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Little reason to intentionally walk Ichiro

Apr 6, 2010, 12:53 AM EDT

The A’s and Mariners were tied at 3 in the top of the ninth tonight when Rob Johnson walked with one out and advanced to second on an infield chopper. That brought up Ichiro Suzuki with the go-ahead run at second. Like most managers would have in that situation, Bob Geren opted for the intentional walk and then brought in his closer, Andrew Bailey, to face Chone Figgins.
Again, it’s what most managers would have done. It was undeniably the wrong strategy, though.
Ichiro is, of course, the game’s best singles hitter. If Johnson had been on third, rather than second, than walking Ichiro probably would have been good idea. It also might have been justifiable with one out, as it would have set up a double play. With two outs, it was an awful idea.
Ichiro entered the day with 489 career plate appearances with a runner at second and no one else on. In those, he had been intentionally walked 70 times. In his 384 official at-bats, he had 142 hits, good for an exceptional .370 average.
Yet, those 142 hits had plated all of 73 runs. 124 of them were singles, many of the infield variety. With the catcher running, it’s pretty unlikely that an Ichiro single would have scored a run.
Figgins, on the other hand, had 196 career at-bats with men on first and second and knocked in 46 runs. Not an exceptional rate by any means, but still significantly better than Ichiro’s with merely the man on second. And this wasn’t a situation in which one run would have ended the game. The A’s made it far more likely that the Mariners would score multiple runs with their strategy.
And that’s exactly what happened. Figgins hit what should have been an inning-ending grounder to third, but Kevin Kouzmanoff, who had an absolutely horrible game in his A’s debut, made a wild throw and everyone was safe. Casey Kotchman followed with a two-run single to make it a 5-3 game.
So, yeah, maybe the luck was even worse than the strategy. But Geren made the wrong call and paid dearly.

  1. Preston - Apr 6, 2010 at 1:56 AM

    To play devil’s advocate:
    1) You left out one of the variables, notably that there were 2 outs. In that situation, a higher percentage of those singles will score the runner from second. It is also likely that Ichiro would change his approach slightly in that context in an effort to drive the run in.
    2) The walk does also have the advantage of creating a force out.
    3) Sure, you’d rather be down 4-3 than 5-3, but it’s not like the A’s scored in their half anyway.
    I checked fangraphs, and the intentional walk did drop the A’s chance of winning from 53.7% to 52.5%; of course, that does not take into account the players in the situation. Overall, I’d tend to say that this one could go either way – when you get down to the specific situation, the sample sizes are likely to be too small to be meaningful. This one is clearly far more on Kouzmanoff than on Geren.
    Captcha – “hangover leaving” – a pleasantly optimistic thought.

  2. SK - Apr 6, 2010 at 2:21 AM

    “It was undeniably the wrong strategy, though.”
    This is only if you go by numbers on paper. The stat sheets don’t factor in the intensity of game situation, how a player is seeing the ball that day, the wind, the confidence of a reliever that has been ailing in spring, or the fact that Ichiro is a singles hitter because he hits leadoff. Ichiro still has incredible bat control and can put a charge in a ball if he wants to, no way he’s thinking single if he gets to hit in that situation. Maybe Geren, like a lot of managers, trusted his gut instinct and “gambled” for safety. Isn’t there a saying also that “you don’t let your opponents best player beat you.” This might “deny” the statistical approach. The stats are for a manager to make better judgement calls, not to call the managers judgements.
    The way I see it, it’s Kouzmanoff’s error that lost the game.
    (I’ve wanted to see Ichiro in the 3 hole for years and with the acquisition of Figgins, had a little hope it might happen. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to buy a Sim game if I ever want to see it..)

  3. Joey B - Apr 6, 2010 at 9:03 AM

    Sounds like selective use of stats.
    With 2 outs and RISP, Ichiro bats .353 while Figgins hits .270. Iciro has 196 RBIs in 519 ABs, while Figgins has 112 RBIs in 381 ABs. I think it’s a more apt comparison since batters are less likely to either bunt or chop with two out and RISP. And it’s not like Figgins doesn’t get a fair amount of IF hits.
    In addition, Ichiro is 2-2 against Bailey while Figgins is 1-5.
    The fact that Figgins has a .469 OPS in the POs gives me little reason to trust him in a tight spot. Ichiro has a .962 with a nifty .421 average.
    I just can’t imagine almost any circumstance where I’d prefer to pitch to Figgins than to Ichiro.

  4. Empty the Bench - Apr 6, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    1) “THEN walking Ichiro probably … ”
    2) Aren’t you completely ignoring the value of having a force at 2nd and 3rd? There are a lot of ways a ball can be hit and fielded that would bring either of those into play.
    3) Confirmation bias.

  5. Anon!Mice! - Apr 6, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    Korea wishes it walked Ichiro

  6. gokiro - Apr 7, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    Ichiro is the most overrated singles hitter on the planet right now. In “tight situations” in which runners are on the scoring position, he collected 36 hits out of 114 at-bats with 32 runs batted in last year. Ichiro is one of a few most unproductive hitters whose number of hits are less than the total runs batted in in that particular situations. Don’t be misled by his batting average. Single hits (especially infield one) aren’t vastly better than walks and about 85 % of Ichiro hits are singles, and 30% of them are infield singles. He has never been good at driving runs in even as a leadoff hitter.

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