Debunking some myths about Tadahito Iguchi

With all the news that Robin Ventura plans on batting A.J. Pierzynski in the two-hole, there has been an understandable amount of consternation amongst the White Sox internet community. Since joining the team, A.J. has grounded into 112 double plays and is sporting a not so fresh .317 OBP. While his .730 OPS has been more than palatable from a catcher, that doesn't at all mean he should be given the second most at bats on the team because he is some sort of mythical "bat-handler". Despite his chiropteran management skills, he owns a .274/.296/.395/.690 line when batting second. No thanks.

This discussion resulted in one of my favorite flawed arguments being trotted out by Scott Merkin.

I'm not sure where the whole "Tadahito Iguchi was just a bat handler and not a good on-base guy" saga started, but it's always bothered me. Not only is it simply untrue, it's lazy writing.

In his 2.5 year stay on the south side, Tadahito posted a .273./.346/.419/.764 line, good for a 97 OPS+. That's a league average bat. Was he a good "bat handler", whatever the hell that actually means? If it means did he drop down a lot of sac bunts, then the answer is an unsurprising yes. He laid down 20 successful sacrifice hits in his 1,586 plate appearances. That's right, 1.2% of the time he went up to the plate, he was asked to throw away his at bat. How many times did this result in the runner actually scoring as a result of his sacrifice? Three. That's a success rate of .15. And this was with Scott Podsednik in front of him. Hooray bat-handling!

And for the more egregious declaration that he wasn't a good on-base guy, seriously? Are we even looking the numbers up at this point? One could say he wasn't a great on-base guy and be completely right to do so. His career high for a season was .352. But his career low for a season in Chicago was .340. In no world is a .340 OBP bad. But what if we choose to break it down on a yearly basis? Surely it makes more sense to assess how he performed against other hitters from his place in the lineup, yes?

  • In 2005, the AL average OBP and OPS for hitters batting second were .330 and .735. Iguchi's numbers? .338 and .772.
  • In 2006, the AL average OBP and OPS for hitters batting second were .344 and .767. Iguchi's numbers? .349 and .766.
  • In 2007, the AL average OBP and OPS for hitters batting second were .344 and .763. Iguchi's numbers? .361 and .765.

The reason the White Sox saw success from batting Tadahito Iguchi second had very little to do with his bat-handling skills. It stems much more from his ability to get on-base at an above-average rate for the league and to provide average power while doing so. To dismiss him as simply a bat-handler without a high-OBP is not only lazy, but also wrong. The third most valuable position player from the 2005 World Series Championship team deserves better.

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