Another month, another discussion on the Hall of Fame worthiness of Ichiro Suzuki on Baseballthinkfactory. I skimmed through and didn’t see much said that hasn’t been said before, though this quote by Colin Wyers made me think:
Because, let’s be honest – the question of if Ichiro belongs in the HoF is basically a question of how good his defense is.
The opinion’s on Ichiro’s greatness generally fall into these categories:
1. He gets 200 hits per year, so he’s the greatest hitter ever. I don’t understand the alphabet soup stats you mention.
2. Ichiro gets a lot of singles, but he’s not really a great hitter. His OPS+ is OK but well below the level of greatness for a corner outfielder. His career OPS+ is the same as Ken Griffey Sr, and worse than Shawn Green’s
3. He’s a good, but not great hitter, but rises to the level of the game’s greats when you consider his defense, throwing, baserunning, and avoiding the double play. The little things in his case really add up.
As you might be able to tell from an article I did earlier this year, I fall into camp #3. But I wonder how sure we can be that his defense is really great. The evidence for is consistent high runs saved totals from UZR (using BIS data on Fangraphs), John Dewan’s defensive ratings from The Fielding Bible (using BIS data, Dewan’s company), TotalZone data (from retrosheet, my creation) and the fact he’s won a gold glove every season since he came to America. The evidence against is, to my knowledge, STATS – based defensive ratings, which were the original source data for UZR, and Zone Rating, which show Ichiro to be closer to an average fielder. Another point in Ichiro’s favor, regarding where his defense should rank, is his speed.
Outfield defense is strongly correlated to speed, and by speed scores Ichiro rates as the fastest right fielder of the last 47 years. I used Baseball Reference Play Index to find all right fielders from 1962 to 2009 who played at least 750 games in right field, and calculated their speed scores. I chose 1962 since that seems to be a good point where speed scores are valid. Maury Wills brought the stolen base back that year. From the 20’s to the 50’s, very few players attempted to run. I believe that speed scores, as invented by Bill James, were meant to be used for leagues that run as often as modern leagues do.
Anyway, Ichiro has the best career speed rating for rightfielders in this group. With a 7.5 raing, there is as much distance between him and #2 as there is between #2 and #8. The top scores:
1. 7.5 Ichiro
2. 6.7 Bobby Bonds
3. 6.5 Terry Puhl
4. 6.2 Raul mondesi
5. 6.2 Ken Griffey Sr.
6. 6.1 Claudell Washington
7. 6.1 Reggie Sanders
8. 5.9 Darryl Strawberry
9. 5.9 Michael Tucker
10. 5.8 Andre Dawson
The average rightfielder in this group has a 4.8 speed score, represented by Dan ford, Dante Bichette, and Tony Oliva.
The slowest in this group of 67 players are:
63. 3.2 Harold Baines
64. 3.0 Manny Ramirez
65. 2.9 Jay Buhner
66. 2.9 Jeff Burroughs
67. 2.5 Ken Singleton
It should not surprise us that Ichiro rates well above average in a stat attempting to measure range relative to average. Just look at the average right fielder. Ichiro can run rings around these guys.