SEATTLE — Seattle Mariners manger Eric Wedge hinted last fall that there would be changes made to the top of the order in the lineup. Saturday, it was reported that washed up third baseman Chone Figgins would return to the leadoff spot this season taking the slot Ichiro has held since he signed with the team in 2001.
With Figgins leading off the question was how far did Wedge drop the 10-time All Star. Given Ichiro’s style of play he’s best suiting to hit leadoff, eight or ninth in the lineup. Dustin Ackley, the teams top prospect in 2011, found his calling in the three hole after being called up on June 17th.
That didn’t seem to matter to Wedge who announced Tuesday that the two-time AL batting champion will hit third this season. While Wedge feels that batting Ichiro is the “best fit” for the club it’s hard to defend that statement given the additions of Jesus Montero, and the return of Miguel Olivo and Justin Smoak.
“I had the opportunity to watch Ichiro and all these other guys all of last year, and this is our best fit,” Wedge said.
Moving Ichiro isn’t a surprise to any but hitting him third is a flat out mistake. Even though Ichiro is a lock to give you 160 starts it doesn’t validate slotting him in an area of the lineup you’re where you need power. At 38 years-old he’s not getting younger and his numbers dropped off drastically last season hitting under .300 for the first time in his career.
He also failed to reach 200 hits last season, something that coming into the season was always guaranteed. His on base percentage was .310, 49 points lower than 2010 and 65 points lower than his career average before last season (.675). Just about every statistical number that matters to hitters Ichiro’s went down.
For a club that had the historically worst offense in Major League history last season, hitting a 38-year-old singles oriented player won’t help your cause to improve.
Jesus Montero, the Mariners prized offseason acquisition, would make more sense hitting third. At 22 Montero is already being compared to Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera in terms of his potential, and more importantly his bat. ESPN Scouts Inc. Keith Law said of Montero “If this guy can’t hit for power in Safeco, then I don’t know if there is a right-handed-hitting prospect who is going to hit for power in Safeco.”
A pitcher friendly park, Safeco has seen it’s share of great power hitters come in and hit well below their career averages and leave to find success elsewhere. Third baseman Adrian Beltre, who left the Mariners to sign with the Red Sox in 2010, only hit 25 or more home runs three times in five years.
The other two years he hit 19 and eight, the first and last year of his contract. Compared to his 28 in Fenway and 32 in Arlington Beltre, much like others, have benefited from leaving Safeco’s confines.
Whether it’s Ackley, Montero or Justin Smoak, every single player would make a better three hole hitter than Ichiro.
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