June of 24: Another Paean to the Great Ichiro
Watching baseball trends emerge is like seeing ripples in the desert. You want the ripples to herald an oasis, but you don’t want to emerge sandy-mouthed if it’s just another mirage.
Well worth reading in its entirety, the section of most interest to me involves a batting stance adjustment Ichiro says he made last June.
But June 24 was the night of his breakthrough, he said. During batting practice, he experimented by moving his right foot – the front foot in his batting stance – a couple of inches away from the plate, opening his stance and spreading his legs four more inches apart. He said those minor changes allowed him to lower his bat angle slightly.
One must be careful when taking claims like this at face value, not because of any doubts about an athlete’s veracity, but because no one is truly objective when performing a self-evaluation. After all, Ichiro went one for seven on June 24, 2004, and just seven for his next 33.
But what if he’s right? What if he did figure it out on that night, and it stays figured out? What if, in the middle of a 99-loss Sahara, he hit sweet water, dates and maybe an olive tree that’s fueling a very real performance boost?
Giving immediate credence to the June 24 Hypothesis are the numbers from that day forward. In the 480 at bats he’s recorded since moving his front leg a few inches, Ichiro has 191 hits.
That’s a significant hunk of time — a little over two-thirds of an average season — at a .398 clip, folks.
Occasionally forgotten: Ichiro has historically been a slow starter. Scope out his month-by-month splits. Mariner fans given to wishful thinking — guilty — have pondered how great a season he might turn in with a torrid run to start this campaign.
Going into the 2005 season, Ichiro was a .270 hitter for April. His hot start to this year (.355 so far) has boosted that to a .288 average in the opening month, which is still his lowest rate for any month of the year.
Breaking down statistics by month is arbitrary, to be sure, and players labeled slow starters or late faders don’t always perform consistently in those ways. Ichiro hasn’t been stellar in September, either, for example. Additionally, all players are capable of an unpredictable, prolonged slump, and some of those players are even written off by an august persona such as David Locke.
We’re looking at a 300-plus at-bat April sample size, though, and while I can’t find Japan statistics broken down by month, he had a “heats up as the season goes along” reputation with the Orix Blue Wave as well. That lends credence to the notion that No. 51 usually takes a while to get going. And we have nearly 500 at-bats that say hey, maybe he has reached a new plateau.
What might have been last year had Ichiro improved on his .255 April 2004 average? We may be about to find out.