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April 13, 2009 at 2:24 PM

Of course Ichiro will help

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Don’t forget Geoff Baker Live! coming up at 6 p.m.
Lots of chit-chat back and forth on this blog the past 24 hours or so pertaining to whether the expected return of Ichiro on Wednesday will help or hurt this club.
To me, that’s a non-issue. Any player who notches 200 hits per year and scores 100 runs can only help a team where the offense has been somewhat suspect in recent days. Remember, the Mariners scored just one run yesterday, had only three runs by the eighth inning of Saturday’s game and pretty much took the night off after the second inning on Friday. Also scored only two runs in the Minnesota finale.
Yes, the Mariners found ways to win each of those games and that’s great.
But the fact is, this team will need Ichiro to do what he does best in order to have a chance of sustaining this success. Endy Chavez (seen in the photo above, second from right) is off to a fantastic start. But he’s always been a guy at or below a .300 career on-base-percentage when allowed to be a leadoff hitter full-time. Not just one week. For several weeks on end.
What he has done over the course of his career is hit for a relatively decent batting average. He hit .306 with the Mets as recently as 2006. For now, I would not mind seeing his hot bat placed No. 2 in the order behind Ichiro for the sake of taking some pressure off Franklin Gutierrez. The sure-gloved center fielder looked a little tired at the plate in Sunday’s game, grounding into two double-plays and bouncing into what would have been a third twin-killing had there been a runner on first.
Gutierrez looks like he could use a short rest, or at least have some of the pressure eased by being put further back in the order. That way, you take advantage of Chavez’s hot start. If he continues to post a .400 OBP all year, then you thank the baseball gods and leave him there. But if…or should I say, when, his bat comes down to something more like his career norms, you start to slide him back in the order. I don’t see why his average can’t stay up around .300. He’s a .272 career hitter who’s hit no lower than .287 in two of the past three seasons. But if the on-base numbers start to drop, which they will unless he keeps drawing walks like he did on Sunday (his first two of the year), then there’s nothing wrong with having a guy who can hit in the high .200s or even .300 sitting in the No. 8 or No. 9 slot.
That way, once Gutierrez gets a short breather, you can start to think about moving him back up to No. 2.
But as far as the leadoff spot goes, with Ichiro, you know what you’re going to get. It’s like buying a blue chip stock (except for this year, when you can’t buy any stock). You know, generally, what you’re getting. No, Ichiro doesn’t draw walks like your typical leadoff man. But those 200 hits make up for some of that. Generally, teams prefer leadoff guys to have walk ability because they aren’t certain a guy will be able to sustain consistently high hit totals when things like luck and other stuff come into play. But with Ichiro, it’s been sustained for eight seasons. So, you know that his .377 career OBP isn’t a onetime fluke. It’s what he does.
So, you take that blue chip OBP and put it in the leadoff spot. Then, you ride the hot OBP of Chavez until it starts to come down and push Gutierrez, who has just two hits the past five games, back in the order until he collects himself. And there’s no need to rush the process, as long as Chavez keeps hitting.
These are good problems to have. And yes, Ichiro’s stats alone should help an offense that looks in need of a boost.
On clubhouse issues, I see no reason to worry about him. It’s not like he was running around whispering about others last year. He’s a pretty quiet clubhouse guy. The rest of the players in that clubhouse seem to be doing a better job, so far, of being personally accountable and demanding accountability from others — but in a more professional way. If anyone doesn’t go along with that — and so far, everyone has — then there are players in there right now, unlike last year, who will address it.
Can things change? Sure they can. But as I wrote this morning, this isn’t a one-week phenomenon we’re seeing. The foundation of this team was laid two months ago back in spring training. I don’t see it coming undone in a day or two. If any problems arise, there are now mechanisms in place to deal with it. There weren’t any a year ago.
Make no mistake. It’s a good thing when an offense in need of a boost can welcome a .377 OBP guy onto the team.
So, yes, Ichiro will help this club right now. And there is a dynamic in-place now that will make sure he — and the 24 others in the room — keep helping that team through 162 games.



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