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July 15, 2007 at 12:20 PM

Ichiro vs. Manny?

Just a little 4:30 p.m. update, having seen the M’s get blown out, 11-7, by the Tigers. Too many pitches thrown by Jeff Weaver with two out in that third inning, followed by the long ball fourth. Not enough offense to keep up. That five-pitch bottom of the third inning, which forced Weaver back to the mound too quicky, might have been the game’s turning point, though the Magglio Ordonez walk in the third really drove Weaver’s pitch count up and no-doubt taxed his arm for the following inning.
Cross your fingers on Ichiro. This offense can’t lose him for long. Let’s not judge Ben Broussard based on one afternoon. But I’ll repeat what I said last night. This team needs the real Richie Sexson to come back in a hurry. All in all, not a bad start to the second half for the Mariners. They needed to come away with a split and they got it against a playoff caliber, playoff-seasoned (there’s a difference) opponent. Now, they have to take care of business against Baltimore.
Seattle did lose ground in the wild-card race, falling two behind Cleveland, which again won at home. But the Angels blew it and lost in 11 innings, leaving the Mariners only three out in the AL West. That’s a big break. Four out and you’re starting to drift a little bit once again. Don’t want to give back too much of that made up ground in just a few days.
“Ebenezer” thanks for the “Win Shares” reference. I like “Win Shares” and would have used them as well, but needed to get the blog up in time for anyone to read it after experiencing technical troubles this morning. They show the same thing VORP does, namely that the difference between Manny Ramirez and Ichiro, in terms of value, isn’t as great as some may think.
To “Mr. X” I was comparing AL players with AL players, but no doubt Jose Reyes is a tremendous leadoff hitter. I wasn’t including part-timers, as their OBP stats would obviously be skewed higher in some cases. Not sure where to include Kevin Youkilis. He’s not a pure power hitter, nor is he a true “speed guy”. All I know is, he bats in the middle of the order almost as often as he hits second, with an OPS above .900, so I’d lean towards him as a power guy.
The Derek Jeter point you make is interesting. I also think he falls into that mid-range between a pure power guy and a speedier singles hitter. If this was a debate between Jeter and Ramirez in terms of value to a lineup, I think a lot fewer casual fans would be doing double-takes. I also think it would be a much easier sell for a front office. Why is that? Why does Jeter get that instant respect around the game, while the Ichiro case has to be built? Is it World Series rings? Jeter’s extra home runs (he has topped 20 multiple times), doubles and triples?
Back to this morning’s post and our debate topic…
That was a big 6-4 win last night over the Detroit Tigers. Not just because it guarantees the M’s at least a series split with a top caliber opponent coming off the All-Star Break. But also because we saw Kenji Johjima hit a grand slam after he’d spent much of the past month hitting at a sub-.200 pace. And because we saw Richie Sexson hit that double and score three runs. Both of those guys have got to get their second half bats going if Seattle is to keep pace with other playoff contenders. Ben Broussard replaces Sexson at first base today against right hander Justin Verlander. A platoon? Even a short one to give Sexson a rest? Where have we heard this suggestion before.
The Angels overcame a sluggish John Lackey and won again, largely due to some inept Texas Rangers pitching. So, they remain three up on Seattle. The M’s had moved only a game behind Cleveland in the wild-card standings after those perplexing Royals managed not to completely blow a 5-0 lead to the Indians. But the Indians rebounded today and are on the verge of taking that series.
To answer some questions, yes “Scrapiron” I agree with you. The team should apply reverse thinking to Sexson and put him further down in the order in the first half, given his historical numbers. Trouble is, every season, the M’s cross their fingers and hope it will be different with Sexson. By the time they realize it won’t be, it’s time to start the second half. A bizarre psychological exercise.
Yes, to answer another question, Ryan Feierabend is going to start one of the doubleheader games in Texas. He had to go back to the minors yesterday, not only to stay fresh, but because he has to wait 10 days before he can be called back up. That would not have made him eligible to be recalled for the Rangers game had the team waited any longer to option him.
But let’s get into today’s topic now. This interesting story, penned today by Boston Herald national scribe Tony Massarotti, looks at whether Ichiro is worth his new contract. It contains this interesting graph:
“And no matter what anyone suggests, there is simply no way that Suzuki is as valuable to a lineup as (Manny) Ramirez is.”
Wow. Those are fighting words here in Seattle. Because, no matter how huge Ramirez’s numbers have been in the past, good enough for a Hall of Fame entry once he retires, the fact is that Ichiro right now is every bit as valuable to Seattle’s lineup as Ramirez is to the Red Sox. Maybe not every year, but certainly right now. And if you’re going to pay a contract to a player, are you paying for what happened yesterday, or what is going on today and what you hope to have happen tomorrow? For the good GMs and teams, it’s the latter.
There is no comparison here defensively, of course. Anyone who has ever seen “Manny being Manny” in left field knows he can’t compete with Ichiro’s speed, range, glove and arm.
It’s offense Massarotti is talking about and where Ramirez excels year after year.
But Ramirez is a middle-of-the-order power hitter. Ichiro a leadoff hitter. Is there a comparison? Sure. Let’s look at two things, on-base-percentage and runs scored, where the best power hitters and leadoff hitters tend to both exceed other players.
Power hitters score a lot of runs because of all the homers they hit and all the extra-base hits that put them into scoring position. They also tend to have the top on-base numbers because of all the pitchers who work around them, boosting their numbers of walks and intentional walks.
Well, Ichiro fares very well in both categories, having scored 61 runs and produced a .400 on-base-percentage (OBP). The only non-power hitter with a higher OBP is Reggie Willits of the Angels. All he’s done is make himself a Rookie-of-the-Year candidate. As far as runs go, only two non-power hitters, Placido Polanco of the Tigers and David DeJesus of the Royals, have scored more.
Ramirez trails Ichiro in both categories, posting an OBP of .383 — helped by 49 walks, to Ichiro’s 31 — and 48 runs scored.
Runs are very important. Some folks believe they are the most important part of the game. The more you score, the greater your chance of winning.
But they are not the only stat that matters.
Let’s look at on-base-plus slugging percentage (OPS) which typically measures the top power hitters in the game. Ichiro will never match up with the great hitters in this category, because of the power issue and the difference in his type of game, but his .847 is actually quite close to the .856 for Ramirez. Now, let’s consider the ballparks they play in, with Ramirez in the Fenway Park bandbox and Ichiro at spacious Safeco Field.
All of a sudden, Ichiro comes out ahead. His park factored OPS+ of 131 — meaning he’s 31 percent better than an average hitter — is higher than Ramirez’s 124. Holly Tacoma, Batman! So, in other words, Ichiro is outdoing Ramirez in the very power hitting catregory that serves as the latter’s forte.
We won’t even mention the fact that Ichiro’s batting average is the second-highest in the league, or that he leads the majors in hits. Oh wait, we just did.
Yes, I agree that Ramirez historically has obliterated Ichiro in the OPS category. But that’s historically. And historically, when it comes to measuring “value” the OPS stat does not always prevail. A glance at recent history shows this, whether it’s Justin Morneau winning the AL MVP award last season, or Miguel Tejada doing it in 2002 for the A’s or Ichiro with the M’s in 2000.
Sportswriters who vote on those things have varying ways of looking at value. So too, it’s assumed, do those who manage teams and hand out contracts. Is Ramirez’s value to a lineup automatically greater than Ichiro’s?
Hey, I understand the disruptive factor Ramirez’s presence can have on a pitcher who sees him looming in the batter’s box. I also understand that similar disruptive presence and can recognize it in-play when Ichiro reaches base and makes everyone nervous. But here’s a question I’ll ask you. What would Manny Ramirez be without David Ortiz over the past few seasons? How much has Ortiz’s presence in the lineup impacted how Ramirez is pitched to? I’d say the Ramirez of recent years is nowhere near as good as a solo act than as a one-two punch with Ortiz.
Can the same be said for Ichiro? How many No. 2 hitters have hit behind him in the order since 2001? Is No. 2 hitter Jose Vidro making Ichiro a better leadoff man? Or, is No. 9 hitter Jose Lopez doing that? Nix to both. I mean, come on. The one thing Ichiro has shown over the years is an ability to consistently produce elite level numbers regardless of who is with him in the order.
Hey, I didn’t start this whole “value to the order” debate.
For those who are interested, there are sabermetric stats out there that do attempt to identify who is more valuable than the next guy. I’ve avoided using them until now because I didn’t want this to be a stats-versus-traditionalists debate. But I can tell you even without looking them up that Ichiro is running away from Ramirez on that front this season. OK, let’s look them up anyway:
Let’s look at Value Over Replacement Level Player (the dreaded “VORP”):
Ichiro is 5th at 41.1, Ramirez 30th at 20.9.
Wow. Not even close. How about the three years prior to that?
Last year? Ramirez was 7th, Ichiro 20th.
In 2005? Ramirez 9th, Ichiro 20th.
In 2004? Ichiro was 2nd, Ramirez 8th.
So, yes, Ramirez has a slight edge from a recent historical perspective. We could go back further and Ramirez would outdistance Ichiro as well. But contracts are not awarded to players based on what they did five years ago. We’re looking at the relative contributions that do matter. The recent ones. And recently, Ichiro’s contributions of “value” it can be argued, have fared quite evenly with those of Ramirez.
Now, I’ll throw this wrench into that.
How many times from 2004 onward has Ramirez ended up with a higher VORP stat than teammate Ortiz? Try none. And how many of Ichiro’s teammates have surpassed him during that same period? Only Richie Sexson in 2005. The three other times, Ichiro led the M’s. So, I’ll ask you, who is more valuable to a lineup? Ichiro or Ramirez?
Yes, there are other stats we could use. I’m not a huge VORP proponent and will likely take ample grief from colleagues for using it like this. But the Manny versus Ichiro debate is hardly clear-cut. That’s the point. Whether you use traditional or “newfangled” stats to make the point, they are both valuable in their own ways. Is Manny Ramirez at $20 million per season more justifiable that Ichiro at $18 million. You tell me? On to today’s ballgame…



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