Ichiro!'s New Swing - March 13, 2012


=== Ichiro!'s New Swing! ===


He evidently could not get comfortable with Dustin Ackley's swing, and he has simply reverted to his lifelong way of swinging.  His front foot is probably closer to his back foot than it used to be, and he's not hinging his wrists on the backswing.

My son went, "That's kind of lame, that he would try to be able to hit another way, and not be able to."  Oh, I dunno.  The old swing is a 20-year work of art, precision-honed to generate 400-foot power from a 155-pound man.  To just trade it in for another swing is to risk losing the dynamic torsion he's worked so hard to maximize.

He does indeed draw the front knee in farther now, though.  The front shin is almost angled at the pitcher.  And he does load the bat a little bit more.  Certainly he swings noticeably harder.  

This is all a throwback to his Orix days, in which he used to pick his left foot up off the ground, swinging it back, and using a "leg kick" to hit 20-25 home runs in a short season.  Ichiro came to the U.S., became mesmerized with the 200-hit goal, and abandoned the leg kick.  I'd love to see the 25-homer version of Ichiro, and on March 13, he was swinging that way.


This harder swing could help or hurt his BABIP.  On the one hand, he's pretty much writing off the old infield-hit avalanche that he used to inflict.  On the other hand, the ball will skip through the infielders with more pace.  You tell me which factor will predominate.

There is a little bonus here:  with a man on second, Ichiro likes to bunt for a base hit.  It's nothing unusual for a leadoff hitter to bunt .500 to .700 on these plays.  Why they don't do it is a mystery, like Justin Smoak not bunting against the shift.  But the #3 position will probably bring added bunts, and profit, for Ichiro.


=== Get Your Head In the Game, Dept. ===

In this article, we concluded that Ichiro's poor 2011 was in part due to a perceptible lack of enthusiasm in his swing.  Before-and-after photos are attached.  So, obviously, Dr. D is excited about getting a chance to see him let the bat fly.

The data also show that with men on base, Ichiro is a different hitter.  He almost never strikes out with RISP, does not expand his strike zone, and he does not tennis-volley the ball to the left side.

In Ichiro's 11 years in Seattle, he has five MVP-candidate years and there have been five years in which the batter in front of him was above average.  Those years overlap with perfect precision.

Having watched him for those 11 years?  I personally believe that Ichiro dials in better when there are men on base.  Leading off the inning, he's more shrill, sort of "desperately" swinging for base hits -- often he swings at garbage pitches on 3-0 and 3-1, as if to keep the AB alive and avoid the walk.  But with men on, he seems to be thinking about the scoreboard.

He's been isolated in the leadoff spot lately, playing for losing teams, with terrible hitters in front of him.  Ho-hum, here's another at-bat, down by four runs, two outs, nobody on.  He has passed the time by chasing 200 hits.


=== Chicks Dig the Long Ball ===

Ichiro has averaged a good 9 homers per 162 games even in Safeco, including seasons with 15, 13, and 11 homers.  Wade Boggs hit 24 one year.  Rickey hit 28 homers, twice.  Tony Gwynn, after hitting 3 homers at age 36, then decided to hit 16 and 17 homers the next two years, ages 37 and 38 -- in short seasons.

It wouldn't be a shock for Ichiro to hit 15-20 homers, if that's what he was intending to do.


Players whine that a change in batting slot can upset their games.  But in Ichiro's case, he really will have to play differently.  It doesn't do any good, in the middle of a rally, to slap a ball on the ground and beat the throw to 1B.  The fielder goes to 2B for the force, and you aren't credited with your single.

Ichiro's 200-hit chase has been something of an indulgence on his part.  I'm curious as to whether there is a different Ichiro, a superior Ichiro, in store.  Guess here, is that there is.



Some guy named Reid Forgrave has posted a boiler plate article on FoxSports.com about Ichiro. I say boiler plate because of things like this in the opening [emphasis mine]:
"But perhaps the most interesting story in the 2012 AL West will happen more quietly, on the often-forgotten Seattle Mariners, who lost 95 games last year and finished 29 games out of first place, and who enter this season with little hope of improvement.
And that storyline is this: Will 2012 mark the continued decline of one of the greatest pure hitters of our time, Ichiro Suzuki, a man whose astounding career has been wasted on a mostly moribund team?"
I'm not sure Ichiro's career has been "wasted". Many players, even in these days of free agency and lots of movement, play well for a long time on teams that aren't in the post-season each year. I guess thrilling Seattle fans doesn't count for much.
The remainder of the article is a singularly uninformed look at last season's decline and the prospects for this season, ending with:
"If this is the end of the road for Ichiro, we must take a step back and appreciate Ichiro for what he is: One of the finest hitters of our time, a man who ought to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, yet a player whose whole ultimately ended up being less than the sum of his parts."
Thank you, SSI and MC for a more informed and nuanced look.
NBC's Hardball Talk, in a short on Pineda's velocity today, had it right about the mainstream sites:
"part of our job here is to keep you apprised of not just the truly important stuff, but the stuff all your idiot coworkers and talk radio and stuff are ranting about..."

IcebreakerX's picture

M's got smashed in by a more motivated Tigers' lineup.
However, I have to note that while Ichiro's swing isn't significantly different, I think there's a bit of a change in the weight of his swing. The man also had a bat broken in half, which you rarely see.
I think Ichiro's new swing isn't really new, but his training with a new swing probably affected his old one in certain directions. (Also, I thought his leg kick wasn't really a kick, but more of the Ackley-style.)
This is typical Ichiro. He does the behind-the-back catches not for show, but as practice to his general defense. IIRC, he's said that if you can't complete a complex play, you won't be able to do the basics either.


the Hanshin starting pitcher, and the lineup generally?  Had a hunch that MLB hitters were going to have a rough ride with NPB pitching if played on their home soil.
Was the crowd rooting Mariners, Tigers, or just doing a Marv Albert and cheering everything exciting?
Do you know whether they used an MLB baseball?
Not taking anything away from Hanshin - maybe good NPB clubs can play with MLB clubs, like Bobby Valentine said.  
But it suddenly occurs that MLB was farsighted in its decision to let the M's and A's get fully acclimated, with baseball included, before the counting games took place?

IcebreakerX's picture

Hanshin was a 4th place team in a six team league last season. However, they do have some pitching. The starter, Iwata, had a 2.29 ERA last season over 170 innings. The M's lone run came on Wells' HR, off Japan's best closer, Fujikawa (Career K/9 of 11.95!). In short, losing to them was an embarassment, but maybe not as awful as we might be led to think. 
Tonight was definitely Hanshin home field advantage with the songs and chanting that's all Japanese baseball, and I expect the same for the Giants when the M's play them tomorrow night. Easily 15K+ of the 40K that came out were for Hanshin. In contrast, I could cheer (and heckle) the M's all day long with it so quiet when the M's were up to bat. It was nice to see the Japanese baseball fans out in force though, as the NPB previously prevented the local fans from doing their thing. 
As for the ball, in these type of games, the MLB team will play with an MLB ball and the NPB team will play with the NPB ball. But having held both, the balls are extremely similar now, with the NPB ball feeling a little bit deader than the MLB one...!
Other things... Kawasaki looked great... Horrible situational hitting, and general offensive weakness we've come to expect... The M's loaded the bases in the 5th and had RISP in at least two other innings, but they couldn't execute at all... Noesi looked a bit disengaged... Olivo showed off his arm gunning down a runner who wandered too far off second...
Iwakuma tomorrow...! Giants will probably send out their ace, Utsumi.

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