Ichiro Suzuki: The Man, the Myth, the Fraud? Part One

Casey McLainSenior Analyst IJuly 17, 2008

In Ichiro’s eight seasons in Seattle, he’s accomplished a lot. He’s won an MVP, been an All-Star eight times, won seven Gold Gloves with his eighth pending and likely to occur, won Rookie of the Year, and has over 1,700 hits. However, the Mariners would be wise to trade him now.

Much of Ichiro’s perceived value is based on archaic measurements.

The Gold Glove award is decided by managers and coaches voting.

The MVP and Rookie of the Year awards are both decided by the Baseball Writers Association of America, the same group who chooses who enters the Hall of Fame.

Every one of Ichiro’s All-Star appearances has been decided by fans worldwide.

The problem? They are all subjective. I’ll delve deeper into Ichiro’s statistics later in the article.

In Ichiro’s MVP season, 2001, Jason Giambi led the AL in OBP and slugging, so he clearly led in OPS, and he also led the AL in doubles and walks, hit 38 home runs, and was second, behind Ichiro, in AL Batting Average.

That was the year the Mariners won 116 games, but Giambi’s A’s had the second-best record in the MLB with 102 wins. How much of Ichiro’s MVP win can really be attributed to accolades, and how much was excitement Ichiro brought to the game?

Ichiro’s All-Star appearances can be greatly attributed to voting in Japan. Ichiro, however, is not the best outfielder, right fielder, or even leadoff hitter in the American League, but like I said, I’ll get to that later.

Ichiro’s Rookie of the Year award is tainted as well. While Ichiro was technically a 27-year-old rookie in 2001, he was an extremely accomplished professional baseball player. Ichiro was a three-time NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) MVP, and a seven-time Gold Glove winner in his nine years in Japan.

Ichiro is a very good fielder, and deserves a lot of the praise he receives in the outfield, but how many outfielders that refuse to give up their bodies win Gold Gloves? If it was a Golden Arm award, he’d undoubtedly deserve the award.

That brings me to the position Ichiro has played for most of his MLB career, right field. Corner outfield positions are generally reserved for power hitters. With a rangy centerfielder, a team can get by with an average fielder in both corners as long as he can hit.

Ichiro’s insistence on playing right field has hamstrung the Mariners' offensive output. Since Ichiro joined the league, 27 of the 70 top-10 leaders in OPS have been corner outfielders for most of their careers, not including Albert Pujols, compared to only five center fielders. For the record, Ichiro has never been in the top 10 in OPS.

Ichiro has spent nearly eight seasons in the MLB, and still talks through a translator. Perhaps this is a greater issue of class-perception, but 28 percent of the MLB’s players were born in another country, yet they manage to speak to the English-speaking media, no matter how broken their own English is.

However, Ichiro, a well-educated man who came to the United States under much different conditions and through much different means than many Latino players, still totes around a translator.

When Ichiro does talk through his translator, he usually speaks in mangled baseball clichés. However, when he chooses to speak outside the box, it's understandable why he values the buffer zone between his mouth and what the fans and media hear.

Ichiro’s notable quotes have nearly all been quixotic, mysterious, and way out of character—at least the character his translator reveals.

Here is Part Two.