I found this clip of Ichiro belting home runs back when he was in high school in Japan. He couldn’t have weighed more than 130 pounds at this point, but he’s really pounding the ball. If any of you kids out there think you need PEDs to improve your strength and your slugging ability, just look at this clip. Hitting is about technique, not strength.
The Mariners have now officially inked Chone Figgins to a 4-year, $36 million contract. I think Figgins will help the Mariners in the short run, but he’s also 32 years old and the prime of his career is winding down. In the final years of this contract they’ll be paying $9 million to a guy who might now even be good enough to make the roster. The Mariners also have a $9 million option for a 5th year, but I’ll eat my hat if they end up exercising it. That’s how confident I am that Figgins will not be retaining his current skill level in 5 years. Oh well, at least we didn’t sign Marco Scutaro.
It’s not often that you can get a solid hitting lesson from one of the best hitters in the game. Some, including myself, have said Ichiro has an unorthodox hitting style that is different from every other major league hitter’s. I’m not going to back off that statement, but if you watch this video you’ll find a lot of tips from Ichiro that will work well for any hitter. Most importantly, keep the upper body back. The separation between the rotating lower body and the delayed rotation of the upper body is where most of the power in the swing comes from. It creates the whip effect that brings the bathead through the zone with enough speed to drive the ball. Here’s the video:
It only took me a week, but I’ve finally got a good video clip of the classic Ichiro vs. Mariano Rivera matchup from last weekend. The Mariners might not be in the playoff hunt, but this home run is one of those moments that people will be talking about for a long time to come. This video clip was provided by a fan who sat in the right field stands:
I came across these great video trailers on YouTube for a documentary about the Seattle Pilots. As many of you know, the Seattle Pilots played major league ball here for just one season in 1969. They were then moved to Milwaukee and became the Brewers. Seattle would not get another major league franchise for 7 years. The Pilots were a god-awful team, and they wore some of the ugliest uniforms in baseball history (then again, so did the early Mariners), but (a few) fans loved them anyway. Oh, and they played in Sicks Stadium, which had been home to the Seattle Raniers of the Pacific Coast League. Nothing like major league baseball at a minor league venue.
Ichiro amazed me once again last night in the Mariners 3-2 win over the Yankees. He beat out a routine infield ground ball for a base hit late in the game — a typical sight in his career. Then, he did what everyone knows he could do more often if he wanted to: slugging a home run to win the game in the 9th… against Mariano Rivera.
Ichiro, for the most part, is a slap hitter. He might be the only hitter in baseball who can be described as a pure linear hitter, a system of hitting that has been out-of-favor since the mid-1980’s. It was a style of hitting that worked well back then when half the stadiums in baseball featured fast artificial turf. Just hit the ball hard on the ground and it might roll through the infield and past the outfielders and right to the wall. That doesn’t work anymore now that nearly all stadiums are grass, with the exception always being Ichiro. He relishes those ground balls that die on the infield grass because he goes from the batters box to first faster than anyone in the game.
The major downside of linear hitting is the lack of power that comes with it. While it’s true that Ichiro is not a power hitter in the sense that he doesn’t hit 45 home runs every season, he’s shown that he has the ability to take his unique hitting style and use it to hit the ball for power. There are few hitters in baseball who can put balls out of the part more consistently during batting practice than Ichiro. Anyone who’s been to a Mariners game early has seen Ichiro put on a hitting clinic, launching ball after ball into the seats. He doesn’t do it that often in games because he doesn’t want to adjust his swing plane to hit more fly balls. He could gain more home runs, and some believe he could be a 40 home run/year hitter, but he’d lose all those infield hits that he collects during a season. When you’ve got speed like Ichiro, turning that infield single into a run is routine, ho-hum work.
What the Mariners needed last night was not an infield hit from Ichiro. With a runner on first base and two outs, and infield hit would have move the tying run into scoring position, but even assuming the next batter can hit .300 against one of the best relievers in the game (and that’s one hell of an assumption), that still gives the Mariners a less than 1 in 3 chance of being able to tie the game, and even longer odds of winning the game right there in the 9th inning. The Mariners needed Ichiro to hit for power, and he made the adjustment and did it? Does this validate linear hitting? Absolutely not. It just proves that Ichiro possesses superior skills compared to most major league hitters today and probably all major leagues who were linear hitters back in the 70’s and 80’s. Ted Williams, a proponent of the prevailing rotational hitting method used by most hitters in the modern game, hated the linear hitting style with a passion, but I think even he would be impressed with what Ichiro has done with it.
Seattle minor leaguer James McOwen extended his hitting streak to 44 games with a broken bat single in his final at bat last night. This ties him with Pete Rose for the longest hitting streak in professional baseball since 1954.
Watch out Joltin’ Joe, here comes James McOwen. The Mariners farmhand plays for High Desert in the California League, and he’s currently got a 42 game hitting streak going. The record for a minor league player in the modern era is held by Joe DiMaggio, who had a hit in a streak of 61 games while playing for the San Francisco Seals. There was also a streak of 69 games by Joe Wilhoit in 1919, although records of that streak are sketchy at best. DiMaggio of course holds the major league mark at 56 games. McOwen is just the 2nd minor league player since 1961 to have a streak of 40 games or more.
The Mariners used their 2nd overall pick in the first round of Tuesday’s amateur draft to select Dustin Ackley, an outfielder/first baseman out of North Carolina. Ackley lacks the size you’d expect from a first round pick, as he’s only 6′1″ and weights 184 pounds, but he does have a nice swing and can hit for some power. He’s also a left-handed hitter who can run fairly well. I don’t think he’s really “there” yet, but if he can add another 20-30 pounds of muscle over the next couple of years he could be solid big league material. Here’s a video:
It’s not every day when you can lose a game by 5 runs and still say it was close right up until the end. Mariners emergency reliever Denny Stark gave up 6 runs with 2 outs in the top of the 10th inning as Seattle went on to lose to the Rangers by a score of 7-2. The Rangers out-hit Seattle 16 to 3 in this game. The big hit came off the bat of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who hit a grand slam in that troubling 10th inning.
Mariners rookie Shawn Kelley took the mound in the 10th but only threw a few pitches before leaving the game in pain. It appears he strained a muscle on his left side.
For all you fantasy fans out there who had an interest in this game beyond the Mariners, Vincente Padilla of the Rangers started and threw eight innings, giving up just 1 earned run and 1 hit.