Ichiro will hit behind Chone Figgins. Not as literally as this picture though. In this picture Ichiro is hitting behind Figgins who is hitting behind Ichiro who is hitting behind Figgins who is hitting behind Ichiro...
According to reports, Ichiro will be moving to the third spot in the order, with Chone Figgins taking the everyday duties at third base, as well as sliding up into the leadoff spot.
On the surface this seems silly. Moving Ichiro—the best leadoff hitter in Mariner history—is almost sacrilegious to some fans at this point in his career. And that he’s making way for Figgins—unarguably the biggest blemish on the Jack Zduriencik regime—doesn’t make things any better for those same fans.
Supposedly Ichiro will be attempting to channel his power stroke. On a podcast a few weeks ago I doubted that Ichiro would ever actually commit himself to hitter for power. We’ll see how the season plays out, but it looks like as of right now, I was wrong.
Whether he can be successful doing that I still have my doubts about. There is no question that Ichiro has elite hand-eye coordination. He’s one of few hitters who can seem to literally “hit ‘em where they ain’t” rather than simply hitting balls hard with the hope that they drop in. If he’s able to use that hand eye coordination to find a middle ground between low-power slap hitter and slugger, he’s an even more impressive athlete than I already think.
In the same podcast I talked about how Ichiro hasn’t shown “old-man skills.” Usually players that have success as they near 40 years old do at least one of two things well: Hit for power, and walk. If Ichiro’s able to do the former, there’s a good chance he’ll be valuable again.
Moving Figgins to leadoff seems fundamentally flawed. He’s been bad since coming to the Mariners, and was really bad in 2011, probably the league’s worst hitter.
I’m not a big believer in the idea that players are prone to huge swings in production based on their batting order position. That said, batting behind a guy like Ichiro is probably the worst place Figgins could hit. And vice versa.
There are some pretty serious realities we have to face with this move. It was not too long ago that both these guys were good baseball players. There’s also a good possibility that neither player will be good again.
The Mariners have a significant financial commitment to both players though, and this is perhaps a last-ditch effort to coax production out of this $25 million-ish per year investment before giving up on both players.
And for the Mariners sake, if not the fans intrinsically, seeing Figgins become an adequate leadoff hitter is probably more desirable than Ichiro becoming a fraction of a traditional No. 3 hitter, because Ichiro’s bat would be much easier to replace.
I’ve railed against the idea for a long time that third basemen are categorized as “corner infielders,” because that does a very poor job of explaining the expectations of a third baseman offensively. League average wRC+ is 96 (it would theoretically be 100, but pitchers, who aren’t counted toward the theoretical average bring the overall average down). Last year the league-average wRC+ for a third baseman was 92. It was 109 for right fielders.
If Ichiro flops again, and Figgins is his equivalent, it would be much easier to replace Ichiro at a net gain than to do the same for Figgins.
And no matter how any of this goes, opening day lineups aren’t a static image of the lineup that must be kept throughout an entire year. It’s very possible that Figgins may play himself onto the waiver wire. It’s possible that Ichiro will play himself back to the leadoff spot, or onto the bench. Maybe the lineup will work great. Maybe it won’t be a function of the lineup, but a function of the caressing of two fragile egos. Baseball players change roles sometimes. Today is one of those days.
We are sure putting a lot of time and energy into stressing about where two presently-shitty hitters will hit next year.