Monday, October 09, 2006

The Truth About Ichiro

You may be wondering why I called this entry "The Truth About Ichiro". No, I haven't suddenly discovered that he's actually an alien from the planet Krypton or anything, don't worry.

True/False: Every game Ichiro started in his last year in Japan, he played right field and batted cleanup.

(For the answer, read on.)

You see, there's this myth going around that Ichiro played centerfield for a large proportion of his time in Japan, which is almost always propogated by people writing articles about Ichiro's move to CF this year on the Mariners. And quite frankly, that myth is wrong. I've always thought that Ichiro was primarily a rightfielder, but I never had data to back it up. Well, now I do.

A few weeks/months ago, I found this amazing page of every starting lineup in Japan from 1981 onward. While it's true that the starting orders don't necessarily indicate how many innings a player played at each position, it does indicate where they batted in the order, and generally what position they were playing, doesn't it? (I'm sure there's a databank somewhere that DOES have the exact innings that he played at each position, but I haven't found it, so this is what I do have. I don't think there's a Japanese version of Retrosheet, unfortunately.)

I wote a Perl script to parse out the starting lineup information for both Ichiro and Johjima. You can view the long outputs with breakdowns per year here:

Ichiro starting lineup spots, 1994-2000
Johjima starting lineup spots, 1995-2005

Ichiro, a summary, in 857 starts:
Lineup spot:
1st : 311
2nd : 40
3rd : 399
4th : 107

Position starts:
LF : 24
CF : 225
RF : 608
That is to say, he started about 70% of his games in right field. If you look at the text file with the extended breakdowns, you'll see that the last time he started over half his games in centerfield was 1995. The last time he started more than 10 games in centerfield was 1997. In 2000, his last year in Japan, EVERY game he started, he was batting cleanup and playing right field. He batted leadoff primarily for the 1994-1996 seasons, and batted third for almost all of 1997-1999.

So, before people go off saying that Ichiro spent his entire career in Japan as a leadoff-batting centerfielder, maybe they should look at the data.

As for Johjima, in 1072 starts:
Lineup spot:
3rd : 38
4th : 35
5th : 443
6th : 360
7th : 105
8th : 88
9th : 3

Position starts:
C : 1039
1B : 11
DH : 22
Johjima's an interesting case. He started out batting 7th/8th a lot, then worked his way up to 6th, and then spent most of his last few years batting in the 5-spot. So when I originally said that I thought he'd never batted higher than 5th, I was wrong, but when I said he spent most of his career batting 5th or 6th, I was right. Either way, starting a bazillion games per season is nothing new to him, but batting third is not actually where he was accustomed to hitting, and he never batted 2nd, either.

It's funny looking at who he batted behind in more recent years, too. The 2005 3-4-5 was usually Batista-Matsunaka-Johjima, and in 2003 and 2004 it was often Iguchi-Matsunaka-Johjima (yes, THAT Iguchi). Before that, Hiroki Kokubo batted 5th in front of him.

So, yeah. I hope this dispels some myths, though I fully expect to keep seeing articles where people insist Ichiro played centerfield for most of his time in Japan anyway.

(It's funny, though, because when I asked a friend in Japan whether he knew where I could get more concrete data on this, he laughed, like "I could have told them that without having to open up a stat book. Hell, I was the reverse: I didn't even know he'd ever played CF. He was always in right. At Orix he'd drop runners on the way to third like sacks of meat with sniper fire from deep right. He'd do that Superman shit catching hard liners out there. He owned right field.")

Speaking of which, congratulations to the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks for beating the Seibu Lions in today's playoff game and advancing to Second Stage! Hayato Terahara held together amazingly well, and it did come down to the bullpens in the eighth inning, with Hoshino walking Nakazawa and Matsunaka before Yamagishi came in and gave up a three-run homer to Julio Zuleta. Matoba doubled in another run and Matsunaka doubled another in the 9th. The final score was 6-1 Hawks. Now, onward to Wednesday, wherein I start cheering for the right team again. GO FIGHTERS! Yu Darvish was announced as the Fighters' starter for the first game. No idea who'll be up for Softbank; I'm guessing Saitoh, but who knows.

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