I'm glad the New York Times had room to write about Lou Piniella and the Cubs over the weekend, because today they've been really busy with other things.
Murray Chass's Sunday baseball column focused on Piniella's role as hitting guru for Asian imports Ichiro Suzuki and now, Kosuke Fukudome.
If you've had the chance to see Fukudome in any of the Cactus League games, you know that he invariably hits with his foot in the bucket, i.e., striding toward first base with his lead foot instead of stepping toward the pitcher, which we Americans were all taught to do from our first days in Little League.
Speaking of the Japanese players, Lou explains:
“They’re very disciplined hitters,” Piniella said. “They have great work habits, they have a unique style of hitting that isn’t taught in this country. They learned it through batting practice, their instruction and they use film. They have their own way of hitting.
“They stand a little closer to the plate than American hitters. When they stride, they don’t step toward the pitcher but more toward first base or third base, depending on whether they’re left-handed or right-handed. Their top stays stationary so they’re nice and square and their hands are steady when they hit.
“It’s a unique way of hitting, but it’s effective. Ichiro can hit the ball anywhere he wants. He can spray it to left, slap it to center, pull it to right.”
Comparing Ichiro and Fukudome directly, Piniella says...
"(Fukudome) looks more like a prototype American hitter than Ichiro when he first got here. They both hold their hands high, the bats up and down not flat. They stride away from the pitcher, they don’t stride to the pitcher, they stride between first base and second base so they clear their body.”Piniella actually sees Fukudome as a cross between Ichiro and another countryman, Hideki Matsui of the Yankees. “(Fukudome is) not as fast as Ichiro and doesn’t have as much power as Matsui,” Piniella said.
In seven seasons with the Mariners, Ichiro has compiled 162-game averages of .333 AVG with an OBP/SLG/OPS line of .379/.437/816, averaging 10 HR and 39 stolen bases per season.
Matsui has played five seasons with the Yanks, compiling 162-game averages of .295 AVG with a line of .371/.485/856, 25 HR and 3 SB.
That means a true "cross" between Ichiro and Matsui would put together a .314 average with a .375/.461/836 line; 18 HR and 21 stolen bases.
Last year, Cub rightfielders hit .293 with a .375/.419/794 line and 12 HR.
So if these numbers play out, the Cubs would see an improvement over last year's production from Floyd, Jones, Murton, et al; nothing earthshaking, but an improvement nonetheless. That says nothing, of course, about the huge upside Fukudome is expected to deliver in the field.
And if Lou can provide a little dash of that guru magic...who knows how big a season Fukudome could be in for.