BY Seth Kolloen 10:13AM 06/10/2011

Kolloen: Ichiro haters pointing the wrong direction

You’re wasting your arm strength pointing out to right field. Adjust your finger pointing upstairs if you must find a culprit for this woeful offense.

Ichiro is taking blame as his batting average spirals. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Politicians sometimes pick up the worst behavior of athletes: Like when a U.S. Congressman imitates Brett Favre’s seduction strategy. And sports fans sometimes latch onto the worst aspects of politics nuts: Like finding a single scapegoat. Gas prices are too high? It’s Bush’s fault! No, it’s Obama’s fault! When, of course, it’s manifestly all of our faults for buying ginormous vehicles that go through tanks of gas like Michael Pineda’s opponents go through bats.

Which brings us to Ichiro. The Mariners are again an atrocious offensive team, with a league-worst in OPS and practically every other offensive category. Adam Kennedy and Miguel Olivo* have both batted clean-up — not really a compliment to Olivo or Kennedy so much as an indictment of the rest of the Mariner roster. It’s ugly.

Not entirely coincidentally, Ichiro is mired in the worst slump of his career. And those poor souls who’ve been watching too much CNN are targeting the hit king–though they make the oddest arguments. FOX Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi thinks Ichiro should demand to bat third. Meanwhile, Steve Kelley wants Ichiro to jam his face into the ground when he slides like Miguel Olivo does.

(People lamenting Ichiro’s slump now would have a lot more credibility if I’d heard them praising him in April, when he hit .328 and the rest of the team hit a collective .220.)

Ichiro is also being maligned for being among the worst in the league in Ultimate Zone Rating, a measure of defensive prowess. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Lance Berkman, Nick Swisher, and Jayson Werth are all better right fielders than 10-time Gold Glove winner Ichiro. You decide whether that says more about Ichiro or about Ultimate Zone Rating.

A major league offense should be able to survive a bad six weeks by one player, no matter how much he makes. The M’s outage isn’t the fault of the guy standing in right field. It’s shared by the Mariners ownership and their front office hires. Not a single person, but an entire organization, with a strategy that caused the Mariners to exhaust their offensive talent just like the U.S. is exhausting the world’s oil.

While we endure the horror of Kennedy batting clean-up, over in Boston, another occasional clean-up hitter is having another stellar year. David Ortiz, known as David Arias when he was a Mariner farmhand, hit his 300th homer with the Red Sox earlier this season. He has 362 in his career now, including 15 this season (three more than the entire M’s outfield).

Ortiz is part of a unique club: He’s one of eight players to hit 300 home runs, but none of them with his original organization.

David Ortiz, 2000-2010: 339 HR
Mariners Home Run leader, 2000-2010: Bret Boone, 127 HR

When Ortiz should’ve been the M’s 2000s power source, he was leading Boston to two World Series titles. He’s the most damning example of the M’s fast trigger finger on dumping young hitting talent, but not the only one.

Carlos Guillen: Traded for a minor league shortstop in 2003, the patient, powerful Guillen helped lead the Tigers back to relevance, providing tremendous offense at short.

Carlos Guillen, 2004-2007: 65 HRs, 202 BBs
Mariners SSs, 2004-2007: 30 HRs, 113 BBs

Shin Soo-Choo: A possible solution to the left field conundrum traded away before his time. Put up Edgar Martinez like numbers the past three seasons while making a miniscule salary.

Choo, 2010: 22 HRs, $461K salary
Milton Bradley + Casey Kotchman, 2010: 17 HRs, $14.5M salary

Mike Morse: Many thought Morse’s above-average hitting with the Mariners was a fluke. He’s proved that wrong with an .820 career OPS. He’s not great in the field, but even as a DH he’d have been an improvement.

Mike Morse, 2009-2011: .514 SLG
Mariner DHs, 2009-2011: .372 SLG

Here’s the entirety of the Mariners take for Ortiz (traded in 2006), Guillen (2004), Choo (2006) and Morse (2009) : Dave Hollins, Ramon Santiago, Ben Broussard and Ryan Langerhans. None ever held a starting spot with the team for even one season.

In the past few weeks the M’s have promoted a passel of young hitters. Not all of these players will pan out, but if the Mariners are to avoid the offensive debacle of the 2000s, they must give these players chances, the big contracts of Jack Cust and Chone Figgins notwithstanding.

Given how much excellence Ichiro has given us, I find it hard to point the finger at him. I think he’ll bounce back, and provide much-needed pop to support the young players in what could be a very interesting second half of the season.

But if Ichiro continues to struggle, he, like Cust and Figgins, must make room for Carlos Peguero, Greg Halman and the like. Holding them back could result in another full decade of misery–and with gas prices what they are, I can’t afford to drive to Tacoma every time I want to see a winning baseball team.

*If it seems odd to you to see a catcher batting clean-up for the Mariners, it should. Coming into this year, the Mariners had played 5,383 games. Only seven of the 5,383 had the catcher hitting fourth. In 2011, though, Olivo batted clean-up 21 games out of the first 60. As for Kennedy, he’d batted fourth once in 1,491 career games coming into 2011. He’s started there five times this year.


YourThoughts

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1253955377 Brent Baker

    And we mustn’t forget the lead-up to the Choo trade, the getting the immortal Eduardo Perez for Asdrubal Cabrera …ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick went over that dual fleecing a couple weeks ago: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=6581022

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1253955377 Brent Baker

    And we mustn’t forget the lead-up to the Choo trade, the getting the immortal Eduardo Perez for Asdrubal Cabrera …ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick went over that dual fleecing a couple weeks ago: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/columns/story?columnist=crasnick_jerry&id=6581022

  • Michael Kaiser

    And what does that all have to do with the fact that Ichiro is in a slump, or something, and should have been batting lower in the order ten years ago?  I am betting–given the breadth of his issues right now–that he is having marital problems.

  • Michael Kaiser

    And what does that all have to do with the fact that Ichiro is in a slump, or something, and should have been batting lower in the order ten years ago?  I am betting–given the breadth of his issues right now–that he is having marital problems.

  • Skeptic

    But if the young player get too good too fast, management will apprehend that they might have to pay market value (see Jose Cruz, Jr., the last competent left fielder we had, who was stupid enough to start emerging), and trade them for a bag of magic beans.  This is a reflexively cheap outfit, and we’re never going to get a critical mass of talent.

  • Skeptic

    But if the young player get too good too fast, management will apprehend that they might have to pay market value (see Jose Cruz, Jr., the last competent left fielder we had, who was stupid enough to start emerging), and trade them for a bag of magic beans.  This is a reflexively cheap outfit, and we’re never going to get a critical mass of talent.

  • Shawnuel

    Holy cow, Seth……Don’t forget Asdrubel Cabrera of Cleveland who was traded right after Choo, for the immortal, future ESPN talking head, Eduardo Perez. Yes…the “other’ DH from Cleveland other than Broussard. Cabrera is only hitting .282 with double figure HR, tons of doubles and 40+ RBI while playing a solid to very good SS.

  • Shawnuel

    Holy cow, Seth……Don’t forget Asdrubel Cabrera of Cleveland who was traded right after Choo, for the immortal, future ESPN talking head, Eduardo Perez. Yes…the “other’ DH from Cleveland other than Broussard. Cabrera is only hitting .282 with double figure HR, tons of doubles and 40+ RBI while playing a solid to very good SS.

  • http://twitter.com/Shawnuel Shawn McLaughlin

    oops….sorry Brent….didn’t see you already covered it.

  • http://twitter.com/Shawnuel Shawn McLaughlin

    oops….sorry Brent….didn’t see you already covered it.

  • Terry Benish

    Really you wrote that?  Point me to where you refute he is regressing?  Since June of last year his monthly OPS have slid well below his career OPS and even the level shown in April-June of 2010.  Most teams play outfield depth at a little league depth.  Most pitchers throw at his feet early in count, then pitch him a way.  He’s unable to sit on pitches and is unwilling to adjust.

  • Terry Benish

    Really you wrote that?  Point me to where you refute he is regressing?  Since June of last year his monthly OPS have slid well below his career OPS and even the level shown in April-June of 2010.  Most teams play outfield depth at a little league depth.  Most pitchers throw at his feet early in count, then pitch him a way.  He’s unable to sit on pitches and is unwilling to adjust.

  • Michael Kaiser

    I thought I also would comment on something that does not even remotely implicate you alone, as you will see, but rather just bring it up.  The term “Haters” seems to really be in vogue these days.  However, it reminds me of something two children might voice at each other on the playground in their early primary-school years.  ”You’re a hater,” “No, you’re a hater,” and then maybe one sticks out my tongue at the other person.  But then again, we live in the age of “My bad,” which sounds like something someone leaving the age of three or four would no longer even say.

    • eYe M dEf

      If you had written your diatribe about the term “haters” and “my bad” about a dozen years ago when they both injected themselves beyond just the inner city playgrounds to take their place in the common vernacular of English language, it might have made more sense.

      But seeing as to how long both have gone from being just “in vogue” to having cemented their place amongst the most common of American discourse for well over a decade now, your outrage comes across as far too little and way too late.  It helps your cause if you’re not at least ten years behind the times. You’re not even in the right millennium.

  • Michael Kaiser

    I thought I also would comment on something that does not even remotely implicate you alone, as you will see, but rather just bring it up.  The term “Haters” seems to really be in vogue these days.  However, it reminds me of something two children might voice at each other on the playground in their early primary-school years.  ”You’re a hater,” “No, you’re a hater,” and then maybe one sticks out my tongue at the other person.  But then again, we live in the age of “My bad,” which sounds like something someone leaving the age of three or four would no longer even say.

    • eYeDEF

      If you had written your diatribe about the term “haters” and “my bad” about a dozen years ago when they both injected themselves beyond just the inner city playgrounds to take their place in the common vernacular of English language, it might have made more sense.

      But seeing as to how long both have gone from being just “in vogue” to having cemented their place amongst the most common of American discourse for well over a decade now, your outrage comes across as far too little and way too late.  It helps your cause if you’re not at least ten years behind the times. You’re not even in the right millennium.