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Could Ichiro have hit more home runs?

There's an oft-repeated belief that with a different approach, Ichiro could have sacrificed some average for additional power. Do any similar players actually hit for power?

We know Ichiro can pitch - could he feasibly hit home runs?
We know Ichiro can pitch - could he feasibly hit home runs?
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Ichiro Suzuki is a player that inspires many thought pieces. One of the most consistent narratives about him is the effortless way he plays the game, and it has led to the belief that he could do basically anything on baseball field, and improve at anything on the baseball field if he adjusted his approach. A prime example of this was his relief pitching appearance on the last day of the 2015 season.

A frequent refrain of this genre is the idea that had he wished, Ichiro could have sacrificed some of his batting average for more power (specifically more home runs). I was curious to find the player with Ichiro's body type who produced the most power.

For the purposes for this post, Ichiro's "body type" is defined as an up the middle player (SS/2B/CF) less than or equal to six feet tall, with a listed weight of no more than 180 pounds. Baseball-Reference's Play Index was employed to rank the top ISOs produced by players of this kind over the last five seasons (2011-2015).

Player Year Age ISO+ ISO BB% K% SB HR
Mookie Betts 2015 22 125 .188 7.0% 12.5% 21 18
Jimmy Rollins 2012 33 117 .177 8.9% 13.7% 30 23
Dustin Pedroia 2011 27 116 .167 11.8% 11.6% 26 21
Jimmy Rollins 2014 35 112 .151 10.5% 16.4% 28 17
Jed Lowrie 2013 29 109 .156 7.6% 13.7% 1 15
Dustin Pedroia 2012 28 106 .160 7.7% 9.6% 20 15
Erick Aybar 2011 27 99 .142 5.1% 11.2% 30 10
Jose Altuve 2015 25 97 .146 4.8% 9.7% 38 15
Alexi Amarista 2012 23 96 .145 5.7% 14.0% 8 5
Jimmy Rollins 2011 32 91 .131 9.2% 9.4% 30 16

Out of 54 players to fit this criteria and play at least 100 games, these are the top ten as ordered by ISO relative to league average (here called ISO+). Over the last five years, Mookie Betts has displayed the most power of any small up-the-middle players, with his .188 ISO being 25 percent better than the 2015 league average.

Overall, it doesn't look like there's a high ceiling for a player of Ichiro's size, but there's significant distance between the ceiling that does exist and Ichiro. He is particularly penalized for playing during the steroid era, but his weighted career ISO+ average is only 60 ----- 40 percent below league average.

If we're only concerned about home runs and not total power, there is also some recent precedent for an increase from similar sized players. Jimmy Rollins and Dustin Pedroia each have multiple double-digit totals over the last five seasons, with the former doing so four times.

While it doesn't seem feasible that any player of Ichiro's stature is likely to hit 30 home runs in today's game, there is the potential that a player of Ichiro's skills hit for significantly more power than he displayed during his peak.

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Spencer Bingol is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @SpencerBingol.