Another cancelled game? What's a blogger to do? Rip on Ichiro!

With the Mariners postponed again because of nasty weather -- for the record, that's now Mariners five games played, Mother Nature five games canceled -- I figure I can fall back on one of my favorite topics.

Bashing Ichiro.

(I didn't say it was a popular topic in these parts, did I?)

Count me among the legions of Mariners fans captivated by Ichiro's unique skill set that played a major role in the success that was the 116 wins of 2001. Never before or since have I seen pitchers and defenses exhibit the palpable fear they did when Ichiro came to the plate. He was nearly impossibly to strike out, virtually any ball that was put in play on the ground could become a base hit, and once he reached base ... well pitchers practically committed balks by simply trembling with fear.

So answer me this question: Why haven't we seen that guy much since then?

I'm of the belief that Ichiro is one of the most overrated offensive players in baseball. People remember the Ichiro of 2001 -- the one that set career highs for stolen bases (56), RBIs (69), doubles (34), and slugging percentage (.457), a career low for strike outs (53), and posted the second-highest batting average of his career (.350).

Once again, that was all in his first season -- SIX YEARS AGO!

Don't get me wrong -- he was such a catalyst that season. But when have you been able to say that about him since? When was the last time you remember saying, "Wow Ichiro really was the key to that win last night?"

I thought so.

Say what you will about the players who have surrounded him in recent years, but Ichiro has become increasingly reluctant to force his will on a game -- something great players do routinely. The guy has a career batting average of .330, yet the past two seasons, he's batted under .300 with runners in scoring position, "lowlighted" by last season's .228. He rarely puts pressure on defenses in key situations, figuring out a way to get on base and then steal second to change the complexion of a game.

Even his season of 262 hits came in the midst of 99 losses.

And don't even get me started on the whole "Ichiro" persona, hiding behind interpreters with ambiguous quotes that ultimately say nothing. (He had this to say about his match up with Dice-K -- this is not a joke: "I hope he arouses the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of my soul," Ichiro said. "I plan to face him with the zeal of a challenger." You can't make this stuff up. I hope someday a Mariners beat writer puts together a book of Ichiro quotes.)

I've heard it chalked up to the fact that he's Japanese, but guys like Hideki Matsui, Dice-K and Shigetoshi Hasegawa haven't ever been even half as aloof. For all of his grousing about the lack of professionalism in the clubhouse, the guy sure seems to do very little to change it. Sometimes leading by example is nothing more than a cop-out.

So, here's where I land.

Ichiro is a very good player who's every bit deserving of his $12 million salary. He's a fabulous defender (save for the occasional wish that he would dive for a ball) who scores over 100 runs a year. He is, without a doubt, the best position player the Mariners have. But let's not lump him in with the great outfielders in baseball.

I'd rater have Andruw Jones, Carlos Beltran, Vlad Guerrero, Carl Crawford, Grady Sizemore, Manny Ramirez or Bobby Abreu than Ichiro. With the exception of Guerrero and Ramirez, all play great defense and all can impact the game in more ways than slapping the ball around in inconsquential situations. And those two are servicable.

So when Seattle fans get to all the hand-wringing that will inevitably come as the trading deadline approaches without Ichiro inking a long-term contract, remember that if this team can get some major prospects back for an aging outfielder who relies primarily on his speed -- a BIG assumption considering Bill Bavasi is the one doing the dealing -- the team should jump at the opportunity.


Dr Pezz said...

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I was blistered in the office for complaining about Ichiro's production in general, but primarily as a lead-off hitter. His OBP is just not among the elite as a lead-off man, and he seems to losing his aggression with each successive year.

By the way, I really enjoyed your journalism blog. The Loganite and I have discussed many of the issues raised, especially the student rights bill.

Jim Anderson said...

Ichiro is playing like he wants to get the hell out of Seattle--you can see it in his eyes in every closeup. For his sake and his team's sake, it's time for him to go.

Nuss said...

Frankly, I expected my post to generate more righteous outrage than it has.

Do you realize he's only had an OBP of over .400 one time in his career? That was the year he had 262 hits.

As his speed and coordination necessarily diminish as he ascends into his mid- to upper-30s, I wonder if he's going to be much of a player at all ...