Position Roundtables: Right Field

Dave · March 1, 2005 at 7:23 am · Filed Under 2005 Roundtables, Mariners 

Jeff: Starting Right Fielder: Ichiro

My first car was a Volkswagen Fastback. Vintage 1969, one of the first
years they put an automatic transmission in the terrapin of
fahrvergnugen, so there were bugs aplenty. The muffler fell off from
time to time. The door panels were rotting. Once, a heating vent stuck
open, bathing passengers in heat during dead summer.

That car was a heap. But I loved it.

Most of all, I loved the stereo I’d installed myself — the only part
that always worked. When the transmission gave out, I could at least
sit in the driveway and pretend I had a way out of my hometown. In a
way, I did, but it was Guided by Voices, Dinosaur Jr. and Husker Du
that were paving the way, not my green given-up-the-ghost car.

In a lineup that has seen a real overhaul, Ichiro is the one part that
you pencil in from last year and expect great things from. This should
be the easiest roundtable, but it isn’t.

What is there left to say about Ichiro? Dave touched on his unbelievable 2004. Derek has noted how unique he is and considered a Hall of Fame case. Nate Silver admits that he throws PECOTA for a loop.

How about, as Larry Stone mentions, that he appears to be the most likely player to make a run at .400? No, we can’t talk about that: if a respected baseball writer is openly musing about Ted Williams territory (and Dimaggio’s 56-game streak), that territory has to be played out. Right?

That’s Ichiro. The stupefying becomes conceivable, the incredible
becomes commonplace.

Well, we could speculate about No. 51 breaking the Mariner record for
runs in a season now that he’ll be batting in front of Beltre and
Sexson. Oops: it’s been done, with John Hickey even discussing the major-league
run records
as well.

Now, I’m not necessarily saying that Ichiro will come through with
another record-setting performance this year, and neither are the
authors of any of the pieces I’ve linked to. That’s the point of his
forecast-busting nature. No one really knows what the guy is going to

What we do know is what to do with Ichiro: plug him in, watch him,
enjoy. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Dave: Umm, what Jeff said.

Seriously, Ichiro is awesome. He’s a remarkably valuable player, extremely unique, exciting, and marketable, all rolled into one mini package. Ichiro makes going to the ballpark more fun in a way that other great players don’t. The Ichiro experince goes beyond his BA/OBP/SLG and and the tangible value of his production. Ichiro is great for the game. Ichiro is great for Seattle.

I-chi-ro. I-chi-ro. I-chi-ro.

Jason: Jeff didn’t find one of my posts to quote… but then, I guess I haven’t gushed about Ichiro here on the USSM. I knew I had somewhere, though, so I did some digging. Ah yes, here it is, the August 2003 issue of the Grand Salami.

By the time 2002 rolled around, all was right with the world. Ichiro was seemingly having an even better season, hitting .357 at the All-Star break. He was even drawing more walks, having eclipsed his total from the previous season in just 62 games, leading to a stellar .430 on-base percentage. What was I thinking, having doubted this guy?

Then the second half came. Ichiro hit .282 in August and just .248 in September, dropping his average 36 points after the break. He also stopped walks, and when he did get on base he wouldn’t attempt to steal second base even in a close game. Again, I wondered if this guy was all he was cracked up to be. In his defense, it turned out he had never fully recovered from an injury suffered when he ran into the outfield wall in Oakland late in the year, but still…

Given his performance in the second half of 2002 you can imagine my angst when he started slowly this year, hitting just .243 in April. I wondered aloud—and wrote as much in this very magazine—if Ichiro’s star was beginning to fade. He seemed ordinary, no longer the dynamic offensive catalyst he once was. After all, he was hitting a mere .258 over his last 300-plus at-bats, and it’s not as if he was making up for it with power or walks.

I’m happy to say that’s the last time I’ll ever doubt Ichiro. He quieted me in May by hitting .389 with four homers. He shut me up in June by hitting .386 with ten steals and two more homers. And just for good measure, he smacked me silly in July by hitting well over .400 in the ten games leading up to the All-Star break.

Don’t doubt him. Don’t knock him. Just when you think he’s down, he’ll whiz a line drive single past your ear. Ichiro, you the man.

Should he play center? Yeah, sure. Should he walk a bit more? Yeah, probably. But c’mon. Given all the good he does — and the problems elsewhere on the team — it’s hardly worth wasting words on such minor quibbles.


87 Responses to “Position Roundtables: Right Field”

  1. Sean McQuillan on March 1st, 2005 1:20 pm

    Husker Du and Depeche Mode…can’t go wrong with either, two of my favorite groups.

  2. Tangotiger on March 1st, 2005 1:52 pm

    Bill, sure there are plenty of other situations. The plays at home is one where you’d prefer the better arm in CF. You have hits stretched into XBH (more likely with LF and RF than CF). Moving from 2b to 3b on a flyball I think is rare enough to begin with, but you are right that this would affect the RF a bit more than the CF.

    All in all, having the CF involved in 150 more plays using his range (in turning hits into outs, which saves you .8 runs each time that happens) is far more beneficial than the 20 extra times that his arm will save one base (which saves you .2 runs each time).


    Dave, I don’t think what you seem in your 2nd to last paragraph.

    I definitely agree with your point on Hidalgo as you noted in your link.

  3. Tangotiger on March 1st, 2005 2:05 pm

    Oh, re: Guardado, using Leveraged Index, he was the 2nd most effectively used ace, after Trevor Hoffman, in 2004. Keith Foulke was one of the very worst used ace.

  4. Jesse on March 1st, 2005 2:09 pm

    Dave, don’t mean to repeat myself but I would still love an answer to the question of if you think a move by Ichiro to center is possible if Reed looks like he is struggline in CF and Choo looks potentially major league ready in RF. Choo is not projected to be a capable CF, right?

  5. Brock on March 1st, 2005 2:11 pm

    A couple of questions:

    1. I may have missed it, but why exactly does everyone think that Ichiros range in CF will be monumentaly better than Reed’s? Furthermore if Ichiro is uncomfortable in CF wouldn’t that decrease his range, and even maybe cause some errors (misplayed balls, etc.) One last thought here, many people compare Reed to Jim Edmonds defensivly in CF, meaning they shouldn’t be as good as they are, but grit, good instincts, and no regard for ones body lets them excel, on the other hand as it has been pointed out already Ichiro is almost fastidous in the very particular way he goes about himself on the baseball field, to that point I don’t know if I have EVER seen him dive for a ball (slide yes, dive no), so again I ask, why is it a foregone conclusion that Ichiros range will be so much better than Reed’s? Since Range is the most important aspect

    2. A little off subject, but as far as numbers go and what I have seen in game, Cammy is FAR superior to Beltran in CF, but the mets are going to force Cammy to RF! Why? Because the big dogs get to eat first. If Beltran wants to play CF then by God he will because, who cares what Cammy says he is not the superstar (who is an is not a superstar and why they are given that title is another discussion altogether). Same applies for Ichiro, if he perfers RF and playing there allows him to play at his best (as he sees it), the why would we try and force him elsewhere. As Yogi Berra so astutly pointed out for us “Baseball is 90% half mental” if playing CF is going to weigh on Ichiro mentally then it is a bad idea.

  6. Tangotiger on March 1st, 2005 2:19 pm

    Brock, I don’t disagree with anything you said. What I would like is some on-the-record discussions by Ichiro and the manager and the GM on Ichiro playing CF, which I had presumed was the talk of the town last year. I agree if Ichiro is so set in his ways that he’s going to be mentally bothered by a new pattern, then let sleeping dogs lie. Until some reporter gets into Ichiro’s head, we’ll have to guess as to how he’d react.

    Ichiro seems to be the greatest fielding specimen ever. Readers here are “hoping” Reed will be very good in CF. Nothing is a foregone conclusion, but a betting man, not knowing about any possible “mental issues” Ichiro may or may not have, would bet the farm that Ichiro would be superior to Reed in CF.

  7. Harry on March 1st, 2005 2:49 pm

    I think there are better things to think about than the Ichiro RF/CF conjecture. There are easily a dozen things the club could do that would have more impact, that wouldn’t involve possibly screwing up the one position that has gone right for the M’s.

  8. Tangotiger on March 1st, 2005 3:01 pm

    Way to kill a party Harry!

    Seriously, nothing we say here matters, so why not let us have our innocent fun, and maybe some of us can learn something? I assumed Ichiro=Jeter, and now I see it might be management that is risk averse.

  9. DMZ on March 1st, 2005 3:15 pm

    Ichiro! won’t move because Ichiro! doesn’t want to move. That puts a damper on my interest in and the general value of speculation about what circumstances might cause him to move, or if he’d be better than Player X there.

  10. Jim on March 1st, 2005 4:04 pm

    To me, a more interesting question than whether Ichiro plays RF or CF is whether it’s best to bat him #1 or #2, given the lineups the M’s have been assembling during his tenure.

    On most teams, putting a very high batting average in the #1 slot wastes a large number of hits on situations without runners on base. The team hasn’t had the sort of OBPs in the #8 and #9 slots which would justify parking the best BA in the order behind them. Traditionally, it’s thought that having some bat control in the #2 slot is important, for hit-and-run options and so forth. Ichiro brings probably the best bat control in baseball to that task, so that’s certainly no objection. Another objection is that batting him in the #2 would reduce his opportunities to steal. That might be true in his first PA of each game if the #1 hitter gets on base and isn’t a fast player. In his remaining PAs it seems that batting behind a non-slow (but not necessarily speedy) #1 might clog the bases less than batting behind the typically slower players in the bottom of the order. Regardless, I think the base-stealing implications of the move aren’t very large.

    Announcers like to point out the advantage that Ichiro gives the batter while standing on first, due to the pressing need for the opposing first baseman to inhibit his lead. What’s rarely mentioned is the kind of performance Ichiro might be able to achieve if he frequently batted with a legitimate base-stealer standing on first. We won’t know just how devastating he could be with a big hole to hit into until the team actually places him in that situation on an everyday basis. If only there were a player with (a) good OBP and (b) reasonable threat to steal but also (c) little power to waste in the #1 slot, then the M’s could try it. In recent years they haven’t really had such a player, but with Jeremy Reed they may now have the right guy. Note also that Reed has characteristic (d) doesn’t waste a high BA in the #1 slot, with much of his OBP coming from walks rather than hits.

  11. Evan on March 1st, 2005 4:11 pm

    Ichiro’s tendency to hit groundballs would bring down his value a lot if he were to bat second.

    Not only would a bunch of those infield hits become outs (just one – a fielder’s choice), but having a runner on base would prevent the opposing infield from playing in, thus reducing the number of balls Ichiro hits to the outfield.

    A lot of Ichiro’s value is locking into his batting with no one on base in front of him; that he leads off the inning roughly twice as often as anyone else on the team helps a lot.

    Batting Ichiro second would be a disaster, and it would rob him of plate appearances.

  12. Jim on March 1st, 2005 4:36 pm

    Evan: Points well taken, though they raise an even more interesting question for me: Is Ichiro merely a good, rather than great, player because his value is so dependent upon specific usage? That is:

    1. Is a guy with a high batting average who needs to bat with the bases empty really a great player? The principal difference between a hit and a walk is the opportunity to score other runners. Are most of Ichiro’s hits merely walk-substitutes?

    2. If my team is blessed with good OBPs throughout the order, all the way down to the #8 and #9 slots, am I screwing myself out of much of Ichiro’s value by actually playing them all? Is it important to bat 1-2 lousy players at the bottom to preserve Ichiro’s offensive performance?

    I think Ichiro is an amazing and unique player, but I also am starting to see how small a usage frame his role must fit into to exploit his value.

  13. Shannon on March 1st, 2005 4:38 pm

    What are blogs for if not speculation and conjecture?? I think the debate about Ichiro in CF is interesting and Tangotiger brings an outsider’s view to the table that we as fans don’t necessarily have. I probably don’t understand half of what he writes, but I’m still enjoying it nonetheless.

    As for batting Ichiro second, how many plate appearances would he lose?

  14. John in L.A. on March 1st, 2005 4:52 pm


    Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t Ichiro’s numbers with men on, perplexingly high?

    It seems to me that the opposite of what you say is true. That he so threw the stats with men on, that people were suggesting that his ability to steer his hits gave him an advantage with someone on first.

    I could be completely wrong, but everything I read in the past supported the idea that Ichiro was an anamoly – a guy who’s big numbers with runners on and RISP was more skill than luck.

    Have those numbers changed in the last year or two?

  15. Harry Teasley on March 1st, 2005 4:53 pm

    Ichiro has a sick BA with men in scoring position: his hits are not mere walk substitutes. But his high rate of infield singles does mean that he will hit into more FCs with a guy on first. I agree with Evan, putting someone with a high OBP due to walks in front of Ichiro is probably not a great idea.

  16. Hit and Run on March 1st, 2005 5:14 pm

    I remember an article in which Ichiro said he would be willing to switch to center but he preferred to be moved in the off season so he could work on the change. Seems like now would be the perfect time to ask him to switch.

  17. John in L.A. on March 1st, 2005 5:18 pm


    But FCs don’t count as a hit… so where are the hits coming from?

    His average is almost 20 points higher, career, with runners on.

    I can’t find runner on first only splits, but I’m not seeing where any support for the FC scenario comes from.

  18. Joshua Buergel on March 1st, 2005 5:28 pm

    I’m posting this from my phone, but I wish I was home, since I actually have some runner advancement base/out situations I computed from Retrosheet data that might be relevent. Well, semi-interesting. While DMZ is probably correct that this is mostly just navel-gazing, I’m still having fun.

    It seems like the question of Ichiro hitting second is also a moot one, since the same risk-averse forces that hold Ichiro in right (“best right fielder in baseball”) will keep him in leadoff (I’ll bet I can find a similar quote about him as a leadoff hitter).

  19. John in L.A. on March 1st, 2005 5:34 pm

    Keep in mind that while I enjoy stats… I’m not good at them. So I won’t be at all surprised to be completely wrong.

  20. tangotiger on March 1st, 2005 6:42 pm

    You lose 18 PA per batting spot moved down. It’s pretty static across the board, and is computed as 162/9.

  21. DAd on March 1st, 2005 7:50 pm

    Since we are all conjecturing, speculating, and just plain fantasizing. I say Ichiro in left just so he can gun down guys going from batter’s box to second and from 2nd/3rd to home. Put Sexson in right and Choo in center. That’ll be a great defensive alignment. Ibanez at first and Winn/Bucky as DH. There!

  22. Evan on March 1st, 2005 10:49 pm

    I know Ichiro’s BA with RISP is sick. Does anyone know what his BA is with a runner on 1B?

    But most of all, the man is crazily and entertainingly productive batting leadoff and playing RF. Why mess with that? Anything that might distract Ichiro is bad.

  23. ray on March 2nd, 2005 2:57 am

    Someone or some people have mentioned that Ichiro doesn’t want to look bad. Moving to center field for him is not about looking bad, but it is about being bad. Like any position you need time to practice that position. You shouldn’t just move into that position. He is not selfish but a total team player. Once when he was in a slump he offered to Melvin to be sent to AAA until the slump ended. How many players would do that? He is always thinking team first — another example (in the past) he didn’t want to appear on a team calendar by himself but with other teammates.

  24. ray on March 2nd, 2005 3:02 am

    Oh, forgot to mention. Being “raised” in the Japan leagues is quite difference as you know. But how many of you know that Japanese rookies at the beginning of the season are required to attend a seminar on how to be a good person, team player, and a good player.

  25. tangotiger on March 2nd, 2005 4:29 am

    ray: I don’t think there’s a harder position switch than SS to 3B. Once you’ve got super talent like ARod, it makes the position switch much easier. ARod was sensational at 3B.

    CF and RF have very very similar traits, unlike SS/3B. If Shane Spencer and Jeromy Burnitz can play CF cold, and look ok there, then I’m sure the perfect fielding specimen doesn’t need to much time there.

  26. Harry Teasley on March 2nd, 2005 6:15 am

    We’ve seen Ichiro in CF a couple of times, and he did just fine. I don’t think there’s an issue with ability there. He just feels more comfortable in RF, and I for one think there’s value to having a player where he’s most comfortable. He’s a professional, folks should accept his professional judgment about what his comfort zone is.

    John in LA: I was theorizing that many of what would be his plethora of infield singles if there’s no one on first turn into FCs with the runner out at second. The upside is that Ichiro’s speed keeps them from being double-plays. The downside is that he does hit a bunch of ground balls, and they are hits for him where they would be hits for absolutely no one else in baseball.

    But for all I know, the numbers don’t back me up, so I do have to admit I’m pulling this out of my butt. I’ve seen him simply replace the runner on first many times, as he grounded to 4 or 6 with the runner out at 2nd. I think his hit total would drop if he constantly had runners on first.

  27. Tangotiger on March 2nd, 2005 7:30 am

    Yes, there’s comfort in a comfortable zone. But what you want also is flexibility. When Hidalgo, Vlad, Sheffield or otherwise were available, it would have been nice to know that Ichiro would gladly move over to CF as a true professional. I don’t know the understanding between Ichiro and management, but to just give a blanket statement like “he’s comfortable, leave him there” is not good enough.

    In 1984 or so, they asked Tim Raines to move to CF so that Hawk could move to RF because of his knees. Raines did so, gladly. He was fine there. But, he said at the end that it wasn’t comfortable for him, so they moved him back to LF, and brought in a “real” CF. I don’t know how Ichiro would react, but what you want is flexibility, and a trial time period to figure that out. I’m sure Smoltz wasn’t comfortable as a reliever either. Its incumbent on all professionals to roll up their sleeves and try something else, so that when a situation presents itself, management has the flexibility in deploying its resources.

  28. Tangotiger on March 2nd, 2005 7:43 am

    DMZ: I’m surprised by your comment in #59.

    One of your best pieces ever:

    Couldn’t I have said: “MLB teams don’t want revenue sharing, so there won’t be real revenue sharing, so that puts a damper on my interest and general speculation…”

    In every interesting unpaid analysis that is done, the value is not in the destination, but in the journey. It’s what you learn, what information you use, how you use it. It’s the whole framework of how to think, and what to look for.

    Everything baseball analysis we do and write is completely trivial and meaningless. But, it’s fun, and that’s why some of us speculate on the Ichiro move, and how you can learn something from it. It’s irrelevant if the destination of Ichiro being in CF is remote. The journey itself is fun.

    This also doesn’t stop people from debating Ruth, Williams, and Bonds, even though their playing conditions have changed drastically.

    I agree with the other poster that without conjecture, blogs would lose some of their huge appeal.

  29. Tangotiger on March 2nd, 2005 7:44 am

    What’s funny is that Derek ended the piece above by saying “it has no chance”.

  30. Joshua Buergel on March 2nd, 2005 11:56 am

    OK, here are Ichiro’s three-year splits (http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/players/splits3?statsId=6615&type=batting):

    None on: .341/.372/.454
    On 1st (only): .289/.323./.356
    Runners on: .326/.409/.408

    So, yes, Ichiro has performed worse with a single runner on first over the past three years. That’s also true in his most recent year. The stats appear to back up the observation that Ichiro is not at his best with a single runner on. For the record, according to data I pulled from Retrosheet for the AL 1981-1990, the average hitter gets a bump of 4.3% in their batting average with a runner on first.

  31. Harry on March 2nd, 2005 12:32 pm

    Thanks for the link. More telling than comparing runners on is comparing RISP: he’s .359 with RISP, .289 with 1B only. Is there anything else that would account for that sort of discrepancy, except that he’s hitting into a bunch of FCs with an out at second, when he has a runner on 1st?

  32. Tangotiger on March 2nd, 2005 1:41 pm

    It’s possible that Ichiro changes his approach at bat.

    Overall, his K/BB with no one on is 135/60, but with runners on, it’s 59/93 !! That’s one remarkable shift. With guys on 1B only, it’s 28/14, meaning an even more astounding 31/79 with RISP.

    Anyway, focus on Ichiro’s stats when he makes contact and it’s not a HR:
    with men on 1B only, its 89 hits on 285 contact in-park PA, for an average of .312. His overall average is .361. So, still a discrepancy, but not so bad. A 49 point difference based on 285 PA is only 2 standard deviations away. Well within the realm of luck.

    I think the most likely explanation is:
    1 – Ichiro completely changes his approach to hitting with runners in scoring position
    2 – Any other difference is probably luck


  33. Utis on March 2nd, 2005 3:29 pm

    What is the evidence that Ichiro’s range (as measured by total chances and putouts) would increase significantly by moving from RF to CF? The aggregate stats are biased by teams putting the players with the best range in CF. According to ESPN’s fielding stats, Ichiro led all AL outfielders last year in total chances and putouts. Unfortunately, the data for the Cameron years wasn’t available. Having Ichiro in right field lets the Ms take advantage of both his range and his arm. Moreover, his (and Winn’s) range lets them get away with playing Reed in center.

  34. tangotiger on March 2nd, 2005 7:50 pm

    Utis: I have published research that compares the *same* fielder, and how he performs at CF / LF or CF / RF. This is how I got the numbers I have described here.

  35. Jim on March 2nd, 2005 9:59 pm

    Re: #80, the 2004 splits for Ichiro are:

    None on: .376/.401/.475
    1B only: .355/.378/.393
    Runners on: .364/.439/.412

    So the effect is still there, but it’s not nearly as severe as the 3-year (2002-2004) split you’ve quoted. Why is that? Well, 2003 is also not as severe as the 3-year number. But then there’s 2002:

    None on: .332/.379/.450
    1B only: .227/.257/.289
    Runners on: .301/.402/.375

    So the 3-year split just happens to include a huge anomaly from 2002…how conveeeeeeeenient…

    I think that if there was a big problem, he’s addressed it somehow. I don’t see how putting him in the “runner on 1B” situation another two dozen times each year presents any great hazard to his performance level. Note also that the individuals on first in the “Ichiro batting #2” scenario would tend to be somewhat faster than those reflected in the stats we’re quoting here, which cuts down a bit on the easy FC situations both through ordinary base speed and by stealing second to eliminate force options.

    Costing Ichiro 18 PAs is of some consequence, but so is costing Bonds 36 PAs…should Bonds bat leadoff to prevent that? In general it’s best to bat strong hitters next to other strong hitters to benefit from synergy both before and after each good offensive player. That lineup effect will generally outweigh any of these other effects discussed here. Enshrining an excellent player at the top of the order for “inside baseball” cultural reasons fails, I think, to gain the full advantage that’s offered.

  36. Jim Albright on March 7th, 2005 9:37 am

    Since the Ichiro for HOF thread is closed, I thought this was a good
    place to mention that I’ve finally completed my analysis of how I see
    his status for Cooperstown. I got hung up trying to do comparables
    to him at his age using SQL, and only recently figured out another way around the issue. Anyway, the link is:

    this page
    . Hope you find it interesting.

    Jim Albright

  37. Dan G on March 8th, 2005 6:57 am

    Ichiro’s OPS since coming to Seattle (2001 through 2004).


    Offensively, this looks like an decent major league right fielder to me.