Ichiro: basestealer, leader, slighted
Peter Campbell and Loukas Tsopanoglou both inquired about Ichiro’s basestealing and CF/RF as part of the WoTYC, and I decided to write out something I’ve been puzzling about for a while.
|Apx. Chances||Attempts||Attempt %||success rate|
“Apx. Chances” is a rough estimate of how often he was on first or second after his at-bat, as H-3B-HR+BB. Obviously, he can’t steal if someone’s blocking the basepaths, and he can’t steal if they get a hit on the first pitch, but given the team’s offense this year, how often did that happen anyway? I could have drawn out a better number from game data, but this is a decent approximation.
That’s pretty crazy: he started off the season just crazy, making me and my “McLaren’s crazy to encourage Ichiro to steal 90 bases” post look dumb, but since then… he slowed way down as early as June, stealing about half as often when he was on base, and then in July he ran almost not at all, with August a little better.
Meanwhile, I thought that one of the reasons he might be reluctant to steal more often was that it took a lot out of him and he’d prefer a high average to a high SB total.
Interestingly, there’s a pretty distinct line where Ichiro gives up on base-stealing: after June 23rd in Shea, he didn’t attempt a steal for ten games, went for it once in two games, and then didn’t try again for twenty-two games (attempting against Baltimore August 3rd) followed by a six-game stretch without an attempt.
He started the season that way, too, despite the encouragement: he didn’t attempt a swipe until April 13th.
That’s Ichiro’s stolen base binge, right there: between April 13th and June 23rd, over sixty four games, Ichiro stole 33 bases and was caught twice. He averaged a live stolen base attempt every other game, and did it with a terrific success rate. In the other seventy-five games this year, he’s 7-2.
Was he bored? Desperately trying to keep the team in contention any way he could? Why doesn’t he get any credit for this manic clinic he put on?
Or let me try this a different way. Ichiro starts the season in center field. On each side he has two defensively inept fielders, so if his fly ball pitchers are going to get any outs, it has to be Ichiro that runs everywhere. The team starts out devently and then gets rocked by Baltimore to get to 2-5, takes 2-3 from Tampa, and then April 11th-13th, the M’s take two from the Angels. They’re 6-6 and in third place. Ichiro’s only hitting .269 at that point.
He goes absolutely crazy. He hits .291/.355/.370 from April 13th through June 23rd while stealing eighty kajillion bases and running all over the place in the outfield.
During the April 30-May 4th losing streak, he hit .381/.381/.381 and stole six bases in five games.
During the May 5-10th losing streak, he hit .286/..348/.429 (3 doubles!) and stole three bases in six games.
During the May 20-May 26 losing streak, he hit .367/.424/.467 and tried to steal twice in seven games.
I’m not going to try and make an argument that Ichiro’s more talented in losses or whatever. But what you absolutely cannot say is that Ichiro has ever given up on this inept, horrible team. In the depths of losing streaks, he’s been charging out infield hits, working over opposing pitchers, stealing. And he’s done most of it while shouldering the burden of being the only working outfielder on the team, the most valuable outfielder when most of our carelessly-assembled rotation of horror is at work.
I don’t know what happened when he turned the afterburners off. There could only be forty good steals in his legs a year, and he burned them off trying to keep the team from utter embarrassment, and now he’s given up. Perhaps something’s bugging him, and that’s part of why he wanted to get back into right to try and save himself. Or Riggleman, after watching for a week, told him it was okay to ease up. I don’t know. I don’t think anyone with a press pass has asked him.
This is why I get so absolutely livid when I hear or read people running down Ichiro’s contribution this year. This year Ichiro quietly tore himself up over two months, playing center while grounders skipped by the middle infield, showed up to catch nearly every fly to left-center and right-center, even if he flew over to end up only backing up the fielder who’d huffed his way ten steps over, worked every at-bat and stole bases to get into scoring position in lineups where Jose Vidro was tasked with driving him in. And we’re supposed to listen to garbage like “he doesn’t dive” or “he’s not a vocal leader?”
No. I won’t have it. Ichiro tried to put the team on his back this year, and the teammates he was given watched, shrugged, and went off to go get dinner or give good quote in the post-game interviews. I don’t know what more anyone wants from a player, but good luck finding it.
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