Eric Wedge recently broke the news that struggling and overpaid Mariners third baseman Chone Figgins would begin the 2012 campaign in the leadoff position. This left all Mariner fans wondering, “what’s happening to Ichiro”? Wedge announced today that Ichiro will be hitting in the third spot, meaning that Dustin Ackley will be hitting second. As the Mariners manager put it, “I feel like our best opportunity to score runs is with Ichiro hitting third for us. It helps the guy in front of him, it helps the guy behind him.” Here is why Eric Wedge is a total genius.
Chone Figgins. Love him or hate him (and you have absolutely ZERO reason to love him since he became a Mariner), he is not getting paid nine million dollars a year to sit on the bench. Wedge rotated Figgins all over the lineup in the past two seasons to see where he would best fit and the answer was simply nowhere. One of the few constants in the M’s batting order the past three seasons has been leadoff hitter (enter Ichiro), meaning it was the only place that did not seem reasonable to test out Figgins. The other two constants have been the Mariners offense sucking and Chone Figgins being completely unable to hit a ball. Having Chone bat first in the lineup will give him a chance to not only get pitches to hit (in case one wanted to make the argument that pitchers were pitching around him to face other, also sucky, Mariner batters), but revive his career. Figgins will be followed in the order by two of the best contact hitters in baseball in Ackley and Ichiro. Not giving him pitches to hit would be asinine. This is the only option the M’s have left before fully realizing that they threw thirty-six million dollars down the toilet.
Ichiro hitting third is brilliant. Think about it, Seattle doesn’t have much chance of watching a playoff caliber baseball team this year. Even if this team began to hit the ball at a league average rate, the Rangers and Angels decided to be two of the biggest players in the offseason. Why not give Ichiro a chance to show the power that he supposedly has? Suzuki won seven batting titles in Japan while recording more at-bats in the third position than leading off. It’s not like this is new territory for him.
Now let’s get hypothetical, because isn’t that what predictions are all about? Let’s say Figgins becomes an average hitter and bats around .280. Ackley follows him and hits .280 as well. Ichiro’s triple line with runners in scoring position in over thirteen hundred opportunities is .333/.436/.411 along with an .847 OPS. For those who don’t speak baseball nerd, all you need to know is that Ichiro is really good with runners in scoring position. Ichiro is clearly the best overall hitter on this team and has 10 years of batting practice speculation to back up the fact that he very well may be the best power hitter as well.
In all honesty, Ichiro probably won’t hit 30 homeruns this year. But he’ll get on base. That’s a fact. It may not be at his old rate, as last season showed, but he’s still a threat to be in the top five average hitters in the AL. Suzuki will be followed by Smoak, Gutierrez, Montero, Carp, Olivo and Ryan in some order. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Ryan is hitting ninth, as his upside is nonexistent. The Mariners have some legitimate potential behind their first three contact hitters. Montero and Smoak are not far removed from being considered some of the best young bats in all of minor league ball. Gutierrez is two years removed from hitting .283 with 18 homeruns and we all know what magical Carp fish did last season (12 homeruns in only 290 at bats). This lineup has potential. Say it again. And again. It may take awhile to believe, but it’s there. Trust me.
All in all Eric Wedge is at the point with this team where he has nothing to lose. Nobody in Seattle is expecting a playoff team this season. Why not go for a whole new approach to a batting order and have your first three bats be high contact hitters, followed by five guys that all have the potential to swing the bat well. Wedge’s idea is pure genius and this organization is trying to make things happen to revive a dead batting lineup. Why not try something new and swing for the fences?