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Thursday, March 15, 2012

Forgrave: Is it the beginning of the end for Ichiro?

NO! Ichiro has decided to be Againstgrave!

And that storyline is this: Will 2012 mark the continued decline of one of the greatest pure hitters of our time, Ichiro Suzuki, a man whose astounding career has been wasted on a mostly moribund team?

After all, Ichiro will make $17 million in the final year of his contract. He’s 38, and his always-impressive numbers took a dive the last couple seasons, last year bottoming out with a .272 average and a .310 on-base percentage, both career lows. Those are barely acceptable numbers for a power hitter, much less a player like Ichiro, the man who made the single sexy again (and who once told the New York Times, “I think there’s sexiness in infield hits because they require technique”). He finished last year with only 30 extra-base hits, including only five home runs.

...“Ichiro is his own coach,” Mariners hitting coach Chris Chambliss told “He doesn’t really confer with me, and why should he? He’s had a great career without me. Ichiro knows what he’s doing. He knows how to play the game. He knows how to hit. A lot of the adjustments he makes are on his own.”

This adjustment, in theory, ought to make him less of a singles hitter and more a middle-lineup guy who drives the ball. And, in theory, it ought to help a Mariners offense that was the majors’ worst in 2011, scoring a league-low 556 runs and hitting a league-low .233.

“He’s swinging the bat great,” Chambliss said. “He’s hitting the ball all over the field with authority. And that’s what we want. His lifetime average is .326 — we want Ichiro to hit .326. Whether he does it from one stance or another stance is not a factor… His stance looks different, and everybody’s making a big deal over it. But he’s been a great hitter for a long time, and he’ll continue to be, because he knows how to get the bat on the ball.

Repoz Posted: March 15, 2012 at 04:19 PM | 104 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, mariners, sabermetrics

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   101. Sunday silence Posted: March 17, 2012 at 07:58 PM (#4083299)
Right now there are people who could have written great novels but decided to run whore houses instead.

Sydney Biddle Barrows, says; "Howdy fellas."
   102. Red Menace Posted: March 18, 2012 at 02:13 AM (#4083400)
More on public opinion: on that All-Century Team, Cobb got the 11th-most votes among all hitters, 7th among outfielders.

Ruth was 2nd for hitters, 1st for outfielders. Bonds was 39th among hitters, 18th among outfielders. Mays was 5th for hitters, 4th for outfielders. Wagner was 24th among hitters, 4th for shortstops.

I think that experiment would be a lot different now. It feels recent but there was no Baseball-Reference in 1999. There are a lot of fans who don't necessarily identify as statheads who would still take a look at WAR leaderboards before casting their votes today. I wonder how much the explosion of info would affect the results.
   103. cardsfanboy Posted: March 18, 2012 at 10:13 AM (#4083448)
This seems to be both arguing for Cobb's case both by cutting off his decline phase, and then giving him extra credit for his decline phase, but not accounting for changes in the game at all.

It's arguing that over a similar number of plate appearances that Cobb was the better player relative to his era, and mentioning that Cobb also added a significant career advantage.

I'm not sure what accounting for the game needs to be done. Generally speaking I prefer to judge players post 1920, but Cobb proved that his numbers translated well in that era so I have no problem giving him a pass on that. I do not see any reason to timeline after that point. Even integration didn't have the affect on play the way that Ruth/banning of the spitball/etc had on the game.

You can also do stuff like this:
Mantle comes out ahead in leagues featuring night games: nearly 2000 total bases in night games alone, compared to zero for Cobb.
Although he was on the decline by then, Mantle put up more than 40 WAR in leagues requiring travel to the West Coast. Cobb never did that.
And obviously, Mantle has a huge advantage in integrated-league play: 120.2 WAR to Cobb's 0.
Cobb probably would've handled the first two just fine. The last one, maybe not.

I love absurd examples that have nothing to do with anything being discussed.

Anyway, likewise with Ruth vs. Aaron, Williams vs. Bonds, or Wagner vs. ARod. I'm not confident the stats will ever tell us all we'd need to know to be sure - or as sure as some folks are, anyway - when we're choosing among the very best players ever. It's not that the old-timers would be any worse, but all of the players around them, the scrubs and even the average and pretty-good players, who are much better now than ever before. It's harder to dominate a league now, much harder, which also makes me more sure of a dominant modern player's quality. That's why I think Bonds was a greater player than Ruth, even though Ruth had 20 more career WAR (and a better arm); that's why I'd take Roger Clemens over Cy Young or Walter Johnson, and Pujols over Gehrig.
If I had to bet my life on one game, and could only pick MLB players from either 1901-1941, or 1971-2011, I'd pick from the more recent bunch without hesitation.

And that is partially why I can see someone arguing for Mays over Cobb. There is no defensible way to argue Mantle over Mays, and I don't see how you can really argue Mantle over Cobb when you compare peaks, career etc. Even the rising tide theory that you are putting out there doesn't make up the difference.

And the Ruth vs Bonds deals with the absurdity of timelining which isn't really worth the arguments. You can argue both ways, would Bonds have been as good if he didn't have his recliner, had to travel by train etc. Add into the argument that Bonds numbers are somewhat inflated because of his teams relative lack of depth, leading to a sky high obp because there was little to no reason not to walk him, and you can argue that Bond's numbers aren't really as impressive as they look. And of course the little issue that Ruth

   104. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: March 18, 2012 at 12:19 PM (#4083486)
If a saber-tooth tiger were placed in a situation where his only competitors were rabbits, I have no doubt he'd do well. But what if by changing his time and place, he weren't a saber-tooth tiger anymore; he was a rabbit. That's the problem with putting Bonds in Ruth's time (or Ruth in Bond's time). They would not be the same organism. Yet, I don't see that people understand that when they start all this if-Bonds-played-n Ruth's-time-or-Ruth-played-in-Bond's-time games. They certainly don't explicitly acknowledge it. Bonds would not have had all the advantages of the evolution in training and development of talent that accrued since 1935 if he played in the '20's and '30's, and Ruth would have those advantages if he played in the '90's and 2000's. Yet, I never get the idea that people who play these time change games are aware of that. They certainly don't acknowledging it or try to factor it. So, what's the point? Other than to stroke your pet era. It's merely one more form of engaging in historical presentism. The present is always better than the past until it becomes the past. USA! USA! Ho hum.

Morty, "historical presentism" is the farthest thing from my mind when I raise the point about talent pools. What I'm trying to do is to figure out a way to try to incorporate everything we know (the raw statistics), everything that sabermetrics claims to contribute (trustworthy timeline statistical adjustments), everything we can reasonably surmise with certainty (talent pool expansion raises the level of competition), everything we can only guess at (how modern training might have extended those 21-to-24 year careers another few years, or the lack of modern training might have reduced some of the recent players' careers by a similar amount), and everything we can only guess at for amusement (whether 24 hour train rides, nothing but day games in 90+ degree heat with wool jerseys, and two dozen doubleheaders in a season were worse than jet lag and night games following day games).

I don't mention contemporary opinions, not because I discount them, but because they'd all cancel out one another. When you get to this level, you'll find very few contemporary observers with anything bad to say about any of them, other than personality flaws.

So it comes down to what you really want to "judge". I guess I find the WAR discussions rather pointless, because other than making a few adjustments for war service (Feller goes up, Newhouser goes down) or segregation-related delays (Jackie Robinson and Campanella go up), and a career-ending early injury (Koufax goes up), there's not that much to it.

OTOH when you take all those other factors into consideration, of course you're entering into the unknown and unprovable, but----so what? There's absolutely no way to prove what Ty Cobb might have done in today's game, with a vastly expanded talent pool; with black players who wouldn't be in the least bit intimidated by his schoolyard aggression; with better conditioned infields to take away a few pebble-diverted ground balls; with faster fielders with better gloves to shave his BA down a few points; with media that would scrutinize rather than idolize; with the temptations of Greg Anderson; with jet lag and night games that would disrupt his meticulous circadian routines; etc., etc. etc.----but IMO it's a lot more interesting to speculate about that, and to try to surmise our conclusions, than it is simply to click on BB-Reference and find out what we already know. Hell, a ####### trained gerbil could almost do that.

But if that's all you want (which I don't really think you do), then here are the top 10 players in history, in WAR order, all lined up for their Andy Jurinko limited edition portrait:

Babe Ruth
Barry Bonds
Ty Cobb
Willie Mays
Cy Young
Hank Aaron
Honus Wagner
Tris Speaker
Roger Clemens
Walter Johnson
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