Arraez's fan club has found its president: Ichiro!

June 15th, 2022

SEATTLE -- It's safe to say at this point that Luis Arraez is one of the game's foremost contact hitters, with his .362 average and .444 on-base percentage entering Tuesday both leading the Majors by wide margins.

Apparently, that has caught the notice of one of the greatest contact hitters in the history of baseball.

Twins play-by-play broadcaster Dick Bremer learned in a chat with Ichiro Suzuki before Tuesday's matchup between the Twins and Mariners at T-Mobile Field that Ichiro considers Arraez to be his favorite left-handed hitter in today's game and wanted to meet Arraez -- and the pair indeed met for a brief chat and handshakes on the field after the Mariners took batting practice.

"It's big," said a beaming Arraez after the meeting. "I didn't know he thought about me. I'm excited because I know I'm a good hitter, but like him? I don't think so. Ichiro was a really good hitter."

"Wow, that’s a hell of a compliment," manager Rocco Baldelli said when he learned of Ichiro's comments.

It's no surprise that Ichiro identifies strongly with Arraez's game. Though Ichiro's contact-oriented skillset was much more prevalent around the Majors when the 10-time All-Star began his 19-year big league career in Seattle, that style of play has all but lapsed from the modern game.

Arraez is a glaring exception to that, focusing almost solely on slashing line drives all over the field and having elevated his game to a new level with his .362/.444/.436 line in 53 games, with more walks (26) than strikeouts (18). He's the king of contact, with an 8.3 percent whiff rate that is nearly three full percentage points lower than that of his nearest qualified competitor, José Ramírez (11.2 percent).

"[Ichiro] said, 'You're bueno, man! You're bueno!'" Arraez said. "I said, 'Thank you, man, I appreciate you.' It's amazing."

Now a special assistant to the chairman in the Mariners' front office, the 48-year-old Ichiro was a player Arraez watched "a lot" growing up, the younger hitter said. Once Arraez learned in the clubhouse that Ichiro wanted to meet him, he made sure to get outside to the field early so that he could watch Ichiro shag fly balls in the outfield while the Mariners hit and not miss his opportunity.

"I watched him play catch in right field, and he took a lot of fly balls there, like normal," Arraez said. "I think he could play baseball again."

Arraez didn't think his style was all too similar to that of Ichiro -- he noted that Ichiro had much better speed and baserunning skills, and Baldelli noted that the style and mechanics of their swings are very different, despite the similarities in their batted-ball results.

Ichiro was an elite basestealer, while Arraez has six steals in his career. But Arraez gets on base more efficiently, with a career on-base percentage more than 30 points higher than that of Ichiro. Arraez's .444 on-base percentage entering Tuesday was also 30 points higher than Ichiro's best individual mark -- .414 in 2004.

"I mean, Ichiro had skills upon skills, and he was doing things, kind of creating his own mold in the way that he did it," Baldelli said. "Luis is kind of like that now. We’re not comparing players right now in this conversation, but Luis has his own style as well, and I think the longer he continues to go out there and perform the way he is, the more I think the league and baseball fans everywhere will take a lot of notice of what Luis can do."

He's right -- one of the greatest of all time has already taken notice, and went out of his way to say so.