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.