All Time All Mariner Roster: Right Field
Ichiro! 2004. He hit for a ridiculous average (.372!) took his walks to get to a .414 OBP, and hit for a little (very little) power. Plus, he’s Ichiro! so he’s got that going for him. His batting average is the highest ever recorded by a Mariner regular — second place is Alex at .358 in 1996. That .414 OBP is the tenth-highest in Mariner history, behind a lot of Edgar Martinez/Alex Rodriguez seasons (and one Alvin Davis). In total contribution to his team, Ichiro’s 2004 may not be top ten, but it’s top twenty, and when he’s running up against Griffey, Edgar, and Alex, that’s amazingly good.
I wondered how to rate Ichiro’s seasons defensively in right. The 2003-2007 UZRs have him at +14, 0, +2, -1 in right for the 03-06 seasons. It would have taken a huge defensive season in 2001 combined with a defensive zero in 2004 to make up the difference in offensive contributions, and I don’t see it.
There’s so much to say here, about Ichiro, my appreciation for his play, his position on the team and in fandom, and everything else, but I would say this — Ichiro is the greatest example I’ve ever seen of how a good enough player can break roles. Someone can play outstanding defense at a position where defense isn’t valued, can play a dead-ball era game when right fielders are expected to whiff or hit the ball a long, long way.
Alex did this, but Alex followed Cal Ripken Jr, who established that shortstops could be big and hit well. Ichiro is without modern comparison, especially in the outfield — Tony Gwynn’s best years gave you the average, Ted Williams gets you average and huge walks and power, and Ichiro… we’re all lucky to have seen him play for the Mariners, in the same way that we’ve been blessed to see Alex, and Griffey, and Edgar, and I wish there was some way I could make people appreciate that.
I agree – 2004 was Ichiro’s best year, and even though he’s not the prototypical right fielder, it was the best year the M’s have ever gotten from the position. Jay Buhner had a great underrated run from 1994 to 1997, with ’97 probably being the best of that bunch, but he didn’t have any single season as good as Ichiro’s ’04. His walks and power were great, but the offensive value was at best equal to Ichiro’s best year, and while Bone had a great arm, the defensive comparison isn’t even close.
You could also make a case for ’78 Leon Roberts (an .879 OPS when the league average was .711), but not a good enough one to overcome the year with more hits in a season than any other in history. Unlike left field, there are some good performances here, and Ichiro doesn’t win by default – he was just that good.
So, with boring agreement between the two of us, let me use this space to make a quick statement on one of the common knocks people make against Ichiro now that he’s been moved back to right field – that he doesn’t hit for enough power to justify a spot in a corner OF position. There’s a well established belief among many that the correct way to build a roster is to get good defensive players up the middle (C, SS, 2B, CF) and get lumbering power hitters in the corners (3B, LF, RF, 1B). You’ll often hear comments about how offense from up the middle spots “is a bonus” and you rarely see people realizing just how much defense matters in a corner (Carlos Lee’s paycheck says hello) because of this preconceived notion of what kind of player you’re supposed to have in each position.
It’s crap. A player’s value is determined almost entirely by his ability to create and prevent runs and it doesn’t matter the way in which those runs are created or prevented. Whether you produce 30 runs of offense through death of a thousand singles or 25 home runs, the fact remains that the run creation is the same. If you have a great defender who has just an okay bat, but you already have a center fielder, that doesn’t mean you have to get rid of Defensive Stud simply because you can’t put that type of player in a corner OF spot. The 2001 to 2003 Mariners were playing three guys who were premium defenders (Winn, Cameron, Ichiro) but none of whom were classic sluggers, and they won a ton of baseball games.
Runs are runs, and you should almost never sacrifice aggregate run totals in order to fill a preconceived notion of what a certain position player should look like. The argument that the M’s should get rid of Ichiro in order to fill RF with a classic power hitter with inferior defense stems from ignorance of how baseball games are won. To the anti-Ichiro crowd – stop focusing on cliches and start focusing on production. He’s a great player, and just because most singles hitters play CF does not make him a liability in RF.
It’s funny — I started to write that in my intro, but I stopped, said “I shouldn’t rant about this, at least not in the intro” and deleted it. My take was a little different, though — I absolutely agree with what you’re saying, but moreover, Ichiro often reveals more about those who attempt to evaluate him than about Ichiro himself.
To appreciate Ichiro’s value, you have to see past traditional roles, past recent dogma favoring Adam Dunn-type power/walk/no glove lineups, past all of this to the fundamental thing everyone who seriously follows baseball has been trying to figure out: how do you win more games?
We make this point all the time about players: it’s about what a player can do, and how they can contribute, not what they can’t do, whether that’s hit home runs or whatever. And I’ve no patience for attacks on the “leadership” of someone who works so hard, so consistently. Ichiro absolutely plays, and he helps his teams win.
Yea, the leadership/chemistry thing is the last resort of a guy who doesn’t have any leg left to stand on, but refuses to admit that he was wrong. I’d love someone to explain how Ichiro’s routine that is apparently so harmful to this team now was also part of the 116 win “greatest chemistry ever” club in ’01. Or, if his personal stretching program (you know, the one that keeps him remarkably healthy and in the line-up every single day) is such a divisive issue that causes his teammates to underperform, how did last year’s team win 88 games with a massive lack of talent?
Even if you believe that chemistry is hugely important, and that Ichiro doesn’t have the right kind of personality to fit your predisposed opinion of what a good team player is, and even if we accept that you could predict good or bad chemistry ahead of time, there’s never been any kind of real position for why Ichiro’s one of the bad chemistry guys. Seriously, go through the articles where the old white guys criticize the eccentric Japanese guy, and the evidence boils down to “trust me, I’m there, I know more than you”. With guys like Bonds or Kent or Milton Bradley or David Wells or Izzy Alcantara, at least there was a stated basis for why they harmed clubhouse chemistry – so and so gets in fights with teammates, throws things at coaches, comes to the park hungover, whatever. With Ichiro, the basis is apparently “he doesn’t speak English” and “he stretches by himself”.
Sorry, but that’s not a real argument. That’s ethnocentric judgmentalism at its worst. The media is never more exposed as a biased collection of old white guys with preconceived notions (usually incorrect ones, at that) than when they write about Ichiro and clubhouse chemistry. It’s sad, really.