By Shannon Drayer
Update: I went back and looked at some numbers and that has me thinking a little different on the matter of what Ichiro has been trying to do. True, he is not producing like a traditional three hitter. His results look a lot like the results he puts up at leadoff. How he gets those results is different however. His groundball rate is the lowest of his career his flyball and popup ae the highest rates of his career and that to me says that yes, he is trying to drive the baseball more. The results as three hitter, a typical three hitter, are not there however.
On Saturday it was Brendan Ryan. Sunday it was all of the position-player vets that Eric Wedge (rightfully so) expressed his displeasure for.
“We don’t have any veteran guys doing it right now, it is simple as that,” he said before the Mariners’ 6-2 win over the Yankees Sunday. “There is no way of getting around it. You look at all the other major league teams and they have got at least one guy, if not two or three, that they can count on that are veteran guys who are experienced big league hitters. So our young guys are going to have to step up and do it. I have no problem saying that.”
It’s probably not hard to say with Chone Figgins playing himself out of an everyday role, Miguel Olivo and Franklin Gutierrez on the DL and Brendan Ryan not making progress with his struggles. Then there is Ichiro. He is not exempt, according to Wedge.
“Ichiro, he’s not a prototypical three hole hitter,” he said. “He is not a guy who is going to be doing a lot of damage. He is going to get his hits. Hopefully he gets them at the right time.”
While Wedge has said in the past he has told Ichiro to define the position for himself, the hope was he would be closer to a prototypical three hitter. He wasn’t expected to hit 30 home runs but the thought was that he would drive in runs. As of Sunday he is hitting .219 (seven hits) with runners in scoring position. Not a lot of damage as Wedge would say.
After a month and a half of hitting third, Ichiro looks like Ichiro.
When we first saw Ichiro in spring training this year he was much more spread out at the plate and looked like he was trying to drive the baseball. I have never seen him swing and miss at so many pitches as I did this spring (both in games and intrasquads) which led me to believe he was trying to change, as I known darn well he can get bat on some portion of just about any pitched ball he needs to. We (the media) made a big deal about the drastic changes we saw at the time, but one member of the Japanese media cautioned me against assuming Ichiro was trying to make changes in who he was at the plate, telling me that it was possible the changes he had made were made in an attempt to get himself back to what he was rather than to try to be anything different.
I think that is what we are seeing right now and that Ichiro is better suited to leading off. I think it is safe to say that the Figgins/Ichiro experiment did not work. It was certainly worth a try, but Ichiro is not a three hitter.
After Wedge gave his thoughts on Ichiro hitting third on Sunday I asked if he had Ichiro and Dustin Ackley penciled in at one and three going forward.
“I don’t know where either one of them are going to end up,” he answered. “It depends on what the supporting staff does because I feel like all of them have a lot more upside. Whether Ack ends up 1, 2, 3 or Ichiro 1, 2, 3 or somewhere else, we will see. It just depends on what we see production-wise.
“Ichiro by no means is your prototypical three hitter but that’s where we need him right now and if it comes to a point in time where we feel we need him somewhere else that’s when we will do that.”
Would moving Ichiro better suit the team both in getting better production and in getting young players into the roles where they should eventually settle? Possibly. While Ackley is having success in the leadoff position that may or may not be a function of the batting order. How long will he be there, though? He wasn’t drafted to be the next leadoff hitter for the team. I think a lot of folks would like to see him settle in at three. If Ichiro leads off would he go back to three or might it be better to put him at two?
As Wedge said, a lot of this depends on the rest of the order and their production. The sooner we see production from Justin Smoak, Mike Carp or whoever is the DH (which is currently the worst hitting position on the team at .177/.235/.250/.491) the sooner we could see such a move and some sort of stability in the lineup.