Ichiro: basestealer, leader, slighted

DMZ · September 4, 2008 at 8:01 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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
April/March 36 7 19% 86%
May 45 19 42% 95%
June 43 9 21% 100%
July 42 2 5% 50%
August 49 7 14% 86%


Suzuki runs

“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.

Ichiro Suzuki during batting practice

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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20 Responses to “Ichiro: basestealer, leader, slighted”

  1. Jon on September 4th, 2008 8:25 pm

    So you don’t see the hamstring injury/tweak having any effect on the dropoff?

  2. killer_ewok18 on September 4th, 2008 8:36 pm

    And although he doesn’t give lots of quotes, the ones he does give are PRICELESS!

    I mean, does anyone remember any memorable quotes from other M’s over the past 7+ years?

  3. msb on September 4th, 2008 8:45 pm

    FWIW, back in July Riggleman thought it was scouting:

    “As the bench coach for former manager John McLaren, Riggleman had a stop watch, and would time a pitcher’s move to first base. Even now, as the team’s manager, he still times the moves.

    “There were a lot of 1.27 and 1.32 [seconds] readings,” he said. “But lately, it has been 1.18 to 1.2 and that’s real quick. And we have run into a lot of lefties.” … The combination of having opposing pitchers use the slide-step, which allows them to throw a quick pitch, and having so many left-handers on the mound, has made it difficult for any Seattle runners to steal bases. “

  4. Wishhiker on September 4th, 2008 8:54 pm

    That’s the way I see it as well. It’s a shame that so many people try to find fault in the few things going right for the team. I find it easier to just laugh when friends try to tell me funny stories and focus on things that a great player doesn’t do. “Babe Ruth wasn’t a good base-stealer!!!” Everyone’s armor has a kink…

    I just looked over the game-logs myself and it’s really stupendous…If you take the April 13th to July 5th (day after Bedards last start, though it wasn’t until the 10th he was placed on the DL?!?) you get 34SB 2CS .310/.370/.377, but I like the Apr. 13th through June 15th as well(the last day he started in CF) 29SB 2CS .300/.368/.391. That may have been a factor too, but I’m not sure who’s decision it was for him to move back to RF. At any of those ending points his team was at least 17 games out.

  5. msb on September 4th, 2008 9:00 pm

    This is why I get so absolutely livid when I hear or read people running down Ichiro’s contribution this year.

    it doesn’t help when you have the host of the pre-pre-game show ‘compliment’ an outfield catch with a remark about Ichiro not usually being willing to sacrifice his body …

    and I am guessing at the end of the year, when he once again gets to 200 hits, yet again there will be chatter about him ‘just being interested in his numbers’

  6. Tom C on September 4th, 2008 9:13 pm

    Derek thank you for an eloquent article and great analysis.

    When the team was in trouble early in the season (the times you pointed out) even though he was having bad luck and his hits weren’t going in with frequency, when he did get on, he was tearing up the basepaths and doing everything humanly or superhumanly possible to score.

    I also really felt that he was tearing himself up and carrying the team how he could. It’s great to read I’m not the only one who felt this way. Thank you.

    And as you noted, something happened in June and he had to slow down a bit. I think he hurt his hammy, though we don’t see him crying loudly to the media or really sucking because of it. Just adjust somehow and keep quietly playing at a high level. Ichi’s the man.

    (By the way, I didn’t ask the original question but pressed on the donation button now. Thanks)

  7. mjllama on September 4th, 2008 9:15 pm

    How does the split of stolen bases work out after his move into right field? That was one of the reasons given for moving him there – to save his legs.

    Has it saved them to the point where he’s stealing more bases? Or is it just a B.S.?

  8. DMZ on September 4th, 2008 9:19 pm

    Doesn’t work out. June 16th was the move. Only 13 of his attempts have come while playing right field, while his playing time is about equal between positions.

  9. Tom C on September 4th, 2008 9:21 pm

    Sorry, I should add that I’m no fan of the so called “playing through pain” where guys like Batista and Silva go out there and suck with a ready made excuse in hand.

    Ichiro is in a complete different dimension. Even though he might have got hurt (still not confirmed), he finds way to adjust and still contribute at a high level. His durability and productivity dependability is amazing.

  10. DMZ on September 4th, 2008 9:24 pm

    w/r/t the hamstring thing: I admit above that I don’t know what the cause was. But they held him out of the lineup in July, I think, which is well after the dropoff, and since then I haven’t seen anything specific. So yeah — I don’t know.

    I would argue though that if Ichiro’s craziness was ended because of an injury and he’s still managed to play as well as he has, it would really support my point aaand we get to add extra grittiness or whatever to his resume.

  11. Wishhiker on September 4th, 2008 9:44 pm

    It was July 14th through 17th that he was out of the lineup. Starting in CF/RF split this season:

    CF: 29 SB 2 CS .295/.358/.386
    RF: 11 SB 2 CS .325/.368/.381

    If he’d been playing his historically worst month in RF instead of CF the main difference would be the stolen bases. In fact, if you take April out of his CF stats it is instead:

    26 SB 2 CS .310/.376/.400

    Through July 13th day before he was benched for 4 days:

    34 SB 3 CS .304 .366 .371

    Since he went back in the lineup July 18th:

    6 SB 1 CS .321 .357 .408

    Doesn’t say anything to me…

  12. cody on September 4th, 2008 9:48 pm

    Ichiro’s dropoff could be explained like this:
    1. Team starts to suck in what was “supposed” to be a good season.
    2. Ichiro goes absolutely bonkers trying to keep team in contention.
    3. Teamatees suck. Vidro bats fourth. McLaren is still the manager, et., etc.
    4. Ichiro smartly slows down, realizing that he should not risk injuring himself for no point.

    Or he could’ve gotten injured. No one really knows. Maybe his “injury” could’ve had something to do with him moving to right field. According to baseball-reference, Ichiro played 69 games in center, which puts him going over to right in early June, which is right before they canned McLaren.

    That kinda sorta coincides with his slowdown in stolen base attempts, but not really.

  13. jlc on September 4th, 2008 10:01 pm

    I simply cannot fathom how a baseball fan could not drool over Ichiro!. Thank you for banging the drum for someone who so many take for granted because he’s not their idea of a “real player.” There have been more than a couple of games this season where he was the only bright spot.

  14. Sinking Away on September 4th, 2008 10:16 pm

    Big fan of the man. I am inclined to believe that he did have some hamstring issues and didn’t want to attempt a steal he couldn’t make in late June, besides, remembering some of the games, opposing teams were paying more attention to him, although that doesn’t show in any stats. I firmly believe that Ichiro and Kaz (pay attention, Joh) have a certain amount of pride in how they play as individuals, as part of a team. Ichiro signed a contract that will he believes he can fullfil. He thinks he can be the player that he is today for several more years. Pride in personal performance is a big deal. Kaz knew he might not meet expectations following his great first year. Pride kept him from showing that. Ichiro, may be able to “earn” his contract, in his mind, by playing to our & his level of expectation for another year or two, but as soon as he thinks he can’t perform at that level he will leave on a high note. I don’t think he would have anyone pay for services he didn’t think he could deliver. It’s a matter of pride that is not inherent in American culture. I won’t bother to list the American players who don’t have that pride, that expectation of themselves, for there are far too many.

  15. Wishhiker on September 4th, 2008 11:14 pm

    Ichiro 2007 Steals 1 base in April. July 1st through 15th is his only stretch longer than 8 games without an attempt after he gets going in May. May 1st through Sept 7th (fell 9 games back):

    36 SB 4 CS .357/.400/.431

    End of the season:

    0 SB 4 CS .362/.408/.404

    in 2006 he was caught twice in April out of 8 tries. July 28th through August 18th he didn’t attempt a steal for 21 Games. He finished the year with a run, from the day after his last CS (April 20th on) of:

    39 SB 0 CS .331/.375/.422

    I’m just going to skip back to the years that they were closer to contending…

    In 2003 I targetted August 15th (5 Games Up) through September 18th (hit 5 Games Back) as the stretch that broke the season. During that stretch he Ran off a line of:

    3 SB 2 CS .187/.227/.321

    In 2002 He had a 9 Game stretch in April with no attempt and a 10 game stretch in June. On August 2nd the M’s were 3 games up on the Division Lead when Ichiro began a season ending run (and 14 games without an attempt)of:

    5 SB 4 CS .268/.332/.338

    He has definitely come a long way since those playoff runs.

  16. Wishhiker on September 5th, 2008 12:44 am

    In his Record Breaking 2004 Season he didn’t really slow down much on steals as he chased the record. He had a 4 steal game on July 20th(team 18.5GB), a 2 steal game on August 15th (21GB)and during the pivotal stretch of August 28th (doubleheader) to Sept 9th (stretch run for the record) put up this line:

    5 SB 0 CS .509/.526/.585

    Then closed out the season, still attempting to steal bases for a team so far out of it (29 games) while chasing the hits record, from Sept 10th on:

    2 SB 1 CS .330/.396/.351

    That last stolen base was the same day he broke the record (Oct. 1st) 2 games before the end of the season one hit after breaking the record. That was a double steal with Winn on first while Edgar Struck out. 3 for 5 with 2 runs and a SB the day he broke it. They won that day and lost the remaining 2, if it matters.

    His 40-Game-on-base-streak (Apr. 29th-June 13th) looks like a real hot streak:

    11 SB 3 CS .367/.415/.469…Excepting that:
    36 SB 11 CS .372/.414/.455 was his line for the season.

    Him and Edgar’s DH Award Naming party were the only really enjoyable things that season. Sure, Baeks assisted 3 H Shutout and Meche’s CG Shutout of the BoSox (Champs that year) were fun and there were some other enjoyable games, but not like just watching him every day.

    That season was the most amazing display I think I’ve seen up close from one player over a baseball season.

  17. Jim_H on September 5th, 2008 2:00 am

    Nice write-up!

    And as far as sacrificing the body, Ichiro has this right. If there is any doubt, just look at Mike Morse, or for a more long-term example, Ken Griffey Jr.

    Ichiro doesn’t miss games unless he’s told to. He doesn’t play hurt (and hurt his team), because he doesn’t GET hurt. Attributable to his freakish stretching and flexibility, and the fact that he doesn’t ‘sacrifice’ his body.

    Let someone else dive for fly balls. I’ll take having Ichiro in the lineup every day for ~15 seasons.

  18. JerBear on September 5th, 2008 9:38 am

    Nice writeup – thanks DMZ. The only thing more frustrating than watching my favorite team implode because of egregious management is watching that same management and half the fricking fan base ignorantly blame the few things that are still going right.

    And if next season starts and Beltre is gone and Washburn is still here…well…I just might cry.

  19. great gonzalez on September 5th, 2008 11:48 am

    Your writing would be dramatically improved by using the word “crazy” less frequently.

  20. DMZ on September 5th, 2008 11:54 am

    Thanks for that crazy suggestion.

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