Originally posted on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 2/21/12

For the last 11 seasons, Ichiro Suzuki at the top of the order has been the one constant in Seattle. Ichiro isn’t leaving Seattle, but as Eric Wedge announced today, he won’t be leading off for the Mariners any more:

#Mariners manager Eric Wedge just announced that Ichiro will hit 3rd in the lineup this season.

— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) February 21, 2012

For most of his career, Ichiro has been the prototypical leadoff hitter. Even without taking a bunch of walks, Ichiro has managed to post good-to-great on-base percentages and set the table for the rest of the Mariners’ lineups. But the third hitter’s job isn’t just to get on base, it’s also to move runners around to score. Can Ichiro — especially an Ichiro feeling the effects of aging at 39 — adapt his game to fit this new role?

At the very least, if he fails it won’t be for a lack of trying:

There’s no question Ichiro has been hitting with a wider, more balanced stance so far this spring — perhaps in anticipation of hitting 3rd

— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) February 21, 2012

Ichiro just said that his new, wider batting stance is something he worked on all winter and will be permanent.

— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) February 21, 2012

Ostensibly, the move to a wider base is in an attempt to generate more power as opposed to his former contact-oriented narrow stance. Ichiro once famously said, “If I’m allowed to hit .220, I could probably hit 40 [home runs], but nobody wants that.” It appears we may finally get to test this brash statement.

Although Ichiro has never once posted an isolated power score above the league average, that’s more because he hits too many singles (elevating his batting average) than about his ability to hit for extra bases. Even in a down year in 2011, Ichiro kept his streak of 20-double seasons — all 11 of his MLB seasons — alive. But Ichiro’s career high in home runs is just 15, and the last time he hit double digits was in 2009, when he hit 11. He then proceeded to hit 11 total in the last two seasons.

Compounding all of this: Ichiro is small. We have him listed at 5-feet 11-inches tall and 172 pounds of mass. Can Ichiro even break his own record of 15 home runs? According to Baseball-Reference’s Play Index, just 18 players under six feet tall and weighing less than 175 pounds have hit 15 home runs since the 1996 season, and none of them have done it after their age 36 season. And honestly, I’m not sure some of these guys should qualify. You be the judge:

Rk Yrs From To Age 1 Jose Valentin 9 1996 2006 26-36 Ind. Seasons 2 Jose Guillen 6 2003 2010 27-34 Ind. Seasons 3 Jacque Jones 6 2000 2006 25-31 Ind. Seasons 4 Ray Durham 6 1998 2006 26-34 Ind. Seasons 5 Todd Hundley 5 1996 2002 27-33 Ind. Seasons 6 Jimmy Rollins 4 2006 2011 27-32 Ind. Seasons 7 Jose Vidro 4 2000 2003 25-28 Ind. Seasons 8 David Bell 4 1999 2004 26-31 Ind. Seasons 9 Damion Easley 3 1997 1999 27-29 Ind. Seasons 10 Brian Roberts 2 2005 2009 27-31 Ind. Seasons 11 Rob Mackowiak 2 2002 2004 26-28
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