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June 1, 2012 at 1:16 PM

Ichiro put back into leadoff role by Mariners

They just put the lineup out for tonight’s game in Chicago and as expected, Kyle Seager is batting third. Ichiro has been moved back to his customary leadoff spot in the order.
Dustin Ackley will bat second.
You’ll remember that, a month ago, this is the arrangement we first suggested here on the blog when there was talk of taking Chone Figgins out of the leadoff spot. But much has changed in the weeks since.


Ichiro’s on-base percentage has been trending downward and at .305 is even worse than the .310 he finished last season with.
Since the day Figgins actually lost his leadoff job, Ichiro’s OBP has been .276. Meanwhile, Ackley’s OBP has actually taken off to .353 in the leadoff role.
So, right off the bat, this is not a move that makes much baseball sense.
I can understand that this move is more about the three-hole than it is the leadoff spot and I think Ackley helps the team at No. 2 just as he does at leadoff and would at No. 3 as well. It’s the secondary part of the equation that looks weak — a team deliberately putting a guy with a barely .300 OBP into the leadoff role when there are other options for the top three spots in the order.
There is an argument to be made that Ichiro’s .305 OBP was produced in the No. 3 spot in the order and that he’s had success in the past leading off. True, but he also spent all of last season at leadoff and produced a .310 OBP. At age 38, what he did two or three years ago, or four, five and six years ago isn’t really the issue. If you’re going to make a baseball argument, that is.
If you want to tell me you’re putting Ichiro back at leadoff because he’s a future Hall of Famer, that’s something I could buy into. I won’t agree with the premise, but I can easily see that this is the route the Mariners might take.
Ichiro does bring baserunning skills to the table, which will serve him well if he can find his way on to the basepaths.
Here’s what Indians manager Manny Acta, a guy many sabermetrically-inclined fans like to point to as a favored guy for his more modern approach to lineups, thinks about speed up top without the on-base ability.
“Speed at the top is important, but it doesn’t do you any good if you can’t get on base. It’s been proven over the years. Guys like Wade Boggs had no speed, but if you have a high on-base guy, you have a better chance of scoring runs than if you have a guy leading off who can’t steal first base. The guy who hits first obviously has to be an on-base-percentage guy. Then you go from there.”
Believe it or not, most managers — sabermetric or otherwise — think along those same lines. It’s pretty much a universal way professional baseball teams look at the leadoff spot. You do want a guy in there with high on-base ability. Lineup choices and positioning does matter when you’re trying to score runs. It may matter more in some spots than others, but it matters.
Is it a move the M’s manager approves of? Now, that’s a question. Because it’s interesting that Eric Wedge would move Ichiro out of the leadoff role with a .310 OBP to start the year — and no, it wasn’t all about reviving the career of Chone Figgins — and then reinstate him there when he’s gotten worse.
But at least the team has done something with the No. 3 spot.
And hey, maybe this latest arrangement will work. Maybe Ichiro will regain what he had in 2010 now that he’s back atop the order. Maybe this move is only temporary and Wedge will reserve the right to make new changes next week.
That’s just a whole lot of maybes. And if it’s really all about winning games, there were better options out there than this — at least on-paper.
But we’ll hear what Wedge thinks about it shortly.

Comments | Topics: Chone Figgins

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