Seattle Mariners postsSunday July 29, 2012
Quotes of the Day: Ichiro and 'The Throw'
“It was going to take a perfect throw to get me. And it was a perfect throw.”
--Terrence Long, the A's outfielder who ran from first to third on a single to Mariners' right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, on April 11, 2001.
“I didn’t have to move my glove.”
--David Bell, the Mariners third baseman, who caught the throw from Ichiro.
“Terrence was a pretty fast runner, but Ichiro just came up with a hose. It was his ‘Here I am!’ moment as an outfielder.”
--Eric Chavez, the A's third baseman, and now Ichiro's teammate on the New York Yankees, watching from the dugout.
“The ball was hit right to me. Why did he run when I was going to throw him out?”
--Ichiro Suzuki, right fielder.
The quotes are all from Benjamin Hoffman's piece in today's New York Times, ”A Throw that Made a Phenomenon: Rookie Ichiro Suzuki's perfect peg in 2001 made Baseball take notice.“
I remember the throw (or The Throw) well. It's one of the most stunning I've seen. Not because of the distance—I've seen longer throws—but because there was almost no arc to it. It was a laser beam that seemed to defy gravity. It never had height; it just had sizzle.
You can see a clip of the throw on MLB.com. They show it a couple of times. Stick around for the last and best angle, the one that causes one announcer to say, ”Wow,“ and color announcer Dave Valle to say, ”...a strike down the middle, like David Bell was a catcher.“
”Why did he run when I was going to throw him out?”
I've known for a long time, at least since 2002, that Ichiro Suzuki's value at the plate would drop off when his singles dropped off. His secondary numbers were never great. He didn't draw many walks (season high: 68 in 2002) and he didn't hit for much power (season highs: 34 doubles in 2001; 12 triples in 2005; and 15 HRs in 2005). Despite his speed, he didn't steal many bases (season high: 56 in 2001). He just hit singles. Again and again and again.
The singles finally dropped off last year, and they didn't come back this year. Sure, at the time of his trade to the New York Yankees today, he was leading the Mariners in hits, with 105, and, more sadly, in batting average with a .261 mark; but he had a .288 OBP and .353 SLG, for a .642 OPS, which is 143rd out of 156 everyday players in the Major Leagues. Not good.
In fact, it's the worst OPS of every position player on the Yankees save for backup catcher Chris Stewart. Even Jayson Nix, backup SS, has an OPS near .700. So while many Seattlites are wringing their hands over the deal and the loss of the face of the franchise, asking themselves, “Why why why?,” the better question is: Why do the Yankees want him? As a No. 9 hitter? As a late-inning defensive replacement?
And why would he want to go there? According to The Seattle Times, it was Ichiro, 38, who requested the trade.
The immediate assumption is that he's nearing the end of his career and wants a World Series ring. That's why most aging superstars wind up in pinstripes. But I think the reason the Yankees want him is the same reason he requested the trade. I think it's the Safeco Field factor.
Historically, Ichiro's home and away splits are pretty similar: .320 at home, .324 on the road. His home OPS is .782 OPS, while his road OPS is .785. A wash.
But this split has grown over the last few years:
|Year||Home BA||Road BA||Home OPS||Road OPS|
I'm guessing the Yankees are looking at those road numbers and thinking Ichiro still has something in the gas tank. And I'm betting Ichiro thinks the same. And with New York, he has a couple of months to prove it to the other 28 teams in Major League Baseball so that next year he can continue his march, unabated by the cold winds of Safeco, toward 3,000 hits.
Maybe. Or maybe it's as he says: the Mariners are in the midst of a youth movement and he doesn't want to get in the way.
Either way, I like the youth movement. Right now our oldest position players are Chone Figgins (34) and Miguel Olivo (33). Next in line is Brendan Ryan (30). Brings to mind the old hippie slogan, “Don't trust anyone over 30!” Which I don't. Not on the M's.
Still, it was sad tonight seeing Ichiro in Yankees attire with No. 31 on his back instead of the No. 51 he's worn his entire career. (Is this temporary, by the way? No one on the Yankees is No. 51 and it's not retired yet. Will he get 51 once they make NYC?)
But I'm glad M's fans sent him off with a standing o. I'm glad he responded the way he did, with a classy, classy bow. I'm glad he got a basehit up the middle his first time up. No. 2,534 and counting.
Arigatou gozaimasu, Ichiro. We shall not see your like again.
Ichiro Suzuki bows to the Safeco Field crowd before his first at-bat as a New York Yankee: July 23, 2012.
The familiar stance with the unfamiliar number: his first base hit as a New York Yankee.
Hit no. 2,534.
Can't Wait to Get on the Road Again: The Offensive Numbers of the 2012 Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners start the second half of the 2012 season today with the worst record in the American League and as an afterthought in Major League Baseball.
More tellingly, or painfully, the team is once again in last place, or near last place, 29th or 30th, in key offensive categories: batting average (29th), slugging percentage (29th), OBP (30th) and OPS (30th). Fans are past the point of longing for the days of Griffey, A-Rod, Buhner and Edgar; we now long for the days of Randy Winn. My Kingdome for a player with a .350 on-base percentage.
Here are the offensive numbers of the first half of 2012:
|M's Totals||MLB Rank|
Warning: the counting numbers are a little skewed (upward), since the M's have played more games than any other team in baseball. They're tied with three other teams at 87. Yet despite this statistical advantage, they rank no higher than 24th in any major offensive category.
Here's the question: How much of this results from Safeco Field, which as a reputation as a pitchers' park? How much better do we hit on the road than at home?
As it turns out, much better:
|Home #s||MLB Rank||Away #s||MLB Rank|
Warning: the counting numbers are skewed here, too, since the M's rank 26th in games played at home (41) and second in games played on the road (46). So our counting numbers are driven down at home and up on the road. Even so, what a surprise to find your 2012 Seattle Mariners second in all of Major League Baseball in road-game Total Bases.
But the percentage numbers are not skewed in this manner. They're skewed in the sense that we're a different ballclub at home and on the road. We're the Jeckyl and Hyde of teams. In slugging percentage, we're Alex Gordon on the road. At home, we turn into Dee Gordon.
But OPS is the true indicator of a team's offensive prowess, and the difference here is vast: .153. 11th to 30th. And not just 30th: 30th by a long shot. The second-worst home OPS belongs to San Diego, but theirs is .625 or 63 points above ours. The second-worst in the American League is Oakland's, but they're at .662. I'll let you do that math on that one.
Question: Has the discrepancy between the M's home and road numbers always been this bad? No, but...
|Year||Home OPS||MLB Rank||Away OPS||MLB Rank||OPS Diff.|
The .153 difference between home and road OPS in 2012, if it holds, will be the biggest in the 13 full seasons the M's have played at Safeco. The previous biggest was .082 in 2000. Back then, the M's actually had the best road OPS in MLB. They ranked 23rd at home.
We've also had two seasons where we actually hit better at home than on the road, 2005 and 2008, but the difference there was marginal, and our MLB rank for each was more-or-less the same.
The column that most depresses me? Our MLB rank for OPS at home. In only one season, the 116-win season in 2001, did the M's finish top 15 in Home OPS rank. Every other year? We're second division. Bottom 15. Bottom feeders. We've finished 28th, 29th or 30th seven times in the last nine years. We've been dead last every year for the last three years.
And on the road? We've been dead last once, and 28th, 29th or 30th only twice in the last nine.
Of course these stats merely back up what most M's fans know intuitively. The major point is that never has the discrepancy between home and road numbers been so great as in 2012. The question is why. Statistical anomaly? The extra cold Seattle spring versus the super warm weather elsewhere? The idea that the doldrums of playing at Safeco is getting into the heads of these young players as surely as it gets into mine watching them?
One thing is certain: The team you're watching at Safeco is, year after year, and regardless of what they do on the road, one of the worst offensive teams in Major League Baseball. That's where the conversation begins.
Safeco 2012: As the runs have disappeared, so have the fans.
A Team without Superstars
Remember when they said that of the vaunted 2001 Mariners? After we lost Randy, Junior and A-Rod and kept on winning? A team without superstars. After one game, mid-season, I remember someone, possibly Ron Fairly, trotted this out again, and Dave Niehaus responded, “Oh, there's a superstar.” He meant Ichiro.
Well, give or take a king on the mound, we're now truly a team without superstars. But this time we're a sucky team without superstars.
Today I was looking at our abyssmal OBP and SLG and OPS numbers, and then noticed that our best OPS from an everyday player was the .772 mark shared by Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders, noticed again that they were ranked 77th and 78th in the Majors, and wondered if every team had a player above our best player.
The answer? Yes. Every team has a player above our best player. Only San Diego really makes it close.
|Team||Best player||2nd Best||3rd Best||4th Best||5th Best|
In fact, 23 teams have a second player ranked before the M's first, and exactly half (15) have a third player. Seven teams have a fourth player, and two teams, Texas and the Yankees, have a fifth player whose OPS is better than the M's best player.
That's part of why it's so difficult watching these games. There's no one scary in our lineup. Not one. Not even close.
On the plus side, we do have a second player on the list before the Padres. Plus our team is young, and they play at Safeco.
But a star would be nice. Or at least a bright light.
Safeco Field: No bright lights, no big city.
Eric Wedge and the Hobson's Choice
Last night I went to my first Mariners game of the season, a horrid, 6-2 affair againt a bottom-dwelling San Diego team, in which there were hardly any fans in the stands, hardly any Mariners on the basepaths, and too many seagulls circling like vultures in the late innings.
There was also a moment that made me wonder about the intelligence of manager Eric Wedge.
M's down 6-1 in the bottom of the 8th. Franklin Guttierez, in his first game this season, managed a single through the left side of the infield for his first hit of the season and the M's second run of the game. Woo! Now it was 6-2, with men on first and second, and the tying run, Ichiro, in the on-deck circle. And who strode to the plate? Mighty Munenori Kawasaki, often referred to as “Ichiro lite,” but you might as well call him “Ichiro without the on-base percentage.” Dude's batting .189 with a .259 OBP, and, like all the M's, his numbers are worse at Safeco. At home he's batting just .100, 2 for 20, both singles, with a .143 OBP. Fun.
So here we were, down by 4 with two guys on, and we needed a guy to get on base to give us a chance. But the guy at the plate was a guy who rarely got on base.
“Why isn't Wedge pinch-hitting for him?” I wondered aloud. “Does Wedge know what he's doing?”
He does. Here's why Wedge didn't pinch-hit for Kawasaki: Because mighty Dale Thayer (6.19 ERA) was on the mound for San Diego. Thayer's a righty, Kawasaki's a lefty.
But didn't we have any lefties on the bench who could pinch-hit?
Believe it or not, no. They were all in the game. Unless you count Chone Figgins. He's a switch hitter. At home he's hitting .143, which is a little better than Kawasaki; but against righties he's hitting .192, which isn't as good as Kawasaki's .213 against righties. So Kawasaki stayed in the game and popped out to short. The M's never managed another hit and the Padres won the game and swept the series. It's their first series sweep of the year. Congratulations, guys.
And apologies, Eric Wedge. It's gotta be tough to look down a bench and see no better option than a guy hitting .100. No wonders the seagulls were circling.
Mariners baseball: Get after it.
Twitter: @ErikLundegaardTweets by @ErikLundegaard