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Stupid ESPN Debate: Pujols or Ichiro

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ESPN.com is once again having trouble finding regular content, as they're running this fluff piece debating the merits of selecting Albert Pujols vs. Ichiro as your franchise cornerstone.

Ichiro is an incredible talent, but he is very clearly not in the same league as Pujols. Sean McAdam, who drew the short straw in having to defend Ichiro in this travesty of an article, starts it off like this:

Looking for the perfect player around which you can build your team? Start at the logical place: the top.

The top of the Seattle Mariners lineup, that is.

Weak puns aside, McAdams kicks things off with a loaded statement, calling the top of the order the "logical" place to look for the best player. He continues:

It might be something of a stretch to label Ichiro a five-tool player since, in his four years with the Mariners, he's hit a total of 37 homers. Only once in those four seasons has Ichiro reached double figures in homers.

But that's nitpicking.

Nitpicking? Quickly, name the five greatest hitters of all time. In no particular order, I've got Ruth, Williams, Bonds, Gherig, and Hornsby, and a case could certainly be made for Mantle, Cobb, Mays, and a few others. The lowest slugging percentage of any of these guys is Ty Cobb at .512 for his career. Ichiro, who plays in one of the most offensively-prolific eras of all time, has a career SLG of .444. I don't think McAdam is trying to compare Ichiro to the best players of all time, but my point is that pointing out someone's inability to hit homeruns and then chalking it up to nitpicking is irresponsible and flat-out wrong.

Last season, when he smashed the single-season hit record with 262, he compiled a .414 on-base percentage, second-highest in the American League.

Yes, last year Ichiro was outstanding. Do you know what his career OBP is? .385. Good? Yes. Good enough to be your franchise player? Ehh, maybe. Good enough to overtake Pujols and his career .412 OBP? Not likely.

Of course, the ultimate measuring stick of a leadoff hitter is not how frequently he reaches base - it's how frequently he rounds them. Here, too, Ichiro is a standout. He's scored 101 or more runs in each of his four seasons, including an astounding 127 in his rookie season of 2001. Undoubtedly, his relatively modest figure last year (101) would have been far higher if the Mariners had a more productive middle of the lineup.

There are so many things wrong with this I don't know where to begin. Firstly, the ultimate measuring stick of a leadoff hitter is to get on base. It is not how many runs you score, it's how often you get on base. Unless you're hitting a ton of homeruns, you have to get on base so people hitting behind you have an opportunity to drive you in.

Not only that, but just two lines later McAdam blames Ichiro's low runs scored total last season on his own team's inability to drive him in. So let me get this straight: scoring runs is a much more important attribute of a player than his ability to get on base, even though very clearly those runs are a direct result of the productivity of the rest of the team. You can't make this stuff up!

For the record, in their first four seasons in the Major Leagues, Ichiro and his incredible run scoring ability has amassed 450 runs to Pujols and his lumbering, extra-base-hitting talents have accrued only 500 runs. Wait... what? Yes, Sean, Pujols actually has scored more runs than Ichiro, whatever that's worth.

McAdam then carries on for several paragraphs about Ichiro's baserunning/stealing, which is quite good, as well as his talents in the field. While Ichiro certainly has a strong and accurate throwing arm, his range in the outfield is not otherworldly. According to UZR, Ichiro is worth about 7 runs above replacement defensively, which is equivalent to approximately two-thirds of one win. Interestingly enough, when Pujols played left field he was worth 10 UZR runs, or about one whole win. That's certainly something less now that he's a full-time first-baseman, but it serves to show that Ichiro's defense is not as valuable as some make it out to be.

McAdam closes his argument thusly:

Run producers? There's plenty of those around. But there's no one in the game who can do as many things as well as Ichiro does.

Yea, who needs run producers when you can have a guy with above-average on-base skills wait around for your silly "run producers" to knock him in. I feel bad for McAdam, who clearly showed up late for a meeting or something and ended up having to defend Ichiro against Pujols. He did as well as can be expected given the material he had to work with.