With the 2012 baseball season officially getting underway at 5 AM tomorrow morning between Oakland and Seattle in Japan, its a good time to take a look at the most beloved ball player in Japanese history, Ichiro Suzuki.
Ichiro has been one of the most consistent players in baseball since coming to Seattle in 2001, until having a difficult 2011 season. 2011 was the first time Ichiro hit under .300 in his career and it was also the first time he didn’t garner 200 hits. He has won two batting titles in his career so it was odd to see Ichiro struggle. His old fashion stance has always worked wonders at the plate.
When he came to America in 2001, he amazed with an odd batting stance that he still uses today. He slowly enters the box, scopes out the opposing pitcher while raising his bat and touching his helmet brim. Then he loads all of his weight on his back foot, before uncoiling as the pitch arrives, and leaking out toward first base. He is a master at legging out infield hits with this approach, which seems more suited for baseball in the early 1900s than it does in today’s power packed game. He is entering his age 38 season so his best days are probably behind him, but what can he offer the Mariners in 2012?
Ichiro’s defense has always been his calling card. He possesses a fantastically strong throwing arm, that has kept runners from advancing for years. His range has always been above average as well, and he rates very strongly by most defensive metrics. Ichiro’s defensive WAR over his career is 11.7, an extremely high number for a player that has only played for 11 seasons. At the worst, Ichiro will be a slightly above average defender in 2012, because he still possesses most of the skills that allowed him to be a superb defender.
If he rebounds well Ichiro is a strong candidate finish in the top-5 in the AL in hits, due to the shear number of at-bats he will receive. Ichiro will probably play between 155-160 games again, as he has in every year but one during his illustrious career. has led the American League in at-bats 8 times in the last 11 seasons. Manager Eric Wedge has announced that he will hit Ichiro in the 3-spot this season, reducing the number of at-bats he will receive. The Mariner left fielder will have to hit around .285 for the season if he wants to restart his 200 hit streak. Ichiro’s 10 year streak was an all-time record and it would be nice to see him bat for another 200 one more time in his career.
If Ichiro was slightly disappointing at the plate and on defense, he didn’t miss a step running the base paths. Ichiro stole 40 bases last season, and has stolen more than 30 bases every year in his career except for 2010. He’s always active when running the bases, getting excellent secondary leads. This can lead to him gaining extra bases, when his teammates are able to put the ball in play. Look for him to again be active on the base paths, racking up more than 30 steals in 2012.
Ichiro also has an important role in baseball history. He is the only player win an MVP in his rookie season, when he took the league by storm in 2001. That season he hit .350/.381/.457, with 56 steals and 242 hits, the most ever for a rookie. Ichiro was also the first Japanese position player to have success in the Major Leagues. When he joined Seattle in 2001 he paved the way for countless other Japanese players including the Matsui brothers, Hideki and Kaz, Kosuke Fukudome, and others.
In addition to everything else, Ichiro has made waves on the international baseball circuit, winning the World Baseball Classic on two separate occasions with his home country. He is the most popular player in the history of the Nippon Pro League, and is the most famous Japanese athlete in the world. Not too shabby for a player that scouts were unsure about before 2001.