I had the opportunity yesterday (Tuesday, July 5 in the U.S.) to take part in a conference call with Lou Piniella on the subject of Ichiro Suzuki. It was very gracious of Piniella to share his time and his thoughts.
Until Shohei Otani REALLY developed as a hitter this season, Ichiro was the most entertaining NPB player since Shigeo Nagashima (I assume. I wasn’t in Japan then). Suzuki is likely to get a hit every time he’s at bat. His groundouts are rarely routine. On base, he’s a threat to steal or do something special and he is such a good fielder that you want to see him catching and throwing as much as possible. In other words, the only time he’s not exciting is when he’s on the bench. I get that.
But calling him a great leadoff man, and that his on-base percentages were “off the charts” as Piniella did, was just his being a gentleman. Ichiro. Although he regularly posted batting averages near the top of the AL lists during his time with the Mariners, nearly a third of Suzuki’s career walks were intentional (180 of 617). Take those 180 intentional walks away and replace them with a 180 plate appearances in which he hits and walks at his usual rate and you have a great leadoff man, whose on-base percentages are off the charts, with a .341 career on-base percentage.
Ichiro’s .340 average this season is not all that special in the context of his career — although it is when you consider he’s 42-years-old. What is special is his .413 OBP. The only time he did better than that in a full season was 2004, when he had 262 hits — and was intentionally walked 19 times.
So here’s to the new and improved, and better-late-than-never Ichiro, the great leadoff man with an on-base-percentage that is off the charts.