The seventh in a non-alphabetical and irregularly updated series of review pieces for each of the players we predicted last winter. (All entries are linked in the left-hand sidebar, below the Rotoworld stuff and the interviews.)
LL/USSM Community: 684 AB's, .332/.382/.442 (n=130)
Actual Line: 678 AB's, .351/.396/.431
Closest Projection: katal, .343/.392/.427
Not too bad of a group forecast, all things considered, although we gave a bit too much respect to Ichiro's power. But then, who can blame us? The projected ISO (SLG - BA) of .110 was basically right on his career mark before the year. Kudos to katal for being right on, save for a single or three. We also had a guy project a .408/.453/.543 batting line, which, for anyone other than Ichiro, would've seemed fucking crazy.
One of the greatest tragedies of the English language is that, after seven years, we still haven't been able to figure out a way to satisfactorily convey the whole Ichiro experience in words. I'm not even sure one exists. You can talk about his extraordinary bat control, his phenomenal speed, his unparalleled grace in the field, and his perplexingly hilarious interviews until you're blue in the face, but still there's something missing, something that elevates him from annoying slap hitter to justifiably beloved local superstar. And I can't for the life of me figure out exactly what it is.
We know it exists, though, which is why there was such gaiety and merriment in July when it was announced that he'd signed an extension. This was one star player who wasn't going to bolt, invariably ending up in a place that wouldn't appreciate everything he brings to the table. Ichiro is Mariner baseball, at least until Felix gets his shit together. The extension alleviated our fears of having to find a new team identity while guaranteeing to Ichiro that he'll be able to spend all of his best years in a city that loves him for what he is. A-Rod doesn't know what he left behind. Me, I consider five more seasons of Ichiro to be a sort of reward to Mariner fans as a whole for knowing how to treat their franchise icons. We deserve Ichiro, and Ichiro deserves our unconditional support. It's a perfect match.
A (suck) lot (it) of (Dave) people (Samson) expressed surprise and amazement upon hearing of the size of the extension - $90m over five years is a ton of scratch - but where I'm typically one to lambast such enormous contracts, I find Ichiro's deal to be just about perfect. Dave already made the case at some length several months ago that it's a great contract, so that's the place to go for a detailed review. If you don't have that kind of time or patience, though, here's the bottom line: Ichiro's total offensive production compares favorably to that of Grady Sizemore and Carlos Beltran, and he seems to be a plus defensive CF who's incredibly durable and who shows no signs of aging. The average Major League CF hits around .270/.330/.430 with -5 < x < 0 defense. For his career, Ichiro has hit .333/.379/.437 in a pitcher's park with awesome baserunning and 0 < x < +10 defense in center. Even setting aside his general appeal, statistically speaking he's a star player at a premium position. Those people tend to get a lot of money, and I'd much rather have Ichiro at $90m/5yr than Torii Hunter at whatever he's about to get.
I said "seems to be a plus defensive CF," by the way, because Ichiro appears to have broken the advanced metrics. David Pinto's PMR called Ichiro the second-best CF glove in the league, while UZR called him the third-worst. The Hardball Times' RZR split the difference. Make sense of that. I tend to have more faith in defensive statistics than a lot of other people, but when they're literally all over the place, then I have to rely on my eyes, and my scouting side tells me that Ichiro's a life saver out there, especially when he's playing beside a wounded buffalo in left. I honestly don't know what UZR's problem is, because very rarely do I see a ball drop that I think Ichiro should've caught. And I know it's not a bias thing, because I see it happen to Betancourt and Beltre and Jones from time to time, and I love those guys too. I guess there's just something particular about Ichiro's glovework that makes it difficult to measure.
Maybe it's because he felt rejuvenated by the team's status as a contender, but 2007 was a big year for Ichiro, as he hit wire to wire without ever going through the extended slumps that bit him in 2005 and 2006. It felt a lot like his rookie season, actually, which brought about a renewed sense of excitement and appreciation among the fan base. It's funny; never has a player worked so hard and made so many adjustments to remain basically the same kind of spectacle year in, year out. Ichiro is seemingly always evolving and always trying to stay one step ahead of the opposition, yet the output is always so familiar - handful of homers, handful of doubles, and enough infield singles to drive the other team insane. It may not be the most traditionally manly way to go about being awesome, but loving Ichiro for his rollers to short is no different than loving Jose Reyes for his steals, and besides, if you tell Ichiro that he plays like a woman, he'll probably cut you. There's more than one way to be a Hall of Fame talent, and damned if Ichiro hasn't gone and perfected the most difficult.
Throughout its history, baseball's had more than its share of superstars come and go, guys who beat the crap out of the ball or drive in 140 runs or srike out 300 batters a season. And there's always going to be more of them for as long as the game exists, with new bats and arms exploding onto the scene every year to delight the locals and state their cases for eternal fame. Baseball, however, will never have another Ichiro. There'll be guys who post similar numbers, and guys who play the same kind of defense, but no one's ever going to approximate the whole package, because it's just so uniquely him. Ichiro, you have and will always arouse the fire that's dormant in the innermost recesses of our collective soul. We're thrilled that you're ours, and when the day eventually comes that you have to bid the Mariners goodbye, I imagine there will be a pain unlike any this team has caused me in a long, long time. A lot like getting punched in the face.