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.

Minor League Baseball eclipses 40 million in attendance for 14th consecutive season

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Minor League Baseball announced on Wednesday that, for the 14th consecutive season, the league has eclipsed 40 million in total attendance. 20 teams set single-game attendance records and seven teams set franchise records for single-game attendance in their current parks.

ESPN’s Keith Law, who has been covering the minor leagues for quite a while, did the math:

Minor League Baseball president and CEO Pat O’Conner, whose most prominent stint in the public eye involved him disingenuously justifying the underpaying of his players, said, “Minor League Baseball continues to be the best entertainment value in sports, and these numbers support that. For us to top 40 million fans for the 14th consecutive season despite the weather challenges our teams faced in April and May is a testament to the continued support of our loyal fan bases and the creative promotions and hard work done by all of our teams across the country.”

Major and Minor League Baseball are quite happy to make money hand over fist on the backs of their players, but are too cheap to pay them adequately for their labor.