About a month ago, I wrote about some bold predictions for this upcoming Mariners season. In it, I said that Ichiro will win a batting title.
It really isn't an insanely bold prediction since this is something entirely possible in any given season with Ichiro. That doesn't make it something that is a lock, though, either.
I'll expand on that prediction a bit, and give five reasons that show he can still do it.
Ichiro is a pretty healthy guy.
He's only been on the disabled list once in his career, but that was for a bleeding ulcer. Something not due to a baseball related injury or anything that would come back to haunt him.
His never-ending conditioning is the thing of legend. His offseason workouts, the stretching in the outfield and on-deck circle and even how careful he plays the game.
There have been a few silly hits on Ichiro for not diving for tough balls, but if that has added to his health, it's a plus.
Staying on the field is obviously key to any award race, and Ichiro is more prepared to do that than anyone.
Ichiro rarely gets fired up. He's only been thrown out of a game a couple times. He doesn't argue calls much.
He was the first Japanese-born position player in the major leagues, faced scrutiny and was followed by hoards of Japanese media.
He weathered the storm that was the 2008 fiasco where he was under fire from several teammates for being selfish.
These are unquantifiable things, and as a proponent of advanced stats, I'm someone who doesn't put much stock into things like chemistry.
However, these are people. They have stress and every day life things to deal with. If he's in a batting title race late in the season, Ichiro will not buckle.
Ichiro has now been in the league 10 years and has won two of these batting titles.
We know what he provides, and we know he hasn't changed much since that 2001 season.
Knowing what to do and how to succeed is huge, but not enough alone. Since his skill set ages well, though, that experience helps more than it would if he were a lumbering slugger.
Players with Ichiro's skill set typically age well. Meaning, they aren't as prone to injury and their bodies are able to maintain the type of game they play until a later age.
We've seen the Mo Vaughn type sluggers who fall off a cliff as their body slows them down. Being big comes with bad knees, slowed bat speed and other degrading skills earlier on.
Since Ichiro keeps himself in such amazing shape, and stretches like the Rubber Band Man, this should work well in his favor. Having virtually no injury history helps, too.
Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) tells us how many struck balls land safely for a hit. It is park-and-league adjusted, so there is an even playing field.
You can use BABIP to predict regression for a player. If a hitter or pitcher runs a BABIP higher or lower than their career norms, you can generally expect it to move back towards that average the following season, and then adjust their other stats accordingly.
For Ichiro, he is always prone to a high BABIP due to his unique approach. The infield hits, slaps and bloops all add into this. A one-season deviation would make you skeptical about sustainability, but we have a large enough sample now to know Ichiro gets on base with hits more than anyone and we shouldn't expect that to change.
What this means is, if Ichiro has one of his seasons where he runs a near .400 BABIP, he'll be in serious contention for the bating title.
In his four best BABIP seasons, he won two batting titles and narrowly finished second in the other two.