We didn’t see Ichiro in last night’s Home Run Derby in St. Louis. That might never happen. Players are reluctant to participate in said contest for fear it might hurt their swing when regular season games resume. We will, however, see Ichiro in his ninth straight All-Star Game tonight.
He’s been in every single once, since he debuted in 2001 and wound up winning AL MVP honors that year. Can he repeat? There’s an argument for it.
No, these Mariners are not going to win 116 games as they did that year. But they are a winning team and if they contend, I’d expect to see Ichiro mentioned as a potential MVP winner.
Let’s check out his big numbers from those two seasons.
In 2001, he had a .350 batting average. This year, he’s hitting .362.
Back then, his OPS was .838. This year, it’s at .873.
The big criticism of Ichiro over the years has been his lack of power. But he’s slugging .480 this year compared to .457 his MVP season.
His on-base percentage is better too — .393 to .381.
Ichiro had a career-high 34 doubles that year and now, with 20, is on-pace to top that by one.
Fielding-wise, there are no Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) stats for 2001. The earliest we can measire Ichiro is from 2002, when he posted a +5.7. The following year, he jumped to +19.1 before flaling off to +12.9. This year, he’s headed for a +13.0 clip over a full season.
Forget about RBI totals, since those depend on other hitters reaching base ahead of him. Same with runs totals. Ichiro scored 127 runs in 2001, but the 43 he has this year mean he might not reach the century-mark. But is it his fault? I say no. As we shown, he keeps getting on-base. His teammates just have not driven him home, especially early on.
He did have 56 stolen bases in 2001 and is on-pace for only 37 this year — but that’s at age 35 as opposed to age 27. Something to consider. And does the lack of steals detract from his improvements in other areas over 2001? I say no.
Based on the total evidence, I’d have to say that if Ichiro’s numbers were good enough to win the MVP race in 2001, they at least merit consideration this year. Especially since he lacks the offensive supporting cast so prevalent on that 2001 team.
He’s not really part of the MVP discussion just yet. But watch and see what happens if the Mariners stay in this thing.