Did anyone see the news coming about Ichiro Suzuki hitting third in the lineup this season? Well, according to the team’s Twitter feed that is exactly what is going to happen. Yesterday they tweeted:
“manager Eric Wedge just announced that Ichiro will hit 3rd in the lineup this season.”
Now the questions are how does that affect not only Suzuki’s potential value and who will hit leadoff? First let’s tackle Suzuki, who has primarily hit at the top of the order since making his Major League debut in 2001. He’s been the prototypical leadoff hitter, with a career .326 average to go along with 10 seasons of at least 30 SB (five of at least 40 SB).
You obviously don’t have to be a power hitter to be a successful #3 hitter, and I wouldn’t expect Suzuki to suddenly hit 25+ HR. He has a career high of 15, but has had 10+ just three times. Maybe he does try to hit the ball over the fence more than he has previously in his career, but he’s not going to be a source of power. It’s just hard to imagine it happening given his lengthy track record.
With the Mariners lack of true threats in the lineup, there is no reason to think that he isn’t going to have the opportunity to run from the third spot either. Is Mike Carp or Jesus Montero going to keep Suzuki glued to first base? I wouldn’t think so. Obviously, if people are clogging the bases in front of him things will be different, but 30+ SB is still a realistic possibility.
Of course you would also think that moving from the leadoff spot would hurt his ability to score runs, but the lack of offense has already done that for him. He had scored 88 runs or less in each of the past three seasons, so how much worse can it really going to get? He wasn’t likely to score 100, and he still isn’t, but seeing him reach the same levels that he has is very realistic. In fact, you can argue that it will be better since he’ll be hitting right in front of the Mariners “power” hitters. When he gets on base he will definitely have the middle of the order behind him, instead of seeing the #2 hitter potentially end the inning.
You couple that with improved opportunities for RBI and things look pretty good. He has driven in as many as 68 RBI in a season before and seeing him exceed that level is very possible. Could he go for 80 RBI? Yes, especially with Dustin Ackley likely sliding into the second spot in the order. The move to third spot makes him a good bet for 80/80, with the potential for more.
In other words, is there anything not to like from his move down the lineup? Instead of being a two or three dimensional offensive weapon he suddenly has a chance to fill the stat sheet (outside of being a big HR hitter). Suddenly, while others are writing Suzuki off due to his age and recent struggles, he now becomes a bargain for those in deeper formats.
As for the rest of the lineup, the biggest impact is likely at the top as you need someone to hit before Ackley and Suzuki. Enter Chone Figgins, who has fallen into the fantasy abyss but could suddenly re-emerge as a viable option.
We all know how bad he was in 2011 (.188, 1 HR, 11 SB), but he was exceptionally unlucky with a .215 BABIP. He also was being asked to hit outside the leadoff spot, the spot in the lineup where he has always thrived. Just look at the difference from 2009 to 2010:
- 2009 (615 AB hitting leadoff for the Angels) – .298, 5 HR, 54 RBI, 114 R, 42 SB
- 2010 (590 AB hitting second for the Mariners) – .256, 1 HR, 34 RBI, 61 R, 41 SB
You can give a lot of reasons for the difference, but it’s hard to overlook the spot in the lineup. He is going to be given ample opportunities to run and, while he isn’t likely to score 100+ runs, you would think that he is going to be better than he has been the past two years.
Maybe he thrives in the leadoff spot and maybe he is done as a productive fantasy player. However, with 3B eligibility, he is well worth taking the late round flier. The Mariners are letting him go back to his roots and hopefully, with improved luck, they are going to reap the benefits. If nothing else, he should be a nice low-end source of SB.
What are your thoughts on the Mariners decision? Do you think Figgins could stick in the leadoff spot? Will Suzuki thrive in the third spot?
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