While perusing through all the All-Star Game news Tuesday morning, I came across a two paragraph blurb saying the Mariners were close to inking Ichiro Suzuki to a five-year, $100 million dollar extension.
I’d originally intended to write an article that it had always irked me to see this guy at the top of everyone’s MLB overrated lists so it did my heart good to watch him go three-for-three including the first ever inside-the-park homer (in his career and in the midsummer classic) taking home All-Star Game MVP honors.
Overrated??? Not in the least! If anything, underrated and under appreciated.
Tuesday night in San Francisco was classic Ichiro. He leads off the game with a line single to right off Dan Haren. In the third, he slaps a Ben Sheets offering to left for a hit-it-where-they-aint wounded duck single. In the fifth with the AL trailing 1-0, Suzuki drills a liner three-quarters up the 18 foot right field wall, gets an Act of God bounce to the corner that eludes Ken Griffey, and easily legs out the first ITP home run in ASG history.
Let’s take a look at how “overrated” Ichiro Suzuki really is!
With the bat, Ichiro now in his seventh year, is a lifetime .333 hitter who has never had less than 200 hits in any of his first six seasons. He owns three batting titles and in 2004 shattered the MLB record for hits with 262. Halfway thru 2007, he’s hitting .359 with 128 hits in just 85 games. In nine years in Japan, Ichiro was a .355 lifetime hitter amassing 1434 hits.
On the base paths, Suzuki is a catcher’s nightmare. For his career, Ichiro has swiped 258 bases in 318 tries good for 81%. He’s averaged 39 thefts in his first six years and is 23- for 25 (92%) in 2007. He averages 111 runs scored per year and has a career OBP of .379. Going first to third on a single anything but a bullet to left is a given and the ex-Japanese League star id one of the few that can score from first on a single hit in the gap.
Defensively, Ichiro can run down balls few can get to and his laser left arm has had him in the top five in assists for outfielders in all six years. At this point, few ever try to run on him. He has six Gold Gloves.
Clutch you ask??? In his only playoff appearance, his rookie year of 2001, he hit .421 collecting 16 hits. In 2007, he’s hitting an identical .600 with runners in scoring position and with the bases loaded. He’s 9-21 with runners on in the eighth and ninth innings.
Ichiro has few equals in durability playing 957 of a possible 972 games in his first six seasons. That’s an average of 159 games per year. He’s never been on the DL and of his 15 games missed; several were late in the year when the M’s were looking at kids. In 2006, he had a 361 consecutive game streak snapped. Just pencil this guy in!
Here we go - power numbers! The biggest and IMO only (some argue leadership) criticism of Suzuki is the lack of the long ball. Many mavens argue that you HAVE to have power out of that spot in the lineup. Let me ask you this? When you get so much else – why?
The strange thing is - Ichiro CAN hit for power. He once hit 25 dingers for the Orix Waves of the Japanese League and people who see him on a regular basis, his teammates, and fellow players marvel at his power in the batting cage where he often calls his shots and plays Home Run Derby against opposing stars.
In ten years in Japan, Ichiro was a lifetime
I was fortunate enough to Suzuki play once in Cleveland. CC Sabathia beat the M’s 3-1 on a five-hitter that night. Ichiro was 2 for 3 with a triple and scored Seattle’s run on a sac fly. He made an amazing catch climbing the wall and threw out a still reasonably nimble Omar Vizquel by twenty feet going first to third. Another day at the office for #51.
Ichiro has never tested the free agent market but was rumored to be thinking about it because of a rumored strained relationship with ex-manager Mike Hargrove. Ichiro is extremely close to promoted bench coach and likely Hargrove successor, John McLaren. Suzuki’s a lock to stay but is he worth $20 million a year? Every penny!
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