Ichiro, BP, and stupidity

Dave · October 1, 2004 at 11:36 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Over at Prospectus, there’s a free roundtable on Ichiro, his style, and his value. I’m guessing that everyone that reads USSM knows that Derek writes for BP and most probably know that I used to. By association, we understand that we’re often going to get lumped into agreeing with what Prospectus publishes, regardless of the issue. The guys at BP have done a lot of good work, and we cite them quite a bit.

However, the drivel that proceeds from Joe Sheehan’s keyboard on this subject matches the stupidity of anything Phil Rogers or Buster Olney have ever even thought of writing. A few of his “nuggets”:

Joe Sheehan: Is this record a little bit cheap?

Well, let’s see, it’s stood for 80 years and only been seriously challenged a handful of times. So, the answer is a pretty obvious no.

A .414 OBP and 13 net steals with good defense is a strong year, if not an MVP one.

Ichiro is 3rd in the American League in VORP, behind only Miguel Tejada and Vladimir Guerrero. He’s second in Equivalent Runs. According to Clay Davenport’s translations, Ichiro has been worth 9.1 wins and Vlad 9.7. According to any BP metric you want to look at, Ichiro has been just as valuable as any player in the American League this year. Considering that Safeco is playing at its most pitcher-friendly this year, the translations also don’t account for the complete impact of Ichiro playing in the best pitchers park in baseball. He’s hitting .405/.443/.508 on the road!

A couple of weeks ago, he bunted for a hit with a runner on second base and two men out in the sixth inning on a two-run game. I have no idea how that helps the team, or what might have happened if, say, Milton Bradley had done that.

We chastised Ichiro for this as well, but this is hardly the first time he’s done it. Baseball in Japan is different, and this is a commonly accepted play across the Pacific. And as for having “no idea how that helps the team”, well, here’s a run expectancy chart for you.

Runner at 2nd, 2 out: .344
Runners at 1st and 3rd, 2 out: .538

Getting on base always helps the team.

wondering if a record that seems so disconnected from the purpose of the game has as much value as one achieved with more connection to a season.

This is probably the stupidest thing BP has ever published, other than the Brendan Harris-Albert Pujols comparison. Ichiro is second in the league in OBP, only .006 behind Melvin Mora. Since the all-star break, he is hitting .440/.474/.534. To claim that Ichiro’s pursuit is disconnected from the Mariners goal to win games is beyond indefensible. For the last 3 months, he’s done more to help his team win baseball games than any player in the American League. Deriding him because you don’t like the way he’s doing it is ridiculous.

Right now, Ichiro’s performance on offense reminds me of Dennis Rodman’s in basketball, where he’s allowed to focus on one particular task, and where he racks up gaudy totals by being a specialist.

Actually, Ichiro is performing more like a mid-30’s Michael Jordan, the one that stopped playing tough defense or going for rebounds. He simply focused on scoring 35 points per game, dominating the offensive end of the court like no other guard has. Comparing rebounding to getting on base at a ridiculous clip is just asanine. At this point, Sheehan’s personal dislike of the hype Ichiro has gotten is glaring.

This isn’t a fully-formed idea

No, really?

Is Ichiro getting a pass because people like his style?

A pass? From what? From the due criticism that he should be getting for not hitting the Joe Sheehan way? Unbelievable.

Derek Zumsteg: So your argument then is that Ichiro is intentionally making contact with the ball trying to make singles and not…doubles? This non-optimal strategy, if it exists, has been awfully productive for him and it’s not as if hitting singles hurts the team.

Whether there’s a tradeoff between extra-base hits and singles is debatable, but it’s entirely possible concentrating on hitting singles is the better of these strategies, and until you can come up with a specific argument like “Ichiro is concentrating on singles, increasing his hit rate by 5% at the expense of 20% fewer 2B and 10% fewer HRs, a net loss of 40 bases since he adopted this strategy” all you’re doing is guessing.

The watered down, trying to remain civil way of saying “Joe, when it comes to Ichiro, you don’t have a clue when you’re talking about.” Thankfully, I don’t have to work with Joe anymore, so no gloves required here.

JS: I don’t know. My gut tells me Ichiro’s current performance isn’t sustainable.

Keep in mind, Joe Sheehan has built a “career” out of ridiculing people who analyze with their “gut”. Apparently, he’s reached such lofty self-assured status that its now okay for him, however.

I consider the bunt with two outs and a runner on second to be a pretty damning thing, though. Can you imagine the reaction to an unpopular player doing that?

Over the last two years, Ichiro’s done this 5 or 6 times. I personally don’t like the play, but there’s a decent enough case to be made that it helps the M’s. Run expectancy charts don’t lie. The M’s are expected to score more runs after Ichiro lays one down with a man on second than before he does. Getting on base is always a good thing.

Sheehan basically used the fact that Ichiro isn’t getting any extra base hits or walks this month as proof that he’s become a selfish player and stopped helping his team win games in pursuit of the record. In September, Ichiro has a .440 on base percentage. There’s absolutely no way to spin that as bad for the team, unless you have a preconceived opinion that you’re trying desperately to support any way you can.

Sheehan has a long history of writing less than positive things about Ichiro. Rather than take the opportunity to acknowledge his season is one of the most amazing we’ve ever seen and has made him every bit as valuable in 2004 as the elite players in the game, Joe takes swipes at his character and motivation. This is the same crap that the national writers have been doing for years when people fail in the playoffs. Their heart and will to win is called into question, and Joe has rightfully called those writers out for attempting to read into a players personality from his performance on the baseball field.

Only now, when it suits him, Joe Sheehan has done the exact same thing, and he’s tarnished the entire Baseball Prospectus brand with his ramblings.


105 Responses to “Ichiro, BP, and stupidity”

  1. ray on October 2nd, 2004 1:15 am

    1) I think the ones who really only appreciate this record are other baseball players. Ask any current major leaguer and they will say awesome, amazing, etc. You know why they say this? It is because they KNOW how hard it is to get a hit. They are in their everyday, playing the game — trying to get a hit.
    2) This brings me to my next point. What makes people think that getting a double, triple, or homerun is easy? To hit an extra base takes more power and better placement, which in turns leads to a greater chance of a strike out or just an out. This in turns keeps the player off the base (lower OBP), which then leads to less scoring…well anyway you get the conclusion.
    3) Why is a walk greater than a hit? Please! This is the most illogical argument one could make for obvious reasons. Also taking more walks could lead to a greater chance of a strike out (think Mike Cameron). You need to take four balls and if you’re on a full count you’d better hope they pitcher doen’t have good control.
    4) Finally, why is it so hard for many to just appreciate what is happening for it’s own sake. Such negativism and cynicism is typically American and reared it’s ugly head in Oakland.

  2. ray on October 2nd, 2004 1:34 am

    Oh, forgot another point.
    Your so called argument for opportunity can be applied to anything. A person getting more stolen bases because of the same picthers faced in his divison (e.g., high leg kicker, non-fastball picther). A person getting more homeruns because he hits in a hitters park or hits to the shortest part of the field. A picther getting a lot of strike outs because most of the batters he faces in his league are weak hackers. Sure you may have more opportunites to do anything but does that mean it is because of that? If I accept your argument then I sure be able to win the lottery because I have an oppotunity to play to win everyday. But so far I’ve won maybe 10 bucks in all the years that I’ve been playing. : (

  3. Jo-El on October 2nd, 2004 6:15 am

    Another very good post re: Ichiro, brom the OTHER BP (Baseball Primer).


  4. I Love Baseball on October 2nd, 2004 9:09 am
    Ichiro/Sisler Watch!
    more specific q to asterisk-ppl: would you be saying the same of any other record? did you agree with the maris asterisk? if there’s consistency here i’ve no major quarrel with you freaks.

    reading over this thread i saw my BP anti-ichiro question, …

  5. Brent Overman on October 2nd, 2004 11:42 pm

    Re # 26: Jim, think of what I said in regards to Joe Sheehan. Joe Sheehan, not Ichiro, is the Bill Walton of Baseball, complete with Bill Walton’s complete disdain for Seattle.