Defending Ichiro

Jun 24, 2010, 12:59 PM | Updated: Apr 4, 2011, 7:52 pm

by Dave Cameron

(note from Salk: Dave Cameron of USS Mariner is writing a column for us every Thursday focusing on baseball from a statistical perspective. I’m writing for his site as well.)

Despite their eight runs last night, watching the Mariners hit has been a frustrating experience this year, to say the least. Pretty much up and down the line-up, everyone is performing worse than you would expect. Jose Lopez has lost his power. Milton Bradley is striking out in bunches. Chone Figgins isn’t able to get the ball out of the infield. And let’s not even get into the debacle at first base. And yet, as all of his teammates try to figure out what has gone wrong, Ichiro Suzuki continues to just do his thing. At 36 years of age, he has not shown a single sign of slowing down.

Here’s a graph of Ichiro’s Weighted On Base Average, which is a measure of total offensive performance, and includes walks, extra base hits, and stolen bases

Ichiro-1

As you can see, Ichiro’s consistency is perhaps the most remarkable thing about him, but there is no downward trend as he gets up in years. In fact, if you look at his performance relative to league average, he’s actually getting better. At FanGraphs, we have a statistic called wRC+, which, despite its intimidating nomenclature, is essentially just a scale of performance, where 100 is always league average. Ichiro is posting a 132 wRC+ this year, meaning that he’s been 32 percent better offensively than an average hitter in 2010. The only year he’s posted a higher wRC+ was his record breaking 2004 season, but he even in that year, he was not that much better, coming in at 136. In his MVP season of 2001, he posted a 131 wRC+, as he’s been essentially as valuable this year as he was in his first season.

For whatever reason, there is often a tendency among fans to blame their best players for the failures of the team. However, in a season of miserable offensive performances, Ichiro has risen above the struggles of his teammates and has continued to be one of the best players in the league. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that the team is failing because Ichiro doesn’t do enough. He’s carried his portion of the load, as always, and even as he advances in age, there’s no trace of it on the field. At 36, he is every bit as good as he was at 27, a testament to his relentless work ethic and unique style of play.

There are a lot of things wrong with this offense. Their leadoff hitter is not one of them.

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