    Despite aggregate statistics, I believe there is an advantage. It is built on much more than proximity to first, some I’ve discussed and others I haven’t (not the least of which is, as Ralph Malph pointed out, a better likelihood of facing an opposite-handed pitcher than righties enjoy). And, as Matt Williams pointed out, the pool of left-handers is smaller . . . yet the elite among that pool have generally been better at getting hits than their right-handed counterparts. Eight of the top ten career (and 14 of the top 20) batting averages of all-time belong to lefties. I don’t think that is coincidental.


  17. Paul Weaver on September 14th, 2004 2:48 pm

    Ichiro is a righty. He bats lefty.
    For the majority of players, they probably bat with their dominant hand. Since, what? 19 out of 20 people born are righty, that makes the equality of the stats between left and right suggest lefties do have it easier….
    The equality also points out that left, right, ambidextrous, whatever, you have to be good.
    The majority of pitchers being righthanded might also have something to do with so many of the all time highest BAs belonging to a southpaw. I liked the argument that first baseman covering the bag also gives the lefty another advantage.
    If I ever end up with a kid, I’m going to teach him/her how to bat left handed!!!

  18. chris w on September 14th, 2004 2:49 pm

    To follow up on Matt’s talent-pool comment. I think he’s right.

    I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I know that the ratio of left handed hitters to right handed hitters in MLB far exceeds the ratio of left-handers to right-handers in the general population. So, we know that more left-handers are making it to the majors than right-handers. Why is that? Well, it isn’t because left-handers are inherently more physically gifted.

    Also, it isn’t surprising that LH and RH have the same numbers overall, because they’re promoted based on the same criteria. All else being equal, a guy batting .310 in AAA is going to get the call before a guy batting .280 in AAA, regardless of whether he’s a LH or a RH. So, of course they’re going to have the same overall numbers when you run the test DMZ ran.

    The bottom line is this: if 20% of hitters are left-handed, but only 5% of people are left-handed, there is obviously an advantage to being left-handed. I’m pretty convinced that part of that advantage is that it is easier to get a hit due to the shorter distance to 1B.

    Finally, some anecdotal information that proves nothing. Lots of speedy switch-hitters learn to hit left-handed specifically because they think it will give them an advantage. They’ve been doing it for years…

  19. Ralph Malph on September 14th, 2004 2:53 pm

    From a subjective standpoint I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that lefthanders seem to swing differently than righthanders. They’re not mirror images of each other as you would expect.

    The swing of the best lefthanders — think Bonds or Griffey Jr. in his prime, or George Brett, let’s say — is very different from the swing of a good righthander — say Manny Ramirez, or A-Rod. I don’t know what that means, but there is definitely a difference.

    But clearly there are 3 undeniable advantages that lefthanders get, as Pete pointed out — the 1st base hole with a man on, the extra step, and the predominance of righthanded pitching.

  20. Itea on September 14th, 2004 2:53 pm

    There’s an analytical error in this statement:

    They also have this photo about “the left-handed advantage” which says that lefties are closer to first and so have an easier time getting hits… which isn’t actually true. You can look up overall splits and see that they’re within a point or two of each other.

    In MLB, self-selection has already occurred. Even if lefties had a 30 point BA advantage on average, we wouldn’t see that reflected in major league baseball. Instead, the breakdown of players in the majors would include lefties who were abstractly “worse” hitters than the righties because players generally get rated on their practical effectiveness, not “what there BA would truly be if half the time one ran to first and the other half of the time one ran to third”.

    Now with the platoon issues, it’s hard to calculate something like this, but the very fact that the percentage of left-handed hitters in baseball is much higher than the percentage of left-handed hitters in the general populace is evidence to the thought that lefties do have an advantage in baseball. That doesn’t mean that it’s proven true, but it is evidence in that direction.

    – Itea

  21. Ralph Malph on September 14th, 2004 2:56 pm

    I don’t know that a righthanded person hitting lefthanded is necessarily not batting with his dominant hand. He is batting with his dominant hand farther down the bat, but does that mean anything?

    Aren’t right-handed batting and left-handed batting just labels? It seems to me that a right-hander could learn to hit left-handed just as easily as he could right-handed; it’s just a matter of what he started out with. It’s really bottom-hand/top-hand, not right-hand/left-hand.

  22. Itea on September 14th, 2004 2:56 pm

    Wow. I spend 5 minutes writing a comment, and both my points are made in the interim…

    – Itea

  23. chris w on September 14th, 2004 2:59 pm

    Now we’re all ganging up…

    If anyone has a theory that responds to Ralph’s comment, I’d love to hear it. I’ve heard lots of people talk about LH swings as if they’re different than RH swings. First, is it true (I think it is actually). Second, why?

  24. Ralph Malph on September 14th, 2004 3:06 pm

    Does anybody know if the premier lefthanders with the “classic lefthanded swing” — Bonds and Griffey, to use the names I used — are actually right-hand or left-hand dominant?

    I’m wondering if the difference in swing comes from swinging with your dominant hand on the bottom.

    What I think of as the left-handed swing is more of a looping swing with more elevation. Jim Thome is kind of an exaggerated example of that.

    Frank Thomas may be a right-hander with more of a left-handed swing.

  25. Troy Sowden on September 14th, 2004 3:14 pm

    I’m totally uneducated on this subject and therefore you can just skip this comment if you want reliable commentary, but . . . I’ve always thought the swings weren’t really different when they come through the zone, just when they finish up. In other words, lefty swings *look* prettier (at least to me) because the physics of ending their swing puts them on the path towards first base. If the pull the ball (as most players, left and right handed do) then they’re watching the ball they hit while setting up to run basically towards it. Righties like myself on the other hand, are looking towards left field while trying to position ourselves to run towards right field, producing a slightly akward contortion of the body that isn’t nearly as aesthetically pleasing as the left-handed variety.

    I admit, that’s as unfounded as a Steve Kelley article, and I’m sure it will get ripped up, it’s just how I’ve always explained it in my head. I’d love to hear some objective studies that explain why the two swings *look* so different.

  26. Troy Sowden on September 14th, 2004 3:17 pm

    Ralph, Griffey and Bonds both throw left-handed, so I’m guessing they are both natural lefties. Many hitters bat left throw right, but the only ones I’ve ever seen who batted right and threw left were Ricky and Randy Johnson. Good luck getting some similarities out of that group.

  27. Evan on September 14th, 2004 3:20 pm

    Baseball guys (people like Ron Fairly) will tell you that left-handed hitters are better on pitches low in the zone (or out of the zone) than right-handers are. Mitch Williams (Phillies reliever who gave up the winning HR in the 1993 WS) described Joe Carter as “the one right-handed hitter I don’t want to miss down and in to.”

    So there’s this widely held belief that lefties are better at hitting pitches that are low, and that righties who exhibit that same characteristic are somehow anomalous. No idea if there’s some sort of evidence to support that, though.

  28. Ralph Malph on September 14th, 2004 3:20 pm

    Duh, guess I could have figured that out.

  29. Ralph Malph on September 14th, 2004 3:21 pm

    I’ve always thought lefties hit low pitches better because they have a more vertical swing plane.

    But I have no idea if that’s right.

  30. Eric on September 14th, 2004 3:40 pm

    I think the whole do LHers have an advantage debate highlights the way Stats can be misused. Overall the no.s tell you ttht LHer and RHer hit about the same. Makes sense, but that tells us less about Ichiro’s specific situation. Does being closer to 1B mean you get there faster? Seems trivally true, but the question is how many extra hits do you get? In the universe of all Major league players it works out to noise, but in an individual case can matter. Jim Thome for example probably doesn’t hit many grounders in the hole between SS and 3B where he just beats the throw. But given Ichiro’s high number of infield hits you gotta figure he is benefiting.

  31. tyler on September 14th, 2004 3:41 pm

    I coach and teach at Cabrillo High School in Lompoc CA. (Napolean Kauffman’s rival school.)

    I actually had three! players last year on my freshman team that threw left handed and hit (poorly) right handed. One told me before the second to last game of the year that he was a switch hitter. (Strangely quiet kid!) His lefty swing was far more powerful than his righty swing, and with the high graceful finish.

    We also on the varsity have 4 Snr. players who call themselves switch hitters. They were all righty’s when they played for me, and built left-handed swings in the off-season. One is a superior hitter from the left, both as a contact and power hitters. He is also our RH pitching ace. And he will hit exclusively from the LH side this year, which is the right (err.. correct) decision.

    Another did it because of the illusion of getting to first base faster (or is it true. personally, i don’t know, but it SEEMS logical.) He is about 4.05 to first base, but he has lost all his power by doing so, and went from a RH Rickey Henderson to a LH weanie slapper. He is being ordered to stay right this year. We’ll let the colleges/low minors change him if they want. We want to win!

    The other two look like RH’ers trying to swing left-handed. Really a waste of practice reps if you ask me. They spend 1/2 their time at each side and don’t get to build either side effectively. One is a lefty trying to hit (and with minor success) with more power. He wont get off the bench with the talent in the program.

    The other is a righty with a HORRIBLE lefty swing. It makes me sick. To make matters worse, he has been playing at 1b last year as a ‘glove guy’ when we had an even worse glove that couldn’t hit at all at second (politics, sigh.) Picture a high school Ibanez/Bloomquist situation, only the guy is a good 2b with some power.

    Oh, and for the record we lost in the second round of DivIII CIF Southern Section to Corona Del Mar H.S. at their field in a game we could have won, and we are a favorite to win the CIF, with 7 starters and our entire pitching staff returning.

    Go Conquistadores!

  32. Valerian on September 14th, 2004 4:08 pm

    Here’s a link to a Wikipedia article providing some explanation of the left-handed batters’ advantage vs. right-handed pitchers. According to them, distance to first base is not the issue (though it might be for Ichiro, of course).

  33. Evan on September 14th, 2004 4:13 pm

    Cool. LOOGY made it into Wikipedia.

  34. Ralph Malph on September 14th, 2004 4:16 pm

    Valerian I think you’re mixing up apples and oranges. The wikipedia article explains why lefties would do better against right-handed pitching.

    The distance to first-base would have to do with why left-handed batters might do better than right-handed batters. Which is a different issue.

  35. Evan on September 14th, 2004 4:20 pm

    On a vaguely Ichiro related tangent, I found this while searching for the origin of the term LOOGY (I always thought Lee Sinins invented that one).

    “…it is obviously impossible for a modern hitter to hit .400, because, if it could be done, Barry Bonds obviously would have done it by now.”
    – Bill James

  36. JP Wood on September 15th, 2004 1:59 am

    The P-I is running extracts from Komatsu’s “Ichiro on Ichiro”, and this is what the Genius himself has to say about his pivot-weight shift:
    “The way I bat has a lot to do with that. I make a major weight shift when I swing, and it’s critical to get a smooth first step toward first. To the players here, apparently it looks like I’m already running before I hit the ball. I try my best to start running only after I’ve completed my swing, but they tell me I’m hitting and running at the same time. It’s strange, because I don’t think that’s what I’m doing at all.”
    He goes on to say that Edgar is a prime example of a RHH who shifts almost entirely onto his front foot and that he’s learned alot from watching Edgar in BP. So Ichiro’s weight-shift toward 2B appears to be both intentional and more exaggerated than even he realizes. And now that I think about it, this plus his habit of standing at the front edge of the box might enable him to make contact on late-breaking pitches before they dive out of his “zone”.

  37. hans on September 15th, 2004 10:45 am

    Bob Mong,

    It’s too bad you didn’t read the article. This was one of the best pieces on baseball I’ve read this year. I consider it both original and well-researched. I consider it refreshing that a New York writer would take the time to get all this background information and quotations. I also really like the way he classified Ichiro’s swings into several different types, named them, and provided photos. That is the type of clever journalism that you just don’t get from ESPN, the Seattle Times, or many of our other sources.

    Besides that, it is well-written, which is always a joy to read, and more than I can say for 95% of the crap we have to wade through when looking for material on baseball.