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.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.