Game 64, Mariners At Tigers
Bedard vs Penny, 4:05 pm.
For the first time since August of 2009, Ichiro is not in the starting line-up. His prolonged slump has finally led to a real day off, rather than just getting a break from playing the field by serving as the team’s DH. Carlos Peguero gets the start in right field, though Ichiro is essentially being replaced by Greg Halman, who is playing left field tonight – the spot Peguero likely would have been against an RHP had Ichiro been in the line-up. Chone Figgins moves to the leadoff spot with Ichiro on the bench.
The question as to why Ichiro is getting a day off is a simple enough one to answer – since May 24th, he’s 8 for 67, a putrid .119/.157/.164 line that is worse than what you’d get from a generic pitcher. When a player slumps this badly for this long, they get a day off. It’s just how baseball works.
But there’s a why behind that as well, and that’s a question that doesn’t get asked as often. Why do slumping players get a day off? Because the manager needs to look like he’s proactively doing something to fix the problem, while in reality, there’s nothing he can actually do to fix it. It’s a symbolic gesture because the manager can’t appear to be doing nothing, so he does the only thing he can actually do – change the line-up.
In reality, it doesn’t actually do anything. On May 27th, Chone Figgins got a day off following a travel day so that he could have a few days to clear his head. He then started three games in a row and went 0 for 12. He got two more days off to really clear his head, then started seven games in a row in which he went 4 for 24. The days off didn’t change anything.
Giving a slumping player a day off is the baseball equivalent of spitting at the wind; when you’re done, it’s still going to be windy, and there’s a good chance you’ll have saliva on your face. I’m not saying that Wedge shouldn’t give Ichiro the night off. I understand why he’s doing it. He has to feel like he’s doing something, so he’s doing the only thing he can do. It’s just not going to matter. If Ichiro comes back tomorrow and gets three hits, people will play the bad assumption game and say that the day off sparked him. If he doesn’t, they’ll forget it ever happened. This is how flawed theories on causation get created.
Ichiro is too good to be this bad. He will eventually start hitting again – maybe not at prior levels, but he’s certainly better than he has been lately. Giving him a day off today won’t do anything to make that happen any faster. Hitting him third won’t do anything to make it happen any faster. Hitting Figgins leadoff tonight won’t help him hit better. None of this matters. It’s all just to make everyone involved feel like they’re doing something, which is better than feeling helpless, but in the end, the only people who can fix Ichiro and Figgins are Ichiro and Figgins.