Thursday, April 10, 2008

I think Ichiro will go down in the baseball history books as this generation's most important player, or at least the one that has the most influence on Baseball's future. I'd venture to say that Ichiro is important to the game than A-Rod,Gone are the days of 'roided-up hulkamaniacs like Mark McGwire who rack up huge OPS points via home runs. Not only are the drugs just not that good anymore-- the parks are less hitter-friendly, and (accordingly) there are fewer terrible pitchers.

The statistics are changing-- Not just the numbers, but the statistics themselves. Win expectancy is gaining ground, and overall defense is on the verge of becoming a tangible statistic. That is to say that a player's contribution won't be measured by batting average or number of home runs, but by the actual influence they have on a game's outcome.

I doubt any players understand this better than Ichiro.

Outfield defense is a tough one to understand. Certainly you can look at a player's fielding percentage, or their assists, but it doesn't really paint the whole picture. And then there's showmanship-- In Seattle, we remember players like Ken Griffey making spectacular, wrist-breaking, diving catches and often equate that with defensive success. Ichiro never dives for a ball, or runs face-first into the outfield fence to rob a home run. Yeah, he has the speed, but what makes him an elite outfielder?

He understands his ability, and recognizes that his team can't afford to lose him due to injury. He's said several times that it's not worth risking it unless the season's on the line, which, statistically, is absolutely true.

Anyway, enough about defense. Let's change gears and look at his batting graph:

Since Ichiro isn't a power hitter, I elected to use singles here instead of home runs. A quick side note is that while it's not on a graph, all-- yeah, 100%-- of his doubles come from pitches up in the zone. Also keep in mind that Ichiro is a lefty.

What do we learn?

1) He gets beaten by pitches out of the strike zone. Especially ones that are up-and-in and low-and-in.
2) Pitchers try to exploit this by pitching middle-and-in, where he doesn't have any problems taking them for balls. I'm not sure why this is. Maybe someone's not doing their scouting homework properly.
3) Ichiro gets a ton a singles from pitches that are up-and-in, inside of the strike zone. These are where he leans back and serves it into shallow left field.

Nobody really plays like Ichiro, and he draws a lot of attention because of it. Pitchers have a strategy for him, and while it doesn't really seem to be working, they're sticking to it perhaps because they don't know what else to do.

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