Game 54, Mariners at White Sox
Hernandez vs Peavy, 5:10 pm.
Happy Felix Day!
The big news of the day – and thanks to the media’s insistence on bringing it up every day, the big news of the last month or so – is that the Ichiro-as-#3-hitter experiment appears to be over, as he’s back in the leadoff spot today. Dustin Ackley shifts back to #2, where he began the season, and Kyle Seager takes over in the third spot.
Guess what? It’s still not going to matter. Beyond getting your best hitters near the top of the line-up and your worst hitters at the bottom, the actual placement of who hits where is a minor issue at most. But, unfortunately, the coverage around the team isn’t going to reflect that reality, so this minor story will continue to be blown way out of proportion. So, since the story essentially requires an opinion, here you go:
Ichiro’s skillset is best suited to the leadoff role. He doesn’t have a lot of power (despite the BP sessions and people wrongly suggesting that he could hit for power if he wanted, and making accusations that he was selfish for trying to get singles for personal gain instead) and his speed helps him get a lot of infield singles, which is why he spent his entire career up until this year at the very top of the batting order. Moving him to third and hoping he would turn into something that he was not was the result of external pressure from others, and he responded to the request by significantly changing his approach at the plate – his ground ball rate is by far the lowest of his career.
Unfortunately, all that speculation about Ichiro being able to change his game was simply wrong. He’s still a 5’9/150 pound hitter who can’t hit home runs whenever he wants, so now he’s facing disappointment and anger from people who wanted him to be something he’s not. It’s actually kind of sad watching people find new and different ways to hate him.
“He gets too many singles because he doesn’t care about the team! He could hit for power if he wanted to! Oh, he can’t? Well, then he’s a bum who should hit 9th!”
Ichiro is 38. He’s not what he used to be. He’s not a power hitter, he never was, and any hopes that he would turn into one were misguided. But most of the animosity towards him comes from a lack of understanding of player valuation and a stringent attachment to player types, thinking right fielders have to hit home runs and anyone who doesn’t look like our preconceived ideas of positional strengths is doing it wrong. He’s simply a formerly great player near the end of his career who isn’t as great as he used to be. That doesn’t make him worthless. In fact, he’s still one of the better players on the team, and given the collection of talent on the positional side of things, he’s still one of the better hitters on the team.
So, yes, he still belongs near the top of the order. Whether it’s 1, 2, or 3 doesn’t really matter to me. If moving him out of the three spot means we can stop talking about batting order every day, then great, I’m all for it.
Interestingly, lost in the batting order shuffle will be the fact that Miguel Olivo is behind the plate tonight with Jake Peavy on the hill. Right-handers are hitting .187/.230/.333 versus Peavy this year. John Jaso is not in the line-up. That’s a far more egregious mistake than any kind of batting order decision, and will instead be swept under the rug so that the pointless conversation about who should hit third can continue. Isn’t the mainstream media awesome?