Ichiro Suzuki: The New York Times' "Hatchet Job" Is Unfair and Easily Refuted

Harold FriendChief Writer IJuly 13, 2011

Another one of Ichiro's skills
Another one of Ichiro's skillsHannah Foslien/Getty Images

On July 9, there was an article in the newspaper that used to publish all the news that’s fit to print denigrating Ichiro Suzuki.

Writer Benjamin Hoffman cleverly related how impressed he was the first time he saw Ichiro play. Yes, admit greatness and then attempt to tear it down.

The Seattle Mariners were facing the Oakland A’s. Terence Long, who had great speed, attempted to go first to third on a Ramon Hernandez single. Hoffman described it as a “jaw-dropping event” when Ichiro threw Long out.

Then the hatchet job started.

Hoffman “realized” that Ichiro, probably more than any other player, has the ability to trick fans and “experts” into believing that he more valuable that he really is.

Ichiro is purported to be overrated with respect to his effectiveness as an offensive player, his ability to help the Mariners score runs when he reaches base, and the value of his defense.

Ichiro Suzuki is one the great offensive players in baseball history.

During his first 10 major league seasons, he has batted .331/.376/.430, averaging 46 walks, 38 stolen bases and nine home runs a season.

When one includes 2011, which has been his poorest season, Ichiro's numbers are .328/.373/.424.

The greatest leadoff hitter of all, Rickey Henderson, batted .279/.401/.419.

Yes folks, Ichiro out-slugged Henderson and had a batting average that was 52 points higher, although he didn't walk as much.

Mr. Hoffman criticized Ichiro for not taking pitches in order to draw walks.

Does Mr. Hoffman understand that different hitters have different styles of hitting? Not being aggressive could hurt Ichiro.

Ichiro Suzuki hits singles, not home runs, and he doesn't draw many walks.

But a walk is as valuable as a single only when a batter leads off the inning or walks with the bases loaded, and a leadoff batter is certain to lead off only in the first inning.

A single may allow runners to advance two bases, which can occur with a walk only if ball four is a wild pitch or passed ball. With a runner on third, a walk will not drive in a run.

The most times Ichiro reached base in a season was 315 in 2004, when he broke George Sisler's single-season hit record by getting 262 hits.

Mr. Hoffman uses such "role models" as Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi (can anyone say "performance enhancing drugs") as examples of players who have reached base more that 315 times in a season.  He also cites Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Todd Helton, and Jeff Bagwell.

Comparing a leadoff hitter to a number-three or -four batter is wrong and may even be a disingenuous attempt to further an agenda.

On defense, Ichiro is outstanding, but Mr. Hoffman claims that a right fielder can't really be that great because, if he were, he would be a shortstop or a center fielder.

He uses a football comparison in a weak attempt to support his position.

"... if a cornerback could catch, he would be a receiver."

Hey, Mr. Hoffman, tell the New York Jets that they should try Darrelle Revis at wide receiver.

Ichiro was the American League's MVP, Rookie of the Year, and batting champion in 2001. He made one error in the outfield the entire season. It was one of the greatest rookie seasons of all time, which is even more remarkable when one realizes that he was learning a new league, a different way of approaching the game, a new culture, and a new language.

In his major league career, Ichiro has averaged 105 runs a season, which is excellent compared to the greatest lead off hitters. The problem with a player's runs-scored total is that it is a dependent variable that relies on his team's hitting ability.

Rickey Henderson scored 121 runs a season; Tim Raines, 102; Wade Boggs, 100; Pete Rose, 98; Lou Brock, 100; Paul Molitor, 108; and Tony Gwynn, 92.

The Hoffman article concludes that Ichiro is merely a singles hitter. While that is questionable, it also does not preclude the fact that there have been many great singles hitters.

Paul Waner (.333/.404/.473), Eddie Collins (.333/.424/.429), Rod Carew (.328/.393/.429), and Tony Gwynn (.338/.388/.459) rank among baseball's greatest hitters. They were singles hitters who are in the Hall of Fame.

Ichiro is a five-tool player, although he prefers to hit the ball where it is pitched rather than try to pull outside pitches to hit home runs. He hits for an average, has a strong throwing arm, is a great fielder, is fast, and has occasional power.

The article concludes with Mr. Hoffman acknowledging that he fully expects Ichiro to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

End of story.


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