It’s too hard hitting behind Ichiro Suzuki

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It just can’t be done.

At least, that seems to be the basis for Ken Rosenthal’s latest column:

The truth, though no one dares say it around the Mariners, is that hitting behind Ichiro isn’t easy. Ichiro’s goal is not to get on base, but to get on base with a hit, collect 200 hits a season. He is unpredictable, playing at his own rhythm. And when he starts an inning with a quick at-bat — Ichiro ranked near the bottom in pitches per plate appearance among leadoff men last season — the No. 2 hitter is in a difficult spot.

At that point, a rival hitting coach explained, the No. 2 hitter is almost forced to be patient, or the pitcher will stand a good chance of breezing through the inning. Someone has to work counts, especially in the first inning when pitchers often are at their most vulnerable. And that task shouldn’t fall to the No. 3 hitter.

OK, most of that makes some sense, though it’s just worrying about the worst-case scenario. Sure, if you’re going to have a one-two-three first inning, it’d be better to have the pitcher throw 15-20 pitches than 8-10 pitches over the course of the frame. But the far more important issue is avoiding the one-two-three inning in the first place.

Really, this is a case of trying to make something out of next to nothing.

For all of his hacktastic ways, Ichiro averaged 3.51 pitches per plate appearance last season. Jose Reyes averaged 3.61, and no one seems to be complaining about hitting behind him. Chipper Jones, long considered one of the game’s most patient hitters, averaged 3.60 pitches per plate appearance. Albert Pujols was at 3.65.

So, Reyes saw one extra pitch every 10 plate appearances. Pujols saw one more pitch every seven.

Also, the 3.51 was a career low for Ichiro. He came in at 3.75 in 2009 and 3.74 in 2010.

The degree to which patient hitters work the count more than impatient hitters has always been overstated. We think of great hitters fouling off pitch after pitch until they get that one they can handle and lesser lights grounding out to short on the very first offering they see. In reality, every regular in the league averaged between 3.16 (Yuniesky Betancourt) and 4.44 (Curtis Granderson) pitches per plate appearance last year.

I already threw in my two cents on altering Ichiro’s lineup spot last month. My opinion is unchanged now. Rosenthal thinks it makes sense for the Mariners to go with Chone Figgins at the top of the order, followed by Dustin Ackley and then Ichiro hitting third. My belief is that the Mariners don’t have any quality alternatives to Ichiro in the leadoff spot and that Figgins should be on the bench in favor of Kyle Seager against righties. Of course, I do think Ichiro is going to bounce back somewhat. And if he continues playing like he did in 2011, then he’s not really worthy of a lineup spot at all.

Johnny Cueto expected to opt-out of his deal after the season

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Johnny Cueto signed a six-year $130 million deal with the Giants prior to the 2016 season. In his first season he went 18-5 with a 2.79 ERA and 198 strikeouts in 219.2 innings, helping lead the Giants to the playoffs. This season has been rocky for Cueto — he’s got a a 4.42 ERA in 15 starts and has battled blisters — but they’ve been far rockier for the Giants overall, as they sit in last place in the NL West and have the second worst record in baseball.

Many suspect that the Giants will either rebuild or, at the very least, restructure some in response to this nightmare year. If so, they’re likely going to be doing it with Cueto, who Jon Heyman reports is going to opt-out of his deal:

San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Johnny Cueto is planning to opt out of his contract at the end of the year, but he would listen to any extension offer . . . Cueto has $84 million to go over four years. It would probably take an injury or major slump for Cueto not to opt out. But it makes sense that he will.

Heyman says the Giants are not inclined to give him an extension, so expect to see Cueto on the free agent market three days after the World Series ends, which is the deadline for him to exercise his opt-out rights.

The Dodgers are concerned about Julio Urias’ shoulder

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Things are going great for the Dodgers lately. They’ve won seven consecutive games and 13 of their last 14. They lead the National League in wins and are in first place in, arguably, the best division in baseball.

But there are a lot of moving parts on a baseball team, and even when some things are going great, other things can go not-so-great. Like this:

Urias has been diagnosed with shoulder inflammation and shut down indefinitely. An MRI last week showed no structural damage, but his shoulder is still bothering him. He has not pitched in the bigs since late May, when he allowed seven runs in less than three innings against the Miami Marlins. He was sent down after that and went 3-0 with a 3.12 ERA, six walks and 17 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched in three starts with Oklahoma City before being shelved.