May 23, 2015

Ichiro, you may still get 3K hits, but ...

Ichiro Suzuki
You're no Roberto Clemente. Unfortunately, on a blog post on NBC's Hardball Talk, one fan made exactly that comparison.

Not even close. Clemente has as many WAA, a much higher standards, than allegedly ageless Japanese outfielder Ichiro Suzuki has WAR.

As I told that person, in an exchange of comments, would you compare Andre Dawson to Mickey Mantle, or Dwight Evans to Hank Aaron?

Yes, there's a bit of exaggeration on my part, but not THAT much.

Let's go by WAR only.

The Hammer has 142.6 WAR to 66.1 for Evans.

The Mick has 109.4 WAR and Dawson has 64.6.

Ichiro has 59 WAR; Clemete has 94.4.

So, the Aaron-Evans comparison is somewhat exaggerated, as I knew it would be.

But the Mantle-Dawson one is almost spot on.

Now, I know diehard Ichiro fans will say, "But, if he'd played here a couple more years earlier in his career, he might have 70 WAR."

To which I respond, "If Clemente hadn't died in a tragic plane crash while still an active player, he might have caught Mantle."

Meanwhile, another commenter there gets both this and other things wrong.

First, he calls me wrong in saying WAA is a more difficult stat than WAR, when that is rather perfectly true in the sense of WAA being more difficult to achieve points because it's comparison to a league-average "real" player, not a AAAA-level hypothetical replacement.

He went on to say:
At age 41 Clemente had already been out of the game for four years while Ichiro is still going.

This of course ignores that Clemente would have been dead four years before reaching a hypothetical age 41.

I've blogged about Ichiro and reality vs. hype on him before, including being skeptical about his shot at 3K hits and saying he should have retired a year ago.

As for this season? The only reason he's already passing 30 hits, and passing Babe Ruth on the career hits total is because Christian Yelich sucks enough, as well as being hurt, to be below the Pete Kozma Line of my creation and thus to be a fair part of why Mike Redmond was fired. The Fish's plan this offseason was for Ichiro to be strictly a fourth outfielder, pinch-hitter and pinch-runner. They had zero plans for him to have 100-plus at bats just over one-quarter of the way through the season.

Ichiro hasn't had a 5-WAR season since age 34 and hasn't had a 7-WAR season since age 30. He's not an ageless wonder. He's showing a normal aging curve.

He's overall been a defensive negative for 5-6 years now, and left is the only OF position he can play without too much damage.

And, should Yelich figure things out, or Ichiro start showing more of his 41 years, Ichiro will be back to being the No. 4 outfielder.

In the meantime, your short-term success aside?

Ichiro, you're no Clemente.


UPDATE: I was going to put this as a reply in comments, but it got long enough I decided to make it part of the body.

Hey, Jav (and others):

First, lest anybody think otherwise, I'm not a curmudgeon, and I like seeing milestones in baseball. I hope he gets it.

That said, as noted in the pre-season piece I linked, and the comment here about Yelich, it certainly wasn't Miami's plan to have him get 400-plus ABs (if that happens). My 300-315 was a guesstimate to allow some minor injuries to the three starters, some days off here and there, and some pinch-hitting.

I'm sure Loria and both old and current managers wish they weren't having to have him bat so much.

As for "a lot left in the tank"?

It's only mid-May.

First, if Yelich can turn things around, he's Miami's future. Ichiro is not. A healthy, hitting Yelich plays, and Ichiro sits more.

Otherwise, as far as "future," if Yelich is struggling later in the year, 40-man callups from AAA will get more playing time in September. Because they're the future and Ichiro's not.

(Well, unless Loria decides that marketing Ichiro is important enough to turnstiles to neglect the player development future of his team.)

That said, the AAA farm at New Orleans isn't that great. Cole Gillespie is a 31-year-old career AAAA-level player, and he's the best they've got. Which helps explain the signing of Ichiro.

Second, if Yelich can't, as far as Ichiro's tank? Call me back in August.  Yes, Aaron had more than 500 ABs at 41. Others? Ted Williams had just 310. Musial had 433, but that was an Indian summer year in 1962 and the only time he broke 400 ABs since age 37.

Third, as far as what's in his tank? B-Ref has him not only at a negative overall WAR, but negative oWAR as well as dWAR. There's little in his tank right now; it's just that the Marlins don't have a better option.


Javanderson said...

Ichiro's projected AB/PA for this season (under his current playing ratios) is 399/441, not enough to qualify for the batting title (min. 502 PA) but way more than your initial 300/315 pre-season prediction. He's also hitting 50 points higher (.292) than you said he'd hit before the start of the season. His projected Date of Arrival to 3K hits (assuming current season playing time and batting performance) is in early May of 2016. Initial Projections for this season had him reaching 3000 sometime in early 2017. In other words he apparently still has a lot left in the tank, and he's closing in.

이택형 said...

if he'd played here a 5~7 more years earlier in his major career, he might have 90 WAR."

ichiro>>>>derek jeter

Gadfly said...

Doubt it. I'll stay by my estimate of about 80 WAR.

Gadfly said...

And, Jeter's bad defense aside, if Ichiro had been here five more years? It would be roughly a draw.

PM Weave said...

I've seen "Ichiro's no " titles before.

Clemente started in MLB at age 20.
Conjecture: 7 more years of younger Ichiro would have him chasing Pete Rose not Clemente.

Gadfly said...

Well, I've said before that I don't think Ichiro would have been in MLB at 20. Certainly not with MLB of the mid-90s so power oriented as it was, for "whatever" reasons.

That said, even if he was chasing Rose on counting stats, that would likely leave him, like Rose, 15-20 WAR behind Clemente.

Jim Lund said...

Just not a good comparison that person made. Ichiro never would have been Clemente, who tragically lost years at the end of his career. Ichiro not a 5 tool guy, no power really. They both played RF extremely well, at the plate not similar at all. R. Henderson had more power than Ichiro, still not as much as Clemente, but is a better comparison if you look at their prime. If Ichiro had played all his years in MLB (and he was clearly good enough to be an MLB regular, and an All Star, for most of his Japan years) he would be WAY up on the all time hits list. You have to look at his WAR early on in Seattle, and then give him 5 years more of that, figuring one year in Japan, and one year to get adjusted to MLB. Pure speculation but I think it's reasonable.

Like all top tier HOFers the great Clemente was a peerless talent. Ichiro not a 5 tool guy but give him a full career over here and he is a slam dunk first ballot HOFer with 4000 hits, never mind 3K. He'd be way up there in steals also, and ++ defense for much of his career. I think he makes the hall even with the late start. He has some of the greatest years ever for a leadoff hitter.

Gadfly said...

Jim, yes ... the idea of tiers. Bill Simmons did this well with the NBA in his book. And, depending on how many tiers we use for MLB Hall of Fame, Clemente would be a tier or two above Ichiro. And, the Pirates may have gone to yet another WS if he'd been around a couple more years.

Anonymous said...

A rough estimate gives him a WAR of about 35 for his time in Japan. That gives him a career WAR of around 94—the same as Clemente. The great thing about statistics is that they can tell whatever story you want them to! :-)

Whether he's on par with Clemente or not, I believe he's clearly a HOFer based on his actual resume. His case is similar to that of Sandy Koufax in that he was a dominate player whose MLB career was shortened by circumstance. In the case of Koufax, what would have been his least productive years were lost to injury. In the case of Ichiro, seven very productive years were lost to playing in a different league.

In a league notorious for weak-hitting/dominate pitching, he set NPB's single-season hits record at age 20. There's no reason to suspect he wouldn't have been able to play at a similar level in the U.S. based on the consistency between his statistics in Japan and his first 10 MLB seasons. But that's a what-if game. As to whether he was a five-tool player, he rated 20.3 HR per 600 ABs in the seven full seasons he played in Japan, so clearly he had power, but for whatever reason chose a different approach in MLB.

Limiting Ichiro's value to WAR negates the eye test. He was the single best hitter on the planet for a decade. He holds the single-season hits record in TWO professional leagues. Among career hits leaders, he averages more hits per season than any of them... by nearly 15 hits per year!