What’s Wrong With Ichiro
For the first time since May 12, 2004, Ichiro’s batting average is under .300. He’s 7 for 42 in June, following up a poor May, and we haven’t seen Ichiro! be Ichiro! in nearly six weeks. With the offense struggling, all eyes go to the team’s best hitter. And, of course, theories abound, and everyone seems to keep asking the same question. What’s wrong with Ichiro?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Since 2002, these are Ichiro’s batting averages by month:
Not including this month, Ichiro has had eight months in which he hit less than .300. That’s 40 percent of the months played. It should be expected that, in any given year, Ichiro has at least two months where he hits .300 or below.
Look at those variances above. From .243 to .389. .342 to .242. .255 to .400 to .274 to .432. Ichiro is what he is; consistently inconsistent.
We shouldn’t be surprised by this. In his major league career, 81 percent of his hits have been singles. That’s an astounding figure. The league average in 2004 was 66 percent. Only a few guys in baseball rely on the single as much as Ichiro. Luis Castillo, the biggest singler in the game, sees the same type of huge monthly swings in his average.
Singles, are, by nature, the least reliable type of hit. The difference between an infield single and a 6-3 putout is usually a tenth of a second. A ball finding a hole might get under the fielders glove by less than an inch. Have a run of balls that just don’t quite find the hole and all of the sudden, your singles are outs and you’re hitting .250. Extra base knocks, however, are almost always hits, and a player who drives the ball will be far less suceptible to the swings of random variation.
Every time Ichiro goes through a prolonged slump like this, new theories arise. Remember when the Yankees had figured out how to pitch him down and in? As human beings, we like answers, so we try to figure out what Ichiro is doing differently, what he’s doing wrong, what he needs to fix. We don’t like that the answer is random variation. It’s not a satisfying conclusion, and it doesn’t make us seem like minds who understand the game. Random variation is very real, though, and while it may not be a sexy explanation, it is the correct one.
Ichiro is going to have months where he hits .270. He’s also going to have months where he hits .450. He’s a player of extremes, probably the most valuable in the game when he’s going well and replacement level when he’s not. You live with months like May because you know a month like August of 2004 is coming. With Ichiro, you take the good with the bad, because in the end, it’s an extremely valuable package.