Now that the M's have signed free agent third baseman Chone Figgins away from the division rival Angels, they're faced with two "good problems." First, given that Figgins can play virtually any position on the field, do they keep him at third, where he's mainly played in the past? And do they bat him second after Ichiro, despite the fact that he's grown accustomed to leading off for one of the best teams in baseball?
Meet the man who should replace Ichiro as the Mariners' leadoff hitter.
To the former, the club couldn't be more wishy-washy. But as for the latter, they're a firm "probably."
They should rethink that last answer, for a handful of compelling reasons.
Despite Ichiro's considerable wheels, Figgins is a better base-stealing threat (42 to 26 for Suzuki last year) who walks (a league-leading 101 to a paltry 32 for the free-swinging Ichiro) and strikes out (114 to Ichiro's 71) more than the Mariner right fielder. And while Ichiro has a considerable edge in the batting average (.352 to .Figgins' .298) department, Figgins' on-base percentage is slightly better (.395 to Ichiro's .386)--the more important of the two figures for a leadoff hitter. Their power numbers, meanwhile, are basically a wash, with Ichiro being the slightly better home run threat and Figgins being the slightly better RBI man.
I'd argue that, given this set of numbers, you want the guy who's more strikeout prone to lead off. That way, if he whiffs, you've got the ultimate "backup" leadoff hitter ready to start things off in the on-deck circle. If Figgins gets on base, he's the better threat to steal, with Ichiro in the batter's box as the superior contact hitter should he advance to scoring position.
Of course, if you choose to lead Figgins off, you could bat Ichiro third, which the M's have tried before on an experimental basis. That might make the most sense politically, as the player who bats third is generally considered to be a team's finest all-around batsman. Consequently, it would certainly soften the blow to Ichiro's ego if you moved him there instead.
But while Franklin Gutierrez showed promise batting second last year, he seemed most comfortable hitting a little further down in the order. (The prospect of a slap-hitting one-two-three punch of Figgins, Endy Chavez, and Ichiro leaves us a little--okay, a lot--limp, hence our failure to seriously consider it here.) And assuming the M's aren't going to move Jose Lopez, he had a fine year offensively in the three-hole last year, so batting him elsewhere would be messing with success.
Hence, starting the game off with Figgins and Ichiro, and not vice versa, clearly makes the most sense, assuming that Ichiro's willing to swallow his pride for the good of the team.