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Don Wakamatsu says Ichiro Suzuki is pitched around because the Mariners' lineup is so bad

Aug 2, 2010, 1:18 PM EDT

Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-4 yesterday after striking out three times Saturday for the just the third time in his career, leaving him with the lowest OPS (.743) and second-lowest batting average (.307) in 10 seasons with Seattle.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu suggested that the lack of capable of hitters following him in what is the league’s worst lineup has motivated opposing pitchers to work around Suzuki more than ever before.

Maybe they’re pitching him a little bit tougher than normal. He’s the one .300 hitter in your lineup. He’s a guy that doesn’t normally walk. I think they’re forcing him to swing at pitches maybe a little bit further out of the zone than normal. I see him fouling off a lot of pitches a lot more than I did last year. Not because he’s missing, but I think they’re not as good as pitches he was afforded last year. That’s just my opinion.

Studies have more or less shown that the general notion of “lineup protection” is somewhere between massively overblown and a flat-out myth, but a deeper look at Suzuki’s numbers this season shows that Wakamatsu may be right.
Pitches thrown to Suzuki have been in the strike zone just 45.5 percent of the time this season, which is his lowest single-season mark by a relatively wide margin and well below his career total of 52.0 percent. Suzuki is also swinging at pitches outside the strike zone far more than usual, taking a hack 36.1 percent of the time compared to 26.0 percent for his career.
Most of Suzuki’s other numbers–stuff like contact rate, swinging strike percentage, and other data found on Fan Graphs–are pretty much in line for his norms, so Wakamatsu’s explanation seems to be make a lot of sense. Of course, at age 36 you’d also expect Suzuki’s performance to decline regardless of whether he’s getting as many hittable pitches as usual, so it also may not be as cut and dried as the manager thinks.

  1. Chris Fiorentino - Aug 2, 2010 at 1:45 PM

    So basically, if Suzuki had a better eye, he would be walking a helluva lot more this season, but he is not…and never really has. Obviously, pitchers have finally figured out that this guy is not going to take a walk. Why they continued to pitch to him all these years(52% pitches in the strike zone?????) is insane to me. The guy DOESN’T WALK. He gets a zillion hits a year because they throw…I’ll say it again…52% OF THE PITCHES TO HIM IN THE STRIKE ZONE!!! Why? That simply amazes me when you consider he has NEVER walked more than 51 times in a season and has only once had an OBP over .400, and he had to hit .372 to do it!!!!!!!!!! He’s a career .331 hitter with a career .376 OBP? As a leadoff hitter, that OBP is middling at best.

  2. BigPhil - Aug 2, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    Anyone got a OBP ranking by lead off for both leagues?

  3. Kiwicricket - Aug 2, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    .376 OBP middling at best??? Care to take a stab at the league average?

  4. Chris Fiorentino - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:01 PM

    I was referring to lead-off hitters, not the league average. I would be surprised to see the lead-off hitter average OBP to be much lower than .376.

  5. Detroit Michael - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:02 PM’s stats allow one to filter for line-up position and to sort on it.

  6. schiver - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:11 PM

    Just did that on and the league average for leadoff hitters is .331.

  7. Chris Fiorentino - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:15 PM

    Yeah, I probably undervalued Ichiro’s .376 career OBP some, but only because with his .331 BA I figured him to be at least close to .400 OBP, especially as a lead-off hitter. I mean, look at non-lead-off hitters like Tony Gwynn(.338/.388) and Wade Boggs(.328/.415). Or leadoff hitters like Rickey Henderson(.279/.401) and Tim Raines(.294/.385) etc. I am simply AMAZED that Ichiro only walks about 50 times a year. Why do they even pitch to him ever? He obviously doesn’t have a good eye or else he would walk a lot more.

  8. (Not That) Tom - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:31 PM

    Ichiro’s contact rates – especially on balls outside the zone – have historically been much higher than league average. I doubt there is anything wrong with his batting eye. Dude just likes hitting the baseball.

  9. BigPhil - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:34 PM

    That’s pretty amusing/amazing. Interesting to see how managers seemingly overvalue speed at the top of the lineup. Having the likes of Michael Bourn and Nyjer Morgan bunt-single their way on base and then steal 2nd late in the game, always feels like a gut punch, but over the season they seem to do more harm than good. But having someone like Matt Stairs hit leadoff for you doesn’t seem to be the answer either.

  10. Chris Fiorentino - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:50 PM

    Rickey Henderson and Tim Raines never struck out more than they walked…ever…until very late in Rickey’s career. Ichiro strikes out 50% more often than he walks. Of course, he gets alot more hits…because pitchers pitch to him. I wish I watched the Mariners more to see just how this guy gets so many hits without ever walking. In his career, Ichiro has 7000+ plate appearances and has only walked and struck out a total of around 1100 times. This means that he puts the ball in play roughly 85% of the time…WOW! For Raines the # was 78% and Henderson it was 71%. Amazing.

  11. Jonny5 - Aug 2, 2010 at 2:51 PM

    I for one am a believer of “lineup protection”. I know for a fact that Ryan Howard sees many more “good pitches” when Jayson Werth is on a hot streak batting right behind him. Wakamole has a valid point imo.

  12. (Not That) Tom - Aug 2, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    I really don’t think you know what you’re trying to argue.

  13. Ditto65 - Aug 2, 2010 at 4:02 PM

    “Felt wrong not to swing.” – Merril Hess (Joaquin Phoenix), Signs

  14. JBerardi - Aug 2, 2010 at 5:00 PM

    Well, get ready to be surprised Chris, because AL leadoff hitters have a cumulative .331 OBP this year.

  15. quint - Aug 2, 2010 at 6:09 PM

    Maybe Ichiro is seeing less pitches in the strike zone because he is swinging at more of them outside of the zone…?
    Why not just take your walk and steal second?

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