StrategyFebruary 24, 2012

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Spring Training UPdates: Ichiro

By Chris Xuereb

After a long winter without fantasy baseball, the first urge maybe to jump right in and draft your league. However, one of the benefits of patience and holding off with your draft is that you will be able to use the information gained from spring training to get a better gauge of the value of certain players. Let’s start with one player, who in my opinion may have just gained some added value: Ichiro Suzuki.

The news: Mariner manager Eric Wedge has announced that Ichiro will be batting third in the lineup this year.

How this UPs Ichiro’s Value:

HR – If you have followed the career of Ichiro, there’s always been the whispers of Ichiro’s mythical power. There has always been talk that Ichiro could hit as many HRs as he wanted to, but chooses not to because he bats leadoff, or because he wanted to focus on his average, etc. There was even talk by some players that Ichiro could easily win the Home Run Derby but chooses not to. Now I don’t know how much I really buy into the fact that Ichiro could hit 25-30 HRs even his prime, but I can buy into the belief that he may pop out a few more H’s in the three hole. Ichiro has hit double digit HRs three times as a Mariner, most recently in 2009 when he hit 11. I am willing to believe that batting third may bring a slightly different approach, as well as allow him to see more fastballs and could result in a projection of 9-10 HRs.

RBI – This should definitely be the biggest gain we see from Ichiro. The last four years Ichiro has put up RBI totals in the mid-40 range, posting 47 RBIs last year. I don’t see how batting third doesn’t boost Ichiro’s RBI totals greatly, even on this weak hitting Mariner team. One of the goals of hitting Ichiro third is to put Chone Figgins back in the leadoff slot in hopes to get his career kick-started; another is to bat Ackley second. Now I don’t think there is much left to kick-start on Figgins but with Ackley hitting second, Ichiro should definitely see a nice increase in RBI opportunities. Ichiro’s career high in RBI is 69, which he hit way back in 2001. I see him eclipsing that and posting 77 RBI.

Possible Downside -

AVG – Moving Ichiro out of the leadoff spot will undoubtedly result in a drop in ABs for Ichiro. One of the benefits of owning Ichiro was not only that he put up a huge average but that he did in a high number of ABs (usually somewhere in the high 600s), meaning that he had a greater effect on your overall team average. But Ichiro batted .272 last year, and most projections don’t have Ichiro reaching the .300 mark this year either. I had Ichiro hitting in the .280 range this year, so to me the loss in ABs is not that big of a deal, and I don’t see Ichiro’s project .280 average dropping due to the switch.

R – Ichiro’s run totals the last few years (88, 74 and 80) have been disappointingly low. No longer hitting leadoff perhaps means less scoring opportunities, but the team is slightly improved from last year (with more Ackley and the hopeful addition of Jesus Montero), which may help compensate some. If you had Ichiro pegged at 80-85 runs, I don’t see there being much of a reason to drop the number that much lower. I project 80.

SB – Ichiro swiped 40 bags last year, and it was really the main/only source of his value if you happened to own him. It could be argued that this is where Ichiro may take the biggest hit in value batting third. But I don’t see Ichiro slowing down on the basepaths at all. I can’t see Eric Wedge asking Ichiro, after getting thrown out at second with two outs, “What were you thinking trying to steal? We had Mike Carp up!” No offense to Mike Carp or Justin Smoak or whoever may be batting cleanup, but this team will still need to generate runs on the basepaths, so I don’t think Ichiro will be getting the red light on the bases any time soon. My projection calls for 33 steals.

Summary – In my eyes, Ichiro has gained a nice little boost in value and would now be on my radar. I feel a fair projection is somewhere at .280, 80 runs, 10 HRs, 77 RBIs and 33 SBs batting out of the three hole. With that projection he offers some solid value at his current ADP of 104, especially when you consider Shane Victorino is going 31 spots ahead of him at 73. I am not saying to take him ahead of Shane Victorino, but if you were targeting Victorino and miss out, Ichiro might be a nice replacement 2-3 rounds later.

Chris is a fantasy baseball fan, who plays the game the right way and enjoys writing about it. You can follow him on twitter @RotoBaseballX
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