Position Roundtables: Right Field

Dave · March 3, 2006 at 9:49 am · Filed Under 2006 Position Roundtables, Mariners 

Starting Rightfielder: Ichiro!


Context is a tricky thing. By pretty much every standard, Ichiro had a “down year” in 2005. His average dropped 69 points, and he posted the lowest BA, OBP, and OPS of his U.S. career. His .786 OPS was basically the same as Raul Ibanez’s, and we’re all upset that the M’s are giving Ibanez a contract extension. A cursory look at Ichiro’s numbers reveal a pretty mediocre season.

But, as usual, cursory looks at statistics can be misleading. During his down year of 2005, Ichiro was still one of the five best rightfielders in the game. Seriously.

He posted a .289 EqA, which ranks him 7th out of 25 right fielders who made at least 250 outs (basically, guys who play regularly). On a per at-bat basis, the only RFs who were more productive hitters were Vlad, Giles, Sheffield, Abreu, Jenkins, and Emil Brown (?!?).

EqA underrates Ichiro a bit, however, because he’s more durable than most players and stays in the line-up all the time. When you go to a counting statistic to incorporate playing time, such as runs above replacement, Ichiro moves up to 5th, passing Jenkins and Brown. He wasn’t in the offensive class of the Big Four, but he wasn’t leaps and bounds behind, either. Sheffield and Abreu were both worth about 10 runs more offensively than Ichiro, Sheffield about 20, and Vlad about 25.

Now, defense. Ichiro’s clearly the best defensive player of the group, even if he may not be quite as good as he was a few years ago. Sheffield is a legitimately horrible defender. Guerrero’s a little below average. Giles and Abreu are about average. Ichiro’s glove was worth at least 10-15 runs more than Sheffields. He’s probably 5-10 runs better than the other three.

Guess what? He basically catches Sheffield and Abreu in overall value. He’s still clearly behind Vlad and Giles, but the gap isn’t astronomical. He’s just not the best right fielder in the game. No big deal.

However, here’s the point no one seems to remember; he’s clearly in the top 5, and probably in the top 3. He was something like the 3rd-5th best right fielder in baseball in his worst season since coming over from Japan.

Yes, he only hit .300, he doesn’t walk a lot, and he lacks power. But he’s still every bit the star that Gary Sheffield or Bobby Abreu is. He’s a legitimately great player. Remember that the next time a national columnist tells you his sub-800 OPS makes him a liability.


It always amazes me that the same people who advocate looking for new
ways to solve problems and unconventional thinking like to tee off on
Ichiro because he’s not a prototypical right fielder. So what? It’s also
interesting that people seem to focus on what Ichiro doesn’t quite do:
he steals over 30 bases a year, but he needs to be more aggressive. He
hits for a high average, but he’d be better/worse if he went for more
power/took more pitches/whatever.

You touch on one of the most important things Ichiro offers that doesn’t
get enough credit: he plays and plays and plays. Maybe too much, but
having Ichiro means that every game a part of the problem’s pre-solved:
in right field, you have one of the best players in the game. Now work
out the rest of the lineup.

One of the reasons I’m optimistic is that we’ve seen Ichiro toy with the
power swing when he feels it’s appropriate. It clearly requires him to
take a different approach (he looks much more coiled) and he doesn’t
break it out that often, but I think that Ichiro’s well-equipped to
adapt to the effects of aging. The downside is that if being more
selective really does mess him up, then his aging path is going to be
really strange: where most players gain power and patience while their
average drops, if not swinging isn’t an option for him and he stops
being able to beat out infield hits, that’s a tough decline.
Fortunately, that’s not going to happen next year. Also, he could
switch-hit if he really wanted. I like mentioning that.

I won’t even bring up whether he’ll play a lot better on an improved and
more competitive team. If it happens, great.

While there are some excellent reasons to stay away from the park this
year, there are a couple – Felix, Johjima, Soriano, the development of
Lopez and Betancourt, for starters – but he’ll do something over the
course of the year that makes it all worthwhile.

On another note, why is Ibanez the annoited face of the team? Is it
because he’s more gregarious, has a family that photographs well (and
who he’ll let be photographed), and has a nice litttle storyline? Maybe
it’s me, but I recognize that even as there are different Ichiros:
– the private hermit
– the effortlessly competent and solemn star player

and that makes it hard to market, Ichiro is amazing, I have seen Ichiro
make plays I think back on and still send the tingles down my back. He
holds the single-season hits record. He’s so cool I had to put on a
parka just to write this and my hands are still getting numb. What’s
Ibanez ever done that’s made people stand up and applaud until their
hands hurt? If anyone on this team is an heir to the quiet dedication
and contributions of Edgar, it’s Ichiro.

Anyway, here’s my cool thing of the day: it’s the Ichiro outcome-o-matic.

This is what happens when his at-bat ends on that count. Note that he can only walk on a 3-x count, and sometimes he sacrifices (argh) which explains the OBP thing.


47 Responses to “Position Roundtables: Right Field”

  1. sparky on March 3rd, 2006 10:15 am

    When you are talking about Ichiro’s value as a player, it’s probably also important to somehow figure in the extra revenue he brings it. I’m not sure if anyone has tried to quantify it, but you have to think that the draw of Ichiro gives the M’s extra funds to spend on players they wouldn’t otherwise have (of course this impact is rendered meaningless if it gets spent on people like Washburn, Crazy Carl, and extensions for Raul).

  2. Joshua Buergel on March 3rd, 2006 10:28 am

    People often overrate the extra funds Ichiro brings in because they assume that money the M’s gain from merchandise and rights fees in Japan goes to them. It doesn’t, it gets shared amongst all 30 teams. That said, he obviously is still a huge draw and a money maker, just not quite to the extent some people believe.

    As for the value of Ichiro, it’s one of the best tests around for whether an analyst is really thinking for themselves or if they’re just parroting a different party line. If they actually look at Ichiro as a player, the conclusion that he’s a legit star is inescapable. Every time Joe Sheehan writes something on Ichiro, he gets it wrong and I write him every time.

  3. mln on March 3rd, 2006 10:30 am

    It will be interesting to see how Ichiro does this season and if he plays with more of something to prove. He “down” year last year brought all the Ichiro Haters out of the closet and gave them a reason to dismiss his record setting 2004 season as an “outlier” in what has been a progressive downward trend in his performance since 2001 (or so they would have you believe).

    Couple this with Ichiro’s comments about the team in the offseason and reports that he was unhappy (with Hargrove among others) and the subject of trade rumors, this may be an important year for Ichiro.

  4. DMZ on March 3rd, 2006 10:39 am

    It’s not true that the M’s don’t make money from merchandise. If nothing else, that’s the whole point of the team stores — they’re making tons of money off those places.

  5. Dave on March 3rd, 2006 10:52 am

    That line on 0-0 is crazy. Usually, guys who swing at the first pitch only do so when they’re going to kill the ball, so they’re 0-0 line’s are really, really high.

  6. MKT on March 3rd, 2006 11:06 am

    #2. People often overrate the extra funds Ichiro brings in because they assume that money the M’s gain from merchandise and rights fees in Japan goes to them. It doesn’t, it gets shared amongst all 30 teams

    #4. It’s not true that the M’s don’t make money from merchandise. If nothing else, that’s the whole point of the team stores — they’re making tons of money off those places.

    Maybe both statements are true? I can imagine that merchandise sales and rights fees *in Japan* get shared amongst all teams. Also presumably if I buy an Ichiro! shirt at a Footlocker store in LA, that money goes to MLB in general (as well as Footlocker of course).

    But at the same time, presumably the M’s local sales bring money directly to them.

    And if I buy Mariner merchandise off their website … hmm, it’s part of mlb.com so maybe that revenue goes to MLB also.

  7. Andy Stallings on March 3rd, 2006 11:07 am

    Those are some great charts. Wondering: do you have numbers readily available for how many times his at-bat ended on each particular count?

    Is there a place on the internet where I could find them, otherwise?

    Love the love for Ichiro. The Edgar comparison seems entirely apt to me.

  8. bob montgomery on March 3rd, 2006 11:07 am

    Just a note…Ichiro! had basically the exact same year last year that he did in 2003. Average a little worse, OBP the same, SLG the same, SB the same, AB, runs, hits, RBI, total bases, everything. A few more IBB last year.

  9. ccolon on March 3rd, 2006 12:09 pm

    One of my clients at work is an upscale downtown Seattle hotel that will remain nameless. Anyway, a few years ago, they hired a second concierge to cater exclusively to Japanese tourists, and have something like five floors of the hotel reserved exclusively for Japanese guests during the baseball season. The tourists typically arrive in groups, and they almost always go on the Safeco field tour before attending one or more games.

    Nevermind the ticket sales; I don’t think it’s far-fetched to believe that those tourists are dropping some bucks at the Team Store after the tour, like Derek said.

  10. Fett42 on March 3rd, 2006 12:10 pm

    RE #5: That chart is only for last season, when you’ll note Hargrove was attempting to control when Ichiro swung. Here are his 0-0 numbers on all OTHER seasons:

    2001: .442/.491/.632
    2002: .419/.526/.656
    2003: .382/.382/.549
    2004: .456/.452/.614

    So… I think we see the outlier, and I wouldn’t be too concerned…

  11. Evan on March 3rd, 2006 12:11 pm

    It’s said that every pitcher’s best pitch is strike one.

    0-1, Ichiro hits .400/.420/.590. That’s sick.


    1-0, Ichiro hits .360/.350/.690. Ouch.

    I was going to explain his 0-1 line by saying that a pitcher who trows the first one past Ichiro (since he doesn’t swing and miss, he must have taken a first pitch strike) tend to go right back to that well and get hit hard, but with that 1-0 line I think it just means that Ichiro pwns on the second pitch of the at-bat.

  12. msb on March 3rd, 2006 12:19 pm

    the Ichiro outcome-o-matic

    arrrrrghhhhhhhh……brain cramp……….

    #2, 4– as DMZ says, the M’s keep the team store money and of course the Safeco ad revenues (including the ads in Japanese)

    The Japanese broadcasting revenue is divided among all the teams, as is any revenue from the MLB sponsorships (i.e. deals with big companies overseas) and from “Major League Baseball International, which is responsible for negotiating broadcast rights, sponsorships, licensing agreements and merchandising deals outside the U.S.”

  13. Adam S on March 3rd, 2006 12:22 pm

    I looked at the 0-0 hitting a bit more. He hit .450 (!) in 2004, .380 in 2003, and .420 in 2002. Andy (and others), ESPN’s player cards have all of this data.

    So here’s the interesting part. In 2002-2004 he had ~100 AB where he put the first pitch in play. Last year it was only 65 AB. So maybe word got around that he was a .400+ hitter on the first pitch and pitchers stopped throwing first pitch strikes. Since he doesn’t walk often, they weren’t too worried about missing. Then again, he hit .500+ on 1-0 pitches in 2004. Or maybe they asked him to be patient and it messed up his first pitch approach.

  14. Choska on March 3rd, 2006 12:39 pm


  15. eponymous coward on March 3rd, 2006 12:54 pm

    Did the sabremetric community dislike Tony Gwynn, too? Because that’s who Ichiro’s comp is:

    – LHB
    – Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves
    – batting titles
    – great arm
    – very good speed
    – good bat control
    – some power, not prototypical corner OF, though

    Gwynn’s walks and power were a little higher, but it’s not a complete mismatch.

  16. Dave on March 3rd, 2006 12:57 pm

    Did the sabremetric community dislike Tony Gwynn, too?

    Yes. If you do some googling, you can find some older articles from when he was active arguing that he was the most overrated player in baseball. Because, of course, he didn’t walk or hit home runs, and those are the only things that count…

    Because that’s who Ichiro’s comp is

    So we should expect Ichiro to let himself go, become a tub of goo who can barely move, and have a son who is drafted highly entirely based on his last name?

  17. msb on March 3rd, 2006 1:10 pm

    and start coaching at Aikodai Meiden Kōkō…

  18. metz123 on March 3rd, 2006 1:16 pm

    How valuable would Ichiro be if he was a center fielder?

  19. Dave on March 3rd, 2006 1:23 pm

    How valuable would Ichiro be if he was a center fielder?

    That question is basically tied to another popular question – how good of a defensive center fielder would Ichiro be?

    From a strictly tools standpoint, you’d say darn good. He covers a lot of ground with his natural speed. Physically, he’s certainly superior to Jeremy Reed and most other major league center fielders.

    However, a huge amount of defensive value is not tied to physical tools, but instead to things like reactions (your first step is HUGE), route running, and ability to read the ball. From his time in right field, we can say that Ichiro’s pretty good at all of these, but I’m not sure he’s great at them. He’s certainly not Mike Cameron, who was seemingly moving as the ball came off the bat.

    But, I’d guess, at worst, he’d be an average defensive CF, or about as good as Jeremy Reed. He might be a bit better than that. And that would make him something like the 3rd or 4th best center fielder in the game.

  20. JAS on March 3rd, 2006 1:42 pm

    Didn’t Ichiro play CF in Japan?

    If so, I’d guess his defensive abilities are probably more advanced than Reed’s.

    Any word on what position Ichiro is playing on the WBC team?

  21. Dave on March 3rd, 2006 1:43 pm

    Didn’t Ichiro play CF in Japan?

    That was six years ago. It’s almost impossible to find a major league player who hasn’t decreased in defensive performance from where he was in 2000.

  22. Smegmalicious on March 3rd, 2006 2:25 pm

    Ichiro also pitched in Japan for one batter, but that doesn’t make it a good idea to have him do it here. Personally I think we should keep him as happy as possible. Let him stay in Right where he dominates, let him lead off where he dominates. Keep Hargrove away from him and let the man play.

  23. scraps on March 3rd, 2006 2:34 pm

    Now I’m really going to grind my teeth every time I see Sheehan or someone else at BP casually dismiss Ichiro’s production. (I don’t see Neyer’s stuff anymore.)

  24. msb on March 3rd, 2006 2:44 pm

    #21– and IIRC it was for about a season, total….

  25. DMZ on March 3rd, 2006 2:57 pm

    To return to the team store thing: the Safeco Field store does crazy business with tourists from Japan.

  26. RyanA on March 3rd, 2006 3:29 pm

    20: He played RF in the first game against China. Japan won 18-2.

  27. eponymous coward on March 3rd, 2006 4:40 pm

    So we should expect Ichiro to let himself go, become a tub of goo who can barely move, and have a son who is drafted highly entirely based on his last name?

    Didn’t say that, but the fact that Gwynn adjusted his hitting approach over the years and stayed around until he was 40 is a good sign, I think.

    Roberto Clemente is also a comp as well (more K’s and more power, though). If you go back to the 20’s and 30’s, there’s a boatload of these players, like Heinie Manush, and Paul Waner makes a reasonable comp on the field in terms of skill set (well, except for the hip flask he usually had in his back pocket). Really, the skill set Ichiro represents isn’t as unusual as everyone makes it out to be- it’s just one we’re not as familiar with in the everyone-mash-the-ball 90’s and 00’s. I wouldn’t mind a couple of Ichiros at the top of my order if I could find them- if I could find a couple of decent power hitters behind them one of those mashers might threaten Hack Wilson or Lou Gehrig’s RBI record, because nack in the 1920’s and 1930’s that was how you scored runs.

    So I’m not really ready to go on the “Ichiro is DOOOMED once he loses a step, DOOMED!” crowd…Waner, Clemente and Gwynn all managed to stay effective into their 30’s and 40’s. There was decline, of course, but I think Ichiro will adjust.

  28. ray on March 3rd, 2006 4:48 pm

    Ichiro has been playing RF for Japan team but there is good news and bad news about his offense. Take this for what it’s worth.

    Bad news first: he has only about 4 hits in 24 at bats, and many of them are to second base.

    Good news: After the first exhibition game, where he’d seemed like the 2005 Ichiro (trying to hit a homerun every time), he went back to his pre-2005 version. Ichiro is now trying to spray the ball all over the place, and most of his batted balls have been grounders — & only 2 Ks in 24 ABs. Unfortunately, the grounders have also found gloves. It also seems that most of the grounders were not difficult field b.c. I didn’t see anyone having to range far or hard from his position. Ichiro seems to be going with the stance he changed to in the middle of last year (at least I think it’s last year): his front leg is more towards 1st base than the back leg. It’s really noticeable how open he is. I wonder if it isn’t more open than last year…

    Good/Bad news: This I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but Ichiro is taking a lot of first and second pitches. Actually, I don’t think I’ve seen him swing at any first pitch and rarely second pitch.

    On yesterday’s performance, his one hit was a slow bouncer to short which he beat out.

  29. Smegmalicious on March 3rd, 2006 5:00 pm

    I think He’s probably just tinkering at the moment. When your team is winning 18-2 and you have a full season to prepair for you’re allowed to tinker.

  30. ray on March 3rd, 2006 5:29 pm

    Ichiro tinker? This guy genuinely wants to win for Japan. I can’t imagine he’s tinker during such important games.

    Hey Dave,, I just realized your chart looks like the different parts of the strike zone. I wonder how it would compare to Ichiro’s hot/cold zones…

  31. Smegmalicious on March 3rd, 2006 5:31 pm

    Chinese Taipei isn’t exactly an important game. Remember this is also spring training for him.

  32. scraps on March 3rd, 2006 6:14 pm

    When you guys are comparing him to great singles hitters of the past, isn’t there a significant difference between them and Ichiro that might be genuine reason for concern about his future: that is, Doesn’t Ichiro hit a greater percentage of infield singles than anyone? If so, losing a step of speed would be far more crucial to Ichiro than to Tony Gwynn.

    And if those great singles hitters of the past are good comps for Ichiro, why does PECOTA hate Ichiro’s future so much?

  33. Steve Nelson on March 3rd, 2006 6:17 pm

    I read a story one time in the Puget Sound Business Journal that presented some info from a study done by one of the governmental tourisn agencies. IIRC, the study indcated about 50,000 Japanese visitors come to the Seattle area specifically to see a Mariners game – most of that impact is due to Ichiro. I don’t recall the exact numbers but I’m pretty sure it’s in the that range.

    I figure that most of these fans wind up with either Terrace Club or field level seats – figure about $40 average. I don’t know how many games they take in while they come to Seattle; two games attended per visitor is probably conservative. So that’s $4 million in ticket revenue.

    Those fans probably spend around $20 per person on concessions at each game (not counting the team store). There’s another $2 million.

    Those fans also buy a lot of stuff from the Mariners team store while they are here – sales through the team store are not divided with other teams. As I recall, the team store sales attributed to Japanese fans at least as big as game concessions. So count that as another $2 million.

    So we’re looking at about $8 million in extra revenue from Japanese fans coming to Seattle specifically to see Ichiro.

    In addition to that 50,000 figure, there are Japanese who would have come to Seattle anyway (either tourists or on business) who will be sure they take in Mariners game while they are there. I don’t recall ever having seen any numbers on the number of those visitors – off the top of my head I would guess that is at least another 50,000 visitors, but they might only take on one game on a trip. So that might be another $4 million or so in added revenue.

    Add it all up, and in terms of team finances, Ichiro is probably one of the best contracts in baseball.

    I can’t imagine there is another player in baseball who single handedly adds that much to his teams top and bottom lines.

  34. mln on March 3rd, 2006 6:28 pm

    Forget about the revenue that Ichiro generates from Japanese tourists.

    When the Mariners trade him, they can easily replace that revenue stream with all the money that the Port Orchard/Bremerton fan base spends at Safeco to cheer on Willie Bloomquist.

    Think of the possibilites.

  35. Faceplant on March 3rd, 2006 7:33 pm

    How is it possible to have an OBP lower than your AVG?

  36. DMZ on March 3rd, 2006 8:03 pm

    You could read the little note below the chart for an explanation.

  37. BelaXadux on March 3rd, 2006 8:37 pm

    I think Ichiro is more likely to have a rebound this year than any other ’05 Mariner who had down numbers. The team, with some justice, tried to modify Ichiro’s approach at the plate both of the last two years; he didn’t take well to it either time, and I don’t think we’ll see that again. Ichiro’s offensive strategy is well-defined, and his performances have been consistent over time with it. It’s also easy (because so needful) to forget that last year the Ms got off to a truly awful start, and their season was drowned in the toilet by mid-May. Personally, I think that this affected Ichiro more than anyone in that with the season gone early he tinkered with this and that for most of the year, and just lacked intensity until well into the second half. One can’t quantify all that, but to me a rebound is far more likely than an off-the-cliff decline which the comp-models are probably over-anticipating. Certainly, Ichiro’s speed did _not_ appear to have declined significantly last year, so there is no obvious reason to figure any physical fall-off just yet.

    It’s too easy to over-value players one watches all the time, but as in so many things Ichiro sets that truism on it’s head: I strongly think that folks who _don’t_ see Ichiro on a regular basis consistently underestimate his actual value. There is the durability which Derek mentions. One can also mention consistency; Ichiro has few dry spells, and they’re short, and even then he usually still manages to squeak out a hit or a walk and so at least get on somewhere in a game: Ichii’s always a factor even when he’s not hot. If there was ever a man who could defy the ‘there’s no such thing as a clutch hitter’ maxim, again it’s Suzuki I., who consistently bats in the range of .400 with men in scoring position. Ichiro makes great contact, and he definitely adjusts his swing and approach with men on base to get the ball out of the infield or to the right side to get the run in. Ichiro’s base-stealing percentage is good, but he doesn’t wear his body out with pointless stat-padding. This isn’t a ‘little things’ argument, more that Ichiro does EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to win _on the field_ which does not actually show up in the raw numbers, so his plain numbers underestimate his impact more than is the case for most players. In the later innings of close games, I keep my attention on Ichiro more than any other player, because his focus to either get on or drive in someone who is on really stands out; statistically, he’s not supposed to be able to turn it up enough for it to show, but watching him you can see that he, of all players, can actually do this often enough that you notice. Ichii is just an outlier, period.

    Regarding Ichiro, the defender: He definitely runs outstanding routes, and he seems to get a very good read on the ball. However, Dave may be on to a bit of something here because, to me, Ichiro’s first step isn’t quite at the same level as his other physical skills; it’s a very good first step, but not WWOWW! like Mike Cameron’s was. I will say, though, that Ichiro’s body control when me makes the catch is the best I’ve ever seen, bar none, whether coming in to get under the ball, full extention deep in the alley, or playing the wall. Other guys can jump higher at the wall, but no one is any better positioned than Ichii to get good glove position at impact. And we’re not even talking about his arm. I don’t mind having Ichiro in RF. Yes, he might have more absolute value in CF, but as discussed elsewhere Safeco gives aid to guys playing CF relative to other parks but makes playing RF a tad more demanding. It’s not pure boneheadedness to put a good-not-great defender in CF here and an outstanding one in RF.

    I’m happier with Ichii playing RF for the Ms than with ANY other player in the game. . . . I just wish that we had a power hitter in LF to balance the offense better, but that’s not Ichiro’s fault.

  38. BelaXadux on March 3rd, 2006 8:44 pm

    And Derek, I love the pitch chart. Taking previous years into account per comments in thread, then, it’s clear that Ichiro deliberately swings at one or the other of the first two pitches unless they’re way out of reach, and consistently has good success with both contact and result. That also lines up well with the observation over time that pitchers who have the most success against him keep the ball away and make him expand the strikezone to reach low-quality pitches. The best wisdom against him would be: don’t challenge him early. This may also figure into his best overall results being his first two years in the league when pitchers seemed more willing to ‘try to bury the little guy;’ he won much of the time, and smart teams have adapted their tactics.

  39. Evan on March 4th, 2006 10:26 am

    Ichiro’s worst numbers come at 1-2, 0-2, and then 2-0.

    1-2 and 0-2 make sense – he’s behind in the count, and he got there quickly. 2-0, though. That might demonstrate Ichiro’s expectation that any 2-0 pitch will be a strike, so he swings at everything.

  40. Mat on March 4th, 2006 11:27 am

    “1-2 and 0-2 make sense – he’s behind in the count, and he got there quickly. 2-0, though. That might demonstrate Ichiro’s expectation that any 2-0 pitch will be a strike, so he swings at everything.”

    To be sure about that, it would be instructive to see how often he went from 2-0 to 3-0 and how often he went from 2-0 to 2-1. It could be that pitchers get a bit defensive in that situation, don’t give him anything to swing at, and he goes to 3-0 a lot. The table the way it’s constructed is interesting, but I think it would be equally interesting to see a table that described the eventual outcome of an at-bat after Ichiro got to a certain count.

  41. Brian Rust on March 4th, 2006 11:40 am

    Looking more closely at Ichiro’s first pitch results . . .

    Year: PA, in play/%(BA), strike/%, ball/%
    2005: 731, 65/.089 (.200), 342/.468, 324/.443
    2004: 757, 114/.151 (.456), 336/.406, 336/.444
    2003: 721, 102/.141 (.382), 304/.422, 315/.437

    Look how closely the “ball 1” percentage tracks over the three years. Whatever changes he may have been asked to make in 2005, he did not let any higher percentage of balls pass by out of the strike zone. Even if he was being less aggressive, it appears he was no more selective. If, as Bela suggests (and I agree), smart pitchers are throwing him more crap early, he was not letting any more go by.

    A key figure missing here is called vs. swinging first strikes. Does anyone know where to find this information summarized? I don’t really have time to go through the pitch-by-pitch to collate 2,200 at-bats.

    Is his .200 BA on the first pitch merely a random effect of small sample size? The binomial probability of 13 or fewer successes in 65 trials with a probability of .303 = .043. A scientist using a 95% confidence interval would consider that statistically significant.

    Another informative split on Ichiro is force-out situations, defined as a runner on first or first and second, but not on third. This illustrates, IMO, the extent to which he relies on the infield single. We discussed this early in ’05, but the larger sample size of the entire season bears out a statistically significant situational dropoff. In the following comparison, binomP(BA) is the probability that a random binomial sample of AB trials with a probability of BA yields H successes.

    Year: AB, H, BA, binomP(season BA)/binomP(career BA)
    2005: 140, 31, .221, .019/.003
    2004: 147, 48, .326, .145/.480

    It is important to note that this analysis takes sample size into account. For instance, where a 30-for-140 split in a .300 BA yields P=.015, 15-for-70 yields P=.073 and 6-for-28 yields P=.220. The first is considered statistically significant while the others are not.

    So what are the skills that age well? Controlling the strike zone, hitting for power, making adjustments to compensate for ability. The evidence suggests Ichiro has some difficulty in these areas. Of course, he is Ichiro!, so he certainly could surprise me. But just because he’s one of a kind doesn’t automatically mean that he’s immune to the effects of age. And he’s only 8 months younger than Ibañez.

  42. DamienRoc on March 4th, 2006 1:17 pm

    #33 – I think you’re underestimating the store revenue. I can’t logically see someone visiting from Japan specifically to see Ichiro… and then buying a single souvenir from the team store. You spend ~$60 or so per game and concessions, $100 or so per night for the hotel, and $600 or so to fly here, and you’re going to spend $20 on a souvenir? Not likely. I expect a good amount will plop down hundreds if not thousands on merchandise during a trip.

    Of course, you also might be underestimating the amount of concessions. I’ve known some Japanese people who can drink a LOT of beer. (And at $7 a cup or so, you have to spend a good amount to get a lot at Safeco.)

  43. Steve Nelson on March 4th, 2006 3:21 pm

    #42: I think you have valid points. I was trying to stay on the low side on my estimates; even so I think it’s clear the Ichiro’s contract is one of the best bargains in the game in terms of revenue (and profit) generated per salary dollar. Ichiro would be reasonably compensated even if he weren’t bringing in the extra Japanese revenues. ad in the Japanaese revenues and it turns into a great bargain for the team.

    I do recall reading from a previous article that the concessions and team store contributions by Ichiro were pretty close. As you point out, both of my numbers may be low.

  44. F-Rod on March 4th, 2006 6:24 pm

    Are these career or season numbers?

  45. BelaXadux on March 4th, 2006 7:59 pm

    And Brian, re: Ichiro’s potential decline trajectory, yes a) Ichii depends inordinately on the infield single, b) the crucial asset in his hitting approach is speed which declines quickly from the early 30s on, and c) Ichiro does not presently exhibit the ‘old player’ skill set which would allow him to retain value. This is much if not most of why his comparables show rapid decline in their early 30s, and accordingly why the comp-models this year are flashing yellow. Now, Ichiro is nearly or clearly the best-conditioned athlete in the game. His games per year in Nippon were sharply lower than for the US season, too. He may be able to hold his speed a few years longer than most. And Ichi hits the way he does by design; his tinkering last year clearly shows that he could shift to a different hitting pattern if he wanted to. Thus far, he hasn’t wanted to. And when and if he does, his value as a player is likely to be sharply lower than it is now, so that being a proud man he many not choose to reshape his offense at a different, lower level when it becomes a necessity not a choice. I think Ichiro will stave off decline longer than his comps, and that he’s not going to hit that wall this year, or probably next. When it does come, though, it will be fairly sharp, and he may retire in the 36-37 range rather than limp on as a shadow of himself. He came up young, too, so he’s already had a full career.

  46. The Ancient Mariner on March 5th, 2006 7:35 am

    I’m not at all conviced that we’ll see a sharp decline out of Ichiro. He’s smart enough and works hard enough — and has good enough vision — that I think he’ll do just fine reinventing himself as a hitter when the time comes. To be sure, I can’t think of another player of whom I’d say that, but I firmly believe it’s true of Ichiro.

  47. Brian Rust on March 7th, 2006 2:36 pm

    Correction: Ichiro is 16 months younger than Ibañez.

    One other thing to keep in mind, the M’s hit .256/.315/.369 in the 2-hole last year. A decent hitter in that slot will shave 20 points off Ichiro’s OBP by taking away most of his 23 IBBs.

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