The Value of Ichiro Suzuki

Ichiro’s approach to hitting is almost majestic. He steps into the box, swivels the bat around gracefully, and poses for just a moment before settling into his stance as the pitcher starts his motion. The next move in his routine is often to place the ball exactly where the fielders are not located. He is, by all accounts, a great hitter. Indeed, he holds the Major League record for hits in a season and has never finished a season with an average lower than 0.303. In addition to his remarkable ability bend the ball around fielders, his play as a fiedler himself out in right is well above average.

For all his positive qualities as a ball player, there is still one knock on Ichiro. He is a one-dimensional hitter. He does not hit for power, nor does he walk, so does he really help the Mariners out as much as the hype would imply? In a word, yes.

The common OPS statistic sums a player’s on-base percentage with his slugging percentage, but it tends to short suit the speedy player who steals bases and wreaks other sorts of havoc on fielders. Despite the fact that it does not include these factors, team OPS still has a very good correlation to run scoring. But when creating a new OPS stat that includes these extra stats like base stealing and advancing runners with outs, I found that the correlation becomes even stronger. Because this new stat puts added weight on a balance of OBP and Slugging, combined with extra emphasis on stolen bases, players like Ichiro don’t get screwed by the traditional OPS barometer for offensive production.

I used this new OPS stat to help estimate how many runs an offensive player is worth over an average replacement player. The other component I used was the UZR figure, a measure of how many runs a player saves a team with his defensive ability. When combining these two figures, we can get an idea of how many overall runs a player is worth above an average MLBer, and we can compare Ichiro to some of the other great right fielders of his era. We’ll call this stat “runs above average,” or RAA.

(Note: I did not include partial seasons at the beginning of a player’s career when he is transitioning to the show.)

Before spewing out the rankings, I thought I might share some interesting facts. Only two right fielders in the study finished with a higher RAA per season than Ichiro, and they were Vlad the Impaler and Bobby Abreu. Jermaine Dye has been a more-than-respectable outfielder over the years, racking up 318 homers and taking 5th in AL MVP voting in 2006. Dye’s best season still fell short of Ichiro’s career average RAA. Magglio Ordoñez put up the best single season number of all the contestants, while J.D. Drew had the best RAA per 162 games, yet neither of these two could stay healthy enough to match Ichiro’s consistency. Jose Guillen actually finished in the negatives, and Brian Giles took a somewhat suprising fourth place. Here are the numbers:

Player       RAA/Season      Best Season

Guerrero        42.66                72.43

Abreu            40.38                63.84

Ichiro            40.09                63.00

Giles             38.54                78.08

Drew            30.81                81.32

Maggs          26.36                86.76

M. Bradley      21.02                50.30

S. Green       14.62                44.70

A. Kearns      12.36                40.40

R. Winn         11.95                42.26

Dye               7.75                  39.83

Guillen           -0.36                 23.04

Though Guerrero and Abreu were able to average a better RAA per season, Abreu has recorded three seasons lower that Ichiro’s worst, and Vlad is on pace for the negatives this season after tallying just a 12.17 RAA last year. Ichiro’s consistency is mind-boggling. He has never played less than 157 games in a season, and his worst RAA output was 26.59, higher than most of these guys’ averages. One could make the argument that since Ichiro has spent his whole career in a pitchers’ park, Safeco Field, his offensive figures deserve a little boost, propelling him to the top. In any case, Ichiro is one of the best right fielders of his era, if not the best, and my doubts about his lack of power have been squelched.

*If there are any right fielders who you think have contributed to run scoring as well as these players – and played at least the 2002-2007 seasons – feel free to let me know, and I will add them.

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6 Responses to The Value of Ichiro Suzuki

  1. Ryan says:

    God, Ichiro is so freaking good.

  2. […] Break Checkup In my last post, I wrote about the value that Mariner outfielder, Ichiro Suzuki, brings to the team. Using that same […]

  3. Tom Cassutt says:

    How would Dwight Gooden’s nephew stack up against other right fielders?

    • uoduckfan33 says:

      Ahhh, Gary Sheffield. His bat was definitely great, but his glove not so much. Both Fangraph’s UZR and Baseball-reference’s RTotal measure defensive ratings, and both estimate about -7 runs per year of defensive value for Sheffield in comparison to the average player.

      I have since tweaked the RAA formulas for hitters to better represent value, and Sheffield averages about 19 runs above average per season, but 35 during his prime years (1996-2005). As a comparison, Ichiro has averaged (under the new formula) about 37 for his first 8 years.

      Just looking at batting, Sheffield is at 25 runs per year, while Ichiro has performed at about 27 runs above average. However, Sheffield’s per-162-game batting numbers are better; 34 RAA vs. Ichiro’s 32 RAA. Sheff just couldn’t stay healthy enough in his career to match the per-season numbers Ichiro has put up.

  4. Tom Cassutt says:

    How about the mlb all-time home run leader among foreign-born players?

  5. uoduckfan33 says:

    Slammin’ Sammy? Jeez, how did I miss that one. UZR makes its defensive estimates based on certain play-by-play data only available since 2002. I had to use a little bit more of Baseball-reference’s Rtotal figure for this one since Sosa has played a relatively small part of his career since 2002. Rtotal is a stat that attempts to measure the same thing as UZR, but I believe it’s not as accurate.

    According to Rtotal, Sosa was an above-average defender for much of his career, adding 5-6 runs of value over a replacement player per season. Offensively for his career, Sosa averaged 17 RAA every season with his bat, a figure that improves to 22 RAA per 162 games.

    To articulate his inconsistency, Sosa actually hurt the Cubs in 1997, posting a negative offensive RAA, but rebounded the next year to hit 66 dingers and record a batting RAA of 51. He topped out at a crazy 93 RAA in his MVP season of 2001. In his prime stretch, from 1998 to 2003, Sosa averaged a mammoth 54 RAA per season on the offensive side. In contrast, his other 12 seasons averaged about, well, average (zero).

    Adding in his defense, Slammin’ Sammy checks in at 23 RAA per season, and 29 RAA per 162 games.

    What probably hurt his offensive production the most was a sub-par 2.5 K/BB ratio, killing his OBP. My regression analysis shows OBP to be more important to run scoring than Slugging, so a disproportionate combination of the two might look like a good conventional OPS but isn’t as conducive to run scoring.

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