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May 16, 2001

The Daily Prospectus

Ichiro Suzuki

by Joe Sheehan

I've gone about a week without a functioning e-mail address, but I think I'm handling it well. My last offer to get it fixed was my left arm, but I think the powers that be are holding out for the right one and a kidney to be named later. I figure we'll have a deal by the end of business today.

A guy gets to missing being called an idiot, you know?

Then again, the outage has coincided with my purchase of the Extra Innings satellite baseball package, or as I like to think of it, video heroin. There's a rumor that I live with other people, and that outside my office, there is a whole big world filled with sunshine and joy and laughter. Whatever. I get seven to 13 baseball games a night in this room, and unless the Dodgers elect to start playing games on San Gabriel Boulevard, I'll take my meals in here, thanks.

The best part? I haven't heard Harold Reynolds in two weeks.

It's a wonderful thing when you go from seeing certain players a few times a year to five nights a week. At the top of the list for entertainment value has to be Ichiro Suzuki. Last week, both Rob Neyer and I spent a few electrons poking holes in the growing Ichiro legend, pointing out that his lack of walks and power meant that he was a bit overrated so far.

Now, none of that is any different today (although Ichiro's stats are better following a strong week). Suzuki isn't in the Manny Ramirez/Juan Gonzalez class of AL right fielders, because he doesn't have those players' power and isn't going to post a .400 OBP. But watching him play, you get a real sense of why people get so excited. He does have a unique hitting style, a slapping downstroke that generates a lot of hard grounders and line drives. He is very fast, so that style generates infield hits and some leg doubles and triples.

Something I noticed is that he doesn't seem to swing and miss very often (I don't have the data on that handy), which is the barrier to him collecting walks, rather than any real lack of selectivity. He's just not going to get through many ABs without putting a ball in play. If he hits .340, that's OK. If he hits .300, it's a problem.

He's a tremendous outfielder, clearly capable of playing center field if need be. About two weeks ago on KZNE radio in College Station, Tex., I mentioned that everyone on the planet had seen the clip of Suzuki gunning down the A's Terrence Long at third base. I was wrong: the White Sox's Josh Paul apparently missed it, as evidenced by him trying to stretch a double in the top of the ninth last night. Suzuki fell down on the play, recovered, chased down the ball and fired it to Bret Boone, who gunned Paul--merely the tying run with no one out--down at third base.

It was the kind of play you tell your kids you saw, and another clip for the Ichiro file. That's the thing about him: he's a great player to watch, both on defense and at the plaite. He's the rare non-power hitter whose at-bats you make sure you see, and the style he plays has contributed to his reputation.

Ichiro does all the things not measured by OPS extremely well. His baserunning and his defense mean that he's a bigger contributor than a quick glance at his stats will show, and that gives him value beyond his EqA or OPS. Does that raise him to the level of a Ramirez? No, because you can't make up that kind of gap with a glove and legs.

But watching Suzuki makes it possible to understand why the Seattle fans love him, and why he's impressed so many people. Someone can be both a very good player and overrated, and that is the purgatory in which Ichiro currently resides.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Contact him by clicking here.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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