Inside The Park

Baseball\’s Future in the Emerald City

Who’s the Best Position Player on the Roster?

Posted by JasonAChurchill on February 27, 2006

That’s a good question, isn’t it? The consensus would certainly agree that Felix Hernandez is already the best pitcher. But of the 13-14 position players on the roster, which one is the best baseball player?

Many would say it’s Ichiro, by a long shot. Others would claim it’s Richie Sexson.

Maybe a chosen few would claim that the best player on the Seattle Mariners’ roster is Adrian Beltre or Raul Ibanez.

Ichiro’s speed, ability to get on base at a satisfactory level (.377 career OBP) and his uncanny talent to make an impact in so many ways is probably what makes him the club’s best player.

Richie Sexson is one-dimensional. He’s the Jeff Clement among Mariners veterans. Ichiro is the Adam Jones.

Sexson has one plus skill, hitting for power. Ichiro does a lot of things pretty well, lending a hand in every area, including the occasional home run.

In the end, many would agree that Ichiro Suzuki is the best player on the team. But when it comes to value, is Sexson the victor?

One way to analyze this is to remove each player from the roster and assess the impact of their absence. Without Ichiro, Jeremy Reed probably steps in as the club’s leadoff man and even if he only modestly improves on last year’s offensive performance, can provide the M’s with a decent option at the top of the order. Reed is more than capable of posting an on-base percentage over .360. But even at .350, it’s not a problem area for the M’s.

Reed hit just .254 last season, but did draw 48 walks in 136 starts and posted a .322 OBP. The differential of 68 points between his batting average and his OBP is a nice sign, indicating he can work counts and give himself a chance to get a good pitch to hit.

Assuming he improves his batting average, say about 20 points to .275, somewhat conservatively, his OBP would naturally rise with it to the .350 range. With more hits comes more confidence and with more confidence comes even better plate discipline and more patience. It’s not out of the question that Reed puts up a .365 or better OBP in 2007.

So Ichiro’s on-base skills probaby wouldn’t be missed all that much, at least at the top of the order. And if the bench player that has replaces Ichiro in the lineup, albeit not in the same spot in the order, can get on base at similar career rates, the OBP issue is a non-problem.
His speed may, however, as the club is void of another 30+ stolen base threat. Reed may hover between 18-25 at a maximum, while Yuniesky Betancourt may swipe 15 if he’s lucky. Betancourt has the speed to steal 40, but has a light year to go in reading pitchers and game situations.

How about Ichiro’s defense in right field? Well, if he was to be erased, the M’s would probably play Ibanez in right to start the season, keep Everett int he DH role and start Matt Lawton in left. Lawton has more range than Ibanez in left, but a slightly weaker arm and is far from sure-handed. The difference is marginal, however.

Ibanez’s arm is okay in right, but the Mariners would suffer a range differential between the former catcher and the great Ichiro. But right field might be the seventh most important defensive position for the M’s, as Safeco Field creates such a defensive premium on center and left field.

Ichiro’s defense would be missed, but it wouldn’t create a glaring problem.

So where would Ichiro be sorely missed?

Other than the box office, probably not anywhere that shows up in statistics.

Richie Sexson is the exact opposite.

Sexson is the club’s lone bat that strikes fear into opposing pitchers. Pitchers pitch around him. He puts up big numbers in the middle of a lineup in which he is not only the sole protector, but one in which he is not protected.

What Sexson did last season was amazing. He stepped into a ball park with a rep for crushing right-handed power hitters and he had one of the five or six most impressive seasons a Seattle Mariners player has ever had since Safeco opened six years ago.

Perhaps only Ichiro’s 2001, Boone’s 2001, Edgar and AROD’s 2000 and Junior’s 1999 were more impressive. Sexson showed Safeco, and the baseball world, that he’s a legit 40-homer ower hitter, in the classic sense.

Without Sexson the Mariners would have probably had a replacement level bat somewhere in the lineup. beltre would have had to hit fourth, adding even more pressure to the newly signed third baseman.

Needless to say, the Mariners would have scored a lot less runs without Sexson in the lineup.

But I still contend that Ichiro is more valuable.

Ichiro is the team’s rock. Even after a sub par year in 2005, it’s clear that he’s the spark that starts the blaze. At times, he’s even the biggest flame of the fire. He is the ignitor – sorry Willie Bloomquist, it’s not you.

In a pitchers duel, Ichiro is the most dangerous player in the contest and one of the league’s scariest opponents. Imagine, if you will, a tie ballgame in the eighth or ninth inning and Ichiro is due up to lead off the inning.

The opposing manager has a lot of things to consider here. Does he try and get Ichiro to chase a bad pitch, hoping he reaches for a ball in the dirt, as he often does, and prays that the unorthodox hitter doesn’t slap a single the other way? The skipper also has to hope Ichiro doesn’t lay off those offerings and draw a walk. Though he doesn’t draw a lot of them, Ichiro has averaged more than 40 walks a season and has a career high of 68 with a median of about 50 per year. He will walk, and it may be in a game situation in which it hurts the bad guys the most.

On the other hand, does the pitcher go right after Ichiro, throwing everything at him but the dugout drinking fountain and risk making a mistake to the wiry, 5-foot-9, 170-pounder who will turn on anyone’s fastball and obey the cafe?

The point is, Ichiro is more than capable of so many things during a baseball game, that his value cannot be fully measured by statistics. He may rob David Ortiz of a two-out bases loaded double in the third inning of an eventual 4-3 Mariners win over Boston. He may gun down Mark Kotsay trying to go from first to third during a critical late-inning rally by division-rival Oakland.

He may steal second, and maybe third, one pitch before Bartolo Colon tosses a wild pitch allowing Ichiro to score the go-ahead run. Ichiro might even end the game on one swing of the bat.

Sexson’s impact on the Mariners should not be underestimated and his 2005 season was better than even the numbers suggested, considering park factors and lineup effect.

But Ichiro is a unique talent who at any given moment may win a ballgame for the Mariners in as many as five different direct ways. (Home run or other game-winning hit, game-saving catch, game-saving throw, rally-starting hit or walk, speed on bases)

Not to mention he’s the perfect squeeze-bunt candidate, whether he’s the runners at third or the batter at the plate. The impact angles for Ichiro are almost endless.

But it’s not just that he CAN accomplish so many things on the baseball field. It’s that he does. The past few years haven’t been much of a stage for the multi-talented Ichiro, but surround him with even a league-average roster and watch him prove his worth to the Seattle Mariners.

I still think in many ways Ichiro is overrated. I don’t believe he is among the elite talents in the game. He doesn’t have the impact that players such as Alex Rodrguez and Albert Pujols bring to the table day-in and day-out. Those two mega stars are among the very few that completely change the way their team’s lineup is handled. They make their teammates better, which isn’t easy to do in America’s favroite pastime. Ichiro doesn’t do that, not like the aforementioned pair.
But the daily stamp Ichiro can put on a winning team is unmatched in either league. If Ichiro were to be scouted the way a a 22-year-old minor league prospect is, he’d likely receive scouting scale grades that rivaled the combo of any player ever scouted.

He clearly has an 80 throwing arm. One of the very best in all of baseball with top shelf accuracy and laser beam velocity that has enticed the nutty fan in right field to utter the words “I think ichiro would be a good pitcher.” I’ve heard it, so believe it.

His speed is at worst a 70, in fact I’d personally give it an 80. he can swipe 40 bags a year with s good success rate. His median triples totals sit at nine per season and last year he gapped 12 of them, a career best, to go with a career high 15 home runs. Ichiro also uses his speed with precision in the field and as a pure base runner. He does occasionally make a bad read on a pitcher’s pickoff move, but other than that, he’s a plus-plus runner with intelligence.

A superb fielder with plus range and the ability to make the acrobatic catch with a flair for the dramatic, Ichiro is an easy 80 here. He never makes a mistake, never drops catchable balls, takes solid routes on balls and has unrivaled instincts. He appears to enjoy defense. And he should, he might be the best defensive right fielder of all time.
He hits for average, seemingly at will, and certainly desevres an 80 here, too. As a minor leaguer, scouts may take a look at his PPPA and make a modest assessment that Ichiro might be limited to being a .290 hitter at the major league level. But we’ve seen him hit .350 and .372 in the show, and his .332 career average is more than just an impressive number. It’s pretty special.

He wouldn’t receive an 80 grade in the power hitting department, but he certainly wouldn’t get poor grades, either. His extra-base totals and slugging percentages suggest he’s a 50-55 on the 20-80 scale. One scout I heard discussing Ichiro all but guaranteed that the M’s all-star could hit .300 and smack 25 home runs a year if he was trying to do it. We saw him hit about .300 in 2005 and he hit a mild 15 long balls. The scout suggested that Ichiro would probably sacrifice some of the pure contact he makes, meaning his strikeouts would likely rise by a fairly large margin into the low 100s.

His stolen base prowess would also suffer, as would his on-base numbers, likely.

But a .300/.340/.480, 25 HR, 25 SB, 40 BB, 100+ K Ichiro is still a scary one and it goes to show that Ichiro’s physical skills are pretty special.
Richie Sexson is a special power hitter. Truly, without a doubt. He isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime power hitter, at least not when compared (unfarily) to the steroid era players that often smacked 50-70 long balls a season. But Sexson has hall of fame power and it probably goes underappreciated considering where he’s played in his career.

Ichiro is the more value player. Ichiro is the better player. Sexson’s one talent, however, is just as special as Ichiro’s collection of skills.

It’s fun to sit here at 4:33AM and imagine the numbers these two players, both still in their prime, albeit the backside, would be able to put up if the proper compliments surrounded them.

Ichiro might just hit .340 with 20 homers and 40 steals. Sexson may go yard 50 times and drive in 140. Ichiro may hit for the cycle three or four times in a season and challenge strongly for another MVP. Richie might just challenge for that award himself.


2 Responses to “Who’s the Best Position Player on the Roster?”

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