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On Ichiro, And Ichiro's Lineup Position

Two fingers for Ichiro
Two fingers for Ichiro

Drayer just wrote up an interesting piece Wednesday night about how the M's have considered dropping Ichiro in the lineup this season, and will consider dropping him in the lineup in 2012. Even though I don't have any particularly strong opinions myself, this seems like a story, and the sort of thing I ought to respond to. And so now I will respond to it! Over time I've noticed I've gotten worse and worse at writing introductions.

The first thing to note is the language. Eric Wedge's first quote:

"I'm not sure what the lineup is going to be next year," he told me. "I am not sure how we are going to use Ichi, where everyone else is going to play out. To have some flexibility is important."

The Mariners are not locked in to batting Ichiro leadoff next season, but beyond that, there's not much we can say. This is just something they're thinking about, and it should be something they're thinking about, because they should be thinking about everything. The Mariners came close to dropping Ichiro this summer, and Ichiro was on board, but then nothing ever materialized. Maybe the same thing happens this winter. Maybe it doesn't. We'll just have to see.

With that said, even the possibility that Ichiro could drop in the lineup is an eye-grabber, and that's because he's been the established leadoff hitter for so long. Ichiro batted leadoff in his 2001 debut, and he's batted leadoff ever since, save for a brief stint in 2004 when Bob Melvin hit him third. That lasted ten games. To give you an idea of how long the Mariners have had Ichiro at the top, their regular leadoff hitters before he came around were Mark McLemore and Rickey Henderson. In a way, he's been like Mariano Rivera, in that for so long, fans didn't have to worry about a role that so many other teams' fans have to worry about.

If Ichiro were to drop in the lineup, the assumption is that he would drop to the middle, where he could try to drive in more runs. Many of you believe that Ichiro could have some success in this role - in last week's poll, 52% of responders said they think Ichiro could produce as more of a power hitter. And that's fine. I'm not one to disagree. A big part of me believes it, too. But there's no denying how absurd this must look to outside observers. Ichiro has about the same wOBA as Brendan Ryan and Danny Valencia. He has about the same isolated power as Jason Bartlett and Darwin Barney. Nothing about Ichiro's statistics at all suggests that he should move to a run-producing lineup spot. But he could do that, and he could succeed doing that, because he's Ichiro, and Ichiro is weird. With any other player on any other team, you'd think a guy with Ichiro's numbers should hit eighth or ninth. Not going to happen here.

Of course, if Ichiro were to move, that would create a vacancy at the top. The question there becomes: who fills it? Who the hell on this team can you count on to produce a decent OBP? We can't say much of anything until the offseason is over and next year's roster takes shape, but right now, I guess you'd be picking between, what, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Franklin Gutierrez? Can you really count on Seager or Gutierrez to get on base at least 33% of the time next season? That leaves Ackley, but would you prefer Ackley at #3? Does it matter? I guess it doesn't really matter. And there would be worse things than giving Dustin Ackley the most plate appearances on the team.

Anyway, if Ichiro actually moves, we'll talk about this more. Right now it's just a possibility, and a possibility that could be anywhere from very weak to very strong. It's weird to think about an everyday Mariners lineup that doesn't have Ichiro looking down on everyone else, but until we actually see one, it's only hypothetical.