Worst Play Of His Career

Dave · August 15, 2009 at 10:05 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Ichiro, we’ve written so many good things about you over the years that hopefully you’ll forgive me for this next sentence:

That was the dumbest thing I’ve seen on a baseball field in a long, long time.

If you missed it, Ichiro was on second base, with Lopez over at first and Branyan hitting, with two outs in the 7th inning. The team was down 4-2. Ichiro tried to steal third, and was thrown out by a couple of feet to end the inning.

As a tactical decision, attempting to steal third in that situation is indefensible. He’s already in scoring position, and he’s really fast, so he’s going to score on pretty much any base hit to the outfield. Russ Branyan, as you might know, is not a particularly big threat to get an infield hit. The situations where Ichiro would be able to take advantage of moving up in that situation, scoring on a play where he wouldn’t be able to from second base, are basically limited to passed balls and wild pitches. Those happen too infrequently to bet on in almost every situation.

In the average example of that situation, a successful steal of third base adds about 0.5% to the team’s chances of winning. Getting thrown out removes about 7.5% from the team’s chances of winning. The out is fifteen times more costly than getting in safely is beneficial. In order to justify the decision, Ichiro would have had to be successful 94% of the time – that’s the break even number. For it to be a real value added decision, it’s more like 100%. There had to be essentially no chance he would get thrown out in order to make the risk worth the reward. And that’s in a situation where we assume that everyone else in a position of influence is average.

It gets worse. Jose Molina, the Yankees catcher, is really good at throwing out runners. For his career, he’s thrown out 40% of all attempted base-stealers. There was a left-handed batter in the box, making it an easier throw fro the catcher. That left-handed batter, Russ Branyan, is a pretty good hitter. Oh, and the count was 2-0, making it very likely that Branyan was going to get a fastball over the plate at some point during the at-bat. Russ Branyan kills fastballs over the plate.

Even if Josh Wilson was hitting, Ichiro had no business trying to take third. With Branyan up there, in a hitters count, representing the go-ahead run, running from second base is about as dumb a decision as you can make on a baseball field.

That was incredibly dumb, and it cost the M’s a pretty significant part of their chance at winning the game. If he wasn’t an MVP caliber player, it’s a benchable offense. I might bench him tomorrow anyway. Holy crap was that stupid.


42 Responses to “Worst Play Of His Career”

  1. fiftyone on August 15th, 2009 10:16 pm

    Indefensible. My gut feeling is he must have thought there was one out. But even allowing for such an un-Ichiro-esque mental error, it’s not that great of a decision with one out, given the count and the score.

  2. Jeff Nye on August 15th, 2009 10:21 pm

    The worst part about this is that it’s making me agree with Bill Krueger about something. 🙁

  3. Jeff Sullivan on August 15th, 2009 10:32 pm

    Did Lopez run too? I imagine the idea was to get two guys into scoring position, which would improve the odds of winning by a little over 2%. Still, yeah, hated it.

  4. samregens on August 15th, 2009 10:34 pm

    It was uncharacteristic of Ichiro. Could there possibly have been a double steal going on? (We know how Wak trie to keep the game moving. Sometimes too much).

    But we should remember while we’re screaming at him, that other players, star players, typically do such things or much worse boneheads every month. (And a guy on 3rd does make it harder for a pitcher with not great command to really throw a breaking ball down and low).

    Ichiro does something like that once every 5 years or maybe once a decade or maybe once in his playing career. Shows how solid the guy is since that stuck out like a sore thumb.

    And it’s not close to being the reason we lost the game (how many chances did we make pay off again?), but it was just disappointing because it was uncharacteristic.

  5. niterunner on August 15th, 2009 10:38 pm

    Saunders is out, I wouldn’t bench him tomorrow. It would put Griffey in the LF.

  6. Paul L on August 15th, 2009 10:39 pm

    I don’t think it was a double steal. At the time Sims said Lopez threw down his helmet in disgust.

    No need to sugar coat it, or say “Yea, but others do it too.” It was a terrible play.

    This site is a huge Ichiro booster (for good reason), and it takes guts to call out the favorite son when he screws up. Good on ‘ya, Dave.

  7. Jeff Sullivan on August 15th, 2009 10:42 pm

    All right, so either

    (A) That wasn’t a double steal, or
    (B) Lopez missed a sign



  8. coreyjro on August 15th, 2009 10:42 pm

    Obligatory, “Ichiro is selfish!”

  9. G-Man on August 15th, 2009 10:48 pm

    Like Jeff, i figured that Ichiro might have figured it got Lopez, the tying run, into scoring position.

    However, that mitigated it not very much.

    Throw in distracting Guti on that fly ball (though Guti should have caught it anyway), and it was a bad game for #51.

  10. henryv on August 15th, 2009 10:52 pm

    Jeff, you might wanna pull that image down, before Satan Bud Selig either sells you a used Fiat, or sues you.

    I wonder if Ichiro thought he had a huge lead. Or it was a hit and run… Or, I mean… Maybe aliens took over his brain. Or Rob Johnson told him to do it.

    Any way you look at it, it doesn’t make any damned sense.

    I mean, Branyan’s left handed, so Molina’s got a clear line of sight.

    Maybe if Ichiro was given like a 30 foot lead, he MIGHT consider it… But MAN. It boggles the mind.

  11. pinball1973 on August 15th, 2009 10:52 pm

    I didn’t like Ichiro’s play even on Gameday, but the entire game had sucked up to that point – a key Guti error, a strike zone that made the Mariners style of offense (what there is of it) impossible. Johnson playing (yeah, he got am RBI, but still) – and sucked right up to the last out.


  12. LB on August 15th, 2009 10:53 pm

    Wak: As an example of discovering a method behind Ichiro’s madness, Wakamatsu noted that in Japanese baseball, it’s not taboo to bunt or steal bases when the team is down by 12 runs, as it is here.


    Maybe it’s not taboo to do it in Japan? Maybe you can take the ballplayer out of Japan, but you can’t take Japan out of the ballplayer?

  13. Paul L on August 15th, 2009 10:58 pm

    I don’t see how it could’ve been a double steal either. If it succeeded NY would have immediately walk Branyan, which can’t imagine was something we’d want to have happen.

    I may be reading too much into it, but when they came back from the commercial and showed Ichiro in right he looked pretty embarrassed/disgusted. I’ve never seen that look before. I think he knew he screwed up.

  14. Mike Snow on August 15th, 2009 11:02 pm

    Maybe you can take the ballplayer out of Japan, but you can’t take Japan out of the ballplayer?

    That’s got nothing to do with it. It’s not a horrible decision to bunt or steal when nobody is expecting it, even if it’s bad form by American standards. This was a horrible decision in any country because it had no benefit and could easily go terribly wrong.

  15. kenshabby on August 15th, 2009 11:28 pm

    I’m pretty sure Ichiro! is just a ficticious player, someone we’ve been imagining for the past nine seasons. The guy we saw tonight was Joe “Ichiro” Suzuki, a stand-in from Steilacoom.

  16. TomTuttle on August 15th, 2009 11:37 pm

    This still isn’t as bad as Beltre not wearing his cup and having that groundball bounce of his man region Wednesday night.

    This is just GARBAGE baseball that we’ve seen from this offense the last 3 days. GARBAGE.

    If this team wants to be the best, you can’t go 1-5 against the Yankees and you especially can’t go 0-3 against them at home.

    There were SO MANY opportunities squandered at the plate the last 3 days, it’s ridiculous.

    Z, I beg you, PLEASE do us all a favor in the offseason and PLEASE upgrade the offense (and infield defense) and PLEASE put some more average and power at the plate.


  17. mw3 on August 15th, 2009 11:38 pm

    Lets face it for as fast as Ichiro is he is not a good baserunner. His speed makes up for the numerous mistakes that he makes it did not tonight. Ichiro should take some baserunning lessons from Adrian Beltre a runner who gets every extra base he can out of his less than stellar speed. Or in the offseason he should look up Ricky Henderson and take a few hour course in baserunning from him.

  18. LB on August 15th, 2009 11:38 pm

    Oh, I’m with you 100%. It was a horrible decision.

    It was also a horrible decision when I saw him bunt for a base hit with the bases loaded a few years ago. Game log.

    If he’d gotten a base hit to the outfield in that game, he would have knocked in two runs. He was the defending AL batting champion, not some pitcher who couldn’t hit. I’ve given up trying to understand the guy.

  19. mln on August 16th, 2009 12:30 am

    This play just shows how Evil the Yankees are–causing Ichiro to have a brain cramp and make the Worst Play Of His Career.

    Damn Yankees.

  20. 300ZXNA on August 16th, 2009 12:33 am

    Mw3, I think you are kind of missing the point. Ichiro’s baserunning has been analyzed on here before, and he is a great decision maker and fantastic baserunner overall. He isn’t just speed. This faux pas is being highlighted because it was just so uncharacteristic of him.

  21. mw3 on August 16th, 2009 1:05 am

    Ichiro is normally very good at deciding when to steal a base. This does not make him a good baserunner. Examples;

    1. He often fails to advance on fly balls to deep parts of the outfield. With his speed there is no reason to go the normal halfway, if the ball falls in he is going to score more often than not. By not tagging up he misses the opportunity to score from third on a wild pitch or from second on a single.

    2. He does not get great jumps on base hits. This deficiency is on most occasions made up for by his considerable speed, but not always.

    3. He misses opportunities to advance on PB’s and WP’s because he is too tentative on those plays at times.

    4. And despite tonight he is very often not aggressive enough stealing bases. He mostly does not steal unless the pitcher is slow to the plate. With his speed he should be anticipating when the pitcher will throw offspeed stuff and take full advantage.

    All in all he is an average baserunner that looks considerably better because his speed makes up for mistakes and being tentative.

    The best baserunners are always looking to take the extra base. Baserunning is an undervalued skill because there are so few great baserunners. The M’s do have one great baserunner, his name is Adrian Beltre. Beltre scores 5-7 extra runs a year because of his instincts and abilities on the basepaths. That is .5 wins and it is valuable. With Ichiro’s superior speed he could easily double the amount of extra runs Beltre scores, making him an even more elite player.

    But hey, nobody is perfect, and I still love Ichiro.

  22. Jeff Sullivan on August 16th, 2009 1:26 am

    Ichiro has been the 6th best baserunner in 2009, #1 in 2008, #9 in 2007, and #4 in 2006.

  23. Evan R. on August 16th, 2009 1:34 am

    The apostrophe police kindly ask you to reconsider the following phrase:

    “With Branyan up there, in a hitters count…”

  24. 300ZXNA on August 16th, 2009 2:53 am

    well, I still disagree and echo what Jeff Sullivan said.

  25. mildcomment on August 16th, 2009 4:37 am

    It was a trick play by Jeter and other NYY infielders. When Ichiro became a base runner, they came to the mound and told their pitcher not to be distracted by the runner but to focus only on the batter. Ichiro, trying to counterplot it, he attempted to steal base, but it was a trap. Molina was ready to throw him out. In 2001 PO with NYY, they concentrated to throw Ichiro out on his first attempt to steal base, then Ichiro never tried it during the PO. NYY won the championship of AL. Ichiro, you should’t be discouraged too much. Go, go, Ichiro!

  26. littlesongs on August 16th, 2009 5:48 am

    The fact that a mistake by Ichiro! deserves a post shows just how rare it is to see a major lapse in his baseball acumen. I won’t argue that it was a smart move at all. It was a very poor decision.

    Forgive me for venturing into psychology, but I think he might be subconsciously blundering against the teams most discussed by his harshest critics as trading partners. During that surprising road trip, he muffed a routine outfield play in Fenway. It was completely out of character and clearly embarrassed him.

    At the same time, he is probably pressing against the best clubs. After all, he is a human being who has suffered a string of bad seasons. It would be natural to channel the new found optimism and confidence into a bit higher level of aggressiveness. It sounds odd, but winning might be temporarily working against him on some level.

    If this mistake becomes a teaching moment for the whole team, it could turn out to be a good thing in the long run. I would rather see Ichiro show a bit of imperfection in the dog days of 2009, than in an important playoff series in the future.

  27. samregens on August 16th, 2009 6:22 am

    To keep things in perspective, if only Ichiro hadn’t made a baserunning blunder, then Branyan would have hit a HR, (heck Griffey would have retrospectively hit one out the at bat before) and we would have at least had a tie game in the 9th.

    It’s all Ichiro’s fault we could hardly do anything today with scoring chances.

    Maybe Langerhans could’ve done something with the bases loaded or Guti and Lopez as the tying runs in the 9th if Ichiro hadn’t messed up. Yes, he kept us alive in the 9th with a nice hit off Mo, but that doesn’t count.

    It also doesn’t count that in the first place his aggressive and heads up baserunning “manufactured” a valuable lead off run in the 1st.

  28. samregens on August 16th, 2009 6:46 am

    One thing that is interesting is that despite his epical mess up and assumedly not getting credit for causing the “error” in the 1st and savvily getting to second, Ichiro’s WPA (win percentage contribution) for this game was a whopping -2.4%.

    Guti is -20.5%, Griffey is -9.6%, Wilson is -21.6%, Langerhans is -9.5%.
    There were people who had a much bigger negative effect on the outcome of the game. What gives?

  29. Chris_From_Bothell on August 16th, 2009 7:39 am

    I will be absolutely stunned, given who he is and given the health and availability of backup outfielders, if Ichiro gets benched today.

    So I’m not going to get too concerned about it, because there will be no consequences for Ichiro’s sloppy play. That evening will be nothing more than fodder for mindless Ichiro-is-selfish types.

    Well, alright, one exception – there’s also some considerable implication that Ichiro wanted to say, but didn’t, that he couldn’t trust Lopez to get from 1st to 2nd on anything less than an outfielder error. I wonder if there’s going to be clubhouse drama about that.

  30. trtlrock on August 16th, 2009 8:11 am

    Wow. Ichiro isn’t exactly Yuni; I can’t believe anyone’s really thinking he might be punitively benched, or that such a benching would be in any way constructive.

    And I heard a rumor that the apostrophe police were on unpaid leave until the edit button was restored…

  31. Joe on August 16th, 2009 8:40 am

    It was Ichiro being selfish again — he saw the team was on its way to another loss, and he wanted to hog all the ill-will for himself rather than allowing it to be shared with all his team-mates who were failing at the plate and in the field and on the mound.

    Did Lopez run too? I imagine the idea was to get two guys into scoring position, which would improve the odds of winning by a little over 2%. Still, yeah, hated it.

    Suzuki told Seattle reporters he was trying to put two runners into scoring position, though the runner at first, Jose Lopez, was not going.

    From the NY Times story on the game, which managed to give Mitre a tongue-bath while noting the “punchless” Mariners have scored the fewest runs in the American League, yet carefully avoided connecting the dots. In case you were wondering if world class newspapers did baseball coverage any better.

  32. flashbeak on August 16th, 2009 9:22 am

    Thank you, Dave, for posting this. After I saw that, I was questioning as to whether or not I was losing my mind.

    And to make the play even dumber, it was a 3-0 count on Russell.

  33. flashbeak on August 16th, 2009 9:36 am

    And in regard to our ugly lineup, I can’t deny that Bryan LaHair’s 25 HR, albeit in the hitter friendly PCL, are quite enticing.

  34. samregens on August 16th, 2009 9:38 am

    And to make the play even dumber, it was a 3-0 count on Russell

    Ichiro went on a 2-0 count.
    You were really watching it? Of course, just looking at the game log it goes, “Ball, Ball, Ball, I Suzuki caught stealing third, catcher to third”
    You wrote:

    After I saw that, I was questioning as to whether or not I was losing my mind.

    I love how some people write incorrect things to attack Ichiro.

  35. flashbeak on August 16th, 2009 9:47 am

    I love how some people write incorrect things to attack Ichiro.

    samregens, you are so right. I love nothing more than to attack the centerpiece, franchise player, and one of the only reasons why fans keep watching this team even when it disappoints. How is this an attack on Ichiro? Regardless of the count, it was a stupid, stupid play no matter how you cook it. Read what Dave wrote before you question what I say.

  36. thebigp708 on August 16th, 2009 10:04 am

    For as fast as the little fella is he sure gets cs a lot. How many times is that this year?

  37. msb on August 16th, 2009 11:36 am

    For as fast as the little fella is he sure gets cs a lot. How many times is that this year?

    Larry Stone had a nice post in February about Ichiro & basestealing.

    This year he is down– 23 out of 31 attempts (.74% success) — for his career, he has 338 steals out of 416 attempts, for a success rate of 81%.

  38. pgreyy on August 16th, 2009 1:19 pm

    It was a very odd game for Ichiro!

    On one hand, you had Guti dropping an easy fly ball, possibly because Ichiro distracted him…and then this incredibly wrong-headed attempt to steal third at the most intensely wrong time possible (mulitply that infinitely by not making it, of course…)

    On the other hand…you have his “infield double” (must be true, Niehaus said so!)…and that amazing ballet-like running/leaping grab…

    I think what we’re all astonished about, when it comes to the “caught stealing third” play is that while we’re always impressed by the physical things that Ichiro! can do…most of us understand that Ichiro! is a smart ballplayer.

    Smart, however, does not mean infallible or perfect.

    And this was simply an odd case of “Ichiro! being Manny”…

  39. Mike Snow on August 16th, 2009 3:11 pm

    In case you were wondering if world class newspapers did baseball coverage any better.

    Actually, the New York Times has never had particularly good baseball coverage. At any given time they maybe have one really good writer (currently Alan Schwarz), but the paper’s impact in the sports media world doesn’t match up to its overall reputation as a standard-setter. Part of that may actually be that it has higher standards, meaning that the general inexhaustible supply of opinion and gossip we associate with the New York media machine comes largely from elsewhere. The Times did break some of the names on the 2003 steroids list, though.

  40. samregens on August 16th, 2009 3:37 pm

    OK flashbeak sorry, I overreacted.

    I felt that in many places in the media people were piling on too much for this one mistake which was far from costing us this game.

    And when I saw “And to make the play even dumber, it was a 3-0 count on Russell” I guess I overreacted.

  41. Jon on August 16th, 2009 4:08 pm

    “Never make the last out at third.”

    “If you try to steal third, you better make it.”

    I’ve heard those two rules for much of the last 50 years. I’ve tried to follow them. I’ve tried to coach them. But sometimes stuff happens. I’m sure Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, et. al., each did stupid things now and then.

    If I was Wak, I’d go over to Ichiro at some appropriate point and say, “What exactly were you thinking?”

    If I was Ichiro, I’d say to the team, “My bad. I will try not to let you down again anytime soon.”

  42. Joe on August 16th, 2009 10:15 pm

    Actually, the New York Times has never had particularly good baseball coverage.

    Yeah, I know. I have a bunch of friends who work in journalism in NY (none at the dailies, however) but mostly in foreign affairs; most of them wouldn’t know a fastball if it brushed them back from the bar. Nevertheless, I have a pretty good sense of which outlets are good at what, which is part of the reason I tend to rag (cough) at the sports coverage in “the paper of record” (especially since they’re really in bed with the Red Sox)

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