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Ichiro! is an icon. This makes it hard to look at him objectively. But, try we will. 2006 was an interesting year for Ichiro. His batting average and isolated power were down, and his strikeout and pop-up rates were up. On the other hand, he was hitting more balls in the air, and stole 45 bases in 47 attempts. Was this the first year of a decline or a transition year on the way to Ichiro developing more power? He certainly has the strength to do it, and I would not bet against him. We shall see.

Ichiro was drafted at age 18 by the Orix Blue Wave of the Japanese Pacific League. He reached the League on a full-time basis at age 20, and was immediately a dominant player, hitting .370 with Gold-Glove defence in right-field, medium range power, and good plate discipline. He maintained the same level, with modest variation, for 7 seasons before making the leap across the ocean to Seattle. In MLB, he has hit .330, with modest variation from year to year, with some power and slightly above average plate discipline, an almost perfect translation of his Japanese league performance. He has been remarkably durable throughout his career, essentially playing every game in the major leagues and missing a grand total of about 60 games in his 7 Japanese League seasons. He has been generally regarded as the best defensive right-fielder of his generation, and statistical measures do support the view.

Finding comparables for Ichiro is not clear cut. Some sources simply ignore his performance in the Japanese Pacific League, and compare his performance from age 27-32 with others who spend their entire careers in MLB. That cannot be right. There are a number of ways to adjust JPL statistics, but as Ichiro has had a flat career path and he played essentially the same number of games in the JPL as he has in MLB, the simplest thing is to simply double his counting statistics in MLB and maintain the same rate statistics.

Here is a list of Ichiro's comparables, through age 32, with adjustment for his career in Japan, with LADOPS figures for the career leadoff hitters. The LADOPS Index is park and league-adjusted.

Ichiro! 8192 2708 122 560 768 470 116 .331 .376 .438 119 .793 110
Brock 6208 1808 122 434 1162 502 160 .291 .340 .431 114 .741 106
Raines 6405 1923 108 939 679 730 127 .297 .386 .426 128 .799 115
Molitor 5828 1751 119 568 703 344 98 .300 .362 .435 121 .772 113
Clemente 7133 2238 166 421 900 73 40 .314 .352 .463 122

Will he go into the Hall of Fame? Of course. He has the seasonal hits record, a glorious batting average and historical significance by virtue of his successful transition from Japanese baseball to MLB. He wasn't the first, but he was the one who made it perfectly clear that there were many players in Japan who were of comparable abiility to MLB players.

Should he go into the Hall of Fame? Yes. Ichiro's qualities as a hitter are considered to be overrated by many analysts. It is true that he has not been as good as Raines as a hitter, but he has been better than Brock and almost as good as Molitor. If one takes into account his defensive ability and his durability, though, he fits in easily in the Raines/Molitor class. The comparison with Clemente is interesting, and may become more interesting if Ichiro adds power, as he may. For now, Ichiro has the advantage in speed and durability, while Clemente has it in power (and a little bit on defence), but it's not a gross mismatch. Their iconic status in Japan and Latin America respectively and their physical stature makes the comparison quite striking.

Ichiro is not the player that Barry Bonds has been, as Clemente was not the player that Willie Mays was. That does not mean that we cannot appreciate them for the great players that they have been.

Next up: Alfonso Soriano
Hall Watch 2006- Leadoff Hitters-Ichiro Suzuki | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Magpie - Monday, October 23 2006 @ 01:01 PM EDT (#157130) #
I spent a fair bit of time thinking about Ichiro! when I was looking at which active players had a chance to make it to 3000 hits. Suzuki's late start makes it extremely unlikely that he can do it in the major leagues, but I couldn't resist the "What-if" question myself. I noted the shorter Japanese schedule, and simply added an 0-100 to each of his full Japanese seasons. As I noted, that seemed an exceptionally conservative estimate of what he would have done in North America - he would have had just a .299 lifetime average before he came to Seattle. So adding another 1242 hits to his major league total of 1354 is probably a serious under-estimate. If he'd spent his entire career in North America, we'd be talking about his chances to catch Pete Rose, and maybe we should we talking about it anyway.

He is an iconic player, as well as a great one, and Clemente is a good comparison in many ways. (I was comparing him to Ty Cobb, myself.) But while Clemente is an iconic figure now, he wasn't when he was active. Roberto always felt that he was overlooked and underappreciated - which he probably was. This was partially because he was the victim of a strange historical accident. He played the same position in the same league at the same time as Henry Aaron and Frank Robinson, both of whom were clearly greater players than even Clemente. It's not often that kind of talent lines up in the same place at the same time.

In another way, Suzuki has much in common with Derek Jeter. An iconic and famous player, who is so overrated by one portion of the viewing public that it has led to a kind of semi-sophisticated backlash from another. The fact that neither is the greatest player of our time does not change the fact that both are truly great players and obvious, no-brainer Hall of Famers. On merit.
Mick Doherty - Monday, October 23 2006 @ 01:37 PM EDT (#157131) #

 He wasn't the first, but he was the one who made it perfectly clear that there were many players in Japan who were of comparable abiility to MLB players.

Actually, I think he was the first ... the first non-pitcher position player to come over and start, much less star. Am I missing someone? Wasn't the entire first wave of Japanese players made up of pitchers?

He was clearly a pioneer, and that makes him all the more Hall-worthy. No-brainer first-ballot, even if he retires right now.


Mike Green - Monday, October 23 2006 @ 01:47 PM EDT (#157133) #
That is true.  It seemed to me though that one could reasonably infer from the success of Hideo Nomo et. al. that hitting .370 in the JPL was a significant achievement. 
Chuck - Tuesday, October 24 2006 @ 10:45 AM EDT (#157161) #
Lots of discussion at BTF.
TangoTiger - Tuesday, October 24 2006 @ 11:22 AM EDT (#157163) #

Mike, what is your reference for the third base?  This makes it quite clear he's always been in the OF:


Mike Green - Tuesday, October 24 2006 @ 11:28 AM EDT (#157164) #
Thanks, Tango.  As people at BTF surmised, the source was the Baseball Cube, and it was incorrect.  I will fix it.

I really should remember these things.  One gets older and the little grey cells become less trustworthy.

Hall Watch 2006- Leadoff Hitters-Ichiro Suzuki | 6 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.