I like to make a lot of excuses for Ichiro because, in general, I like Ichiro. I think he gets a lot of undeserved shit from the media and from a segment of the fanbase because he’s Ichiro. Whereas the sycophantic of Ichiro supporters have built him up into this god-like creature, there’s a nasty percent of Mariners fans and media followers who want nothing more than to obliterate the guy just for being who he is.
What is Ichiro? He’s a right fielder who has always had a good arm. He’s a leadoff hitter with good speed on the basepaths. He’s primarily a singles hitter who doesn’t walk a lot and doesn’t strike out a lot. That’s who he is. That’s ALWAYS been who he is. You can tinker with putting him in center field like Grover did, you can tinker with batting him third like Wedge did, but he’s always going to be who he is.
He has never had this amazing on-base percentage. The only reason it was ever high was because his batting average was always high. And now that his batting average is low, people are making it out to be some huge revelation: OH MY GOD, a leadoff hitter with a sub-.300 OBP! Well, that’s not really the issue, now is it?
Ichiro is old. He’s not “getting up there”, he’s old. He is very close to the end of his career. He might try to hang on for another season or two, but he’s never again going to be a starter in this league. If he is, it’ll likely be because of some injury. But, after this season, that’s it for the Ichiro we’ve all known since his rookie season in 2001.
But, that doesn’t mean he’s going to magically develop a skillset he’s never had! As an old baseball player, he has a bigger hole in his swing. His bat-speed is considerably worse than it was in his prime. As a result, defenders are cheating in, because he can’t hit them as hard as he did in his prime. To compensate for this decline, people are wondering why he doesn’t walk more. Well, he’s NEVER walked more! He’s averaged around 42 walks per season, and that’s NOTHING for a leadoff hitter! He’s not going to start walking more now that his swing is gone. Because that’s not who he is and because opposing pitchers aren’t going to pitch around him like they might have tried in the past.
It’s sad, but it’s the way it is. This is Ichiro’s last hurrah. It’s evident now. One could have argued that last season was a fluke. But, now it’s a trend. This is going to be the second consecutive sub-.300 batting average season and the second consecutive sub-200 hit season. Beating this dead horse about how he doesn’t deserve to bat leadoff anymore isn’t going to change any of that.
Of course he shouldn’t be batting leadoff anymore! And we can’t just fall back on the argument, “If not Ichiro, then who?” because we DO have other bats! We have Saunders. We theoretically have Ackley if he ever starts picking it back up again. Hell, we might even have Guti if he can stay healthy.
I know you can’t just throw away game after game with Ichiro in the leadoff spot for nostalgia’s sake, but look at it this way: this is Ichiro’s last season as a Mariner. I’ve never been more convinced of this fact. Instead of killing the guy when he’s down, how about we start rooting for the guy to go out on a positive note?
He could continue this downward spiral from here on out and I wouldn’t care. I mean, I would CARE, but I wouldn’t be all up-in-arms about removing him from the lineup. Because this season is going nowhere. And because this is the last time we’ll be able to watch a Hall of Famer on a regular basis. These truly are the end of days.