Can Ichiro sustain his 2012 performance with the Yankees? (Image: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Can Yankees’ Ichiro Continue Where He Left Off?

Ichiro Suzuki used to be good with the Seattle Mariners. Then he was not good with the Seattle Mariners. Then he was good with the New York Yankees. On the one hand, Ichiro is 39 years old and showed major signs of decline early last year. On the other hand, the short porch in right clearly helped Ichiro produce, and his performance as a Yankee was very encouraging.

So what should we expect from Ichiro next year? If he can do what he did in his short time with the Yankees, he will be an incredibly valuable asset to the team. If he does what he did with the Mariners, he will be essentially useless, and should be benched or platooned at the very least.

Mike Axisa analyzed Ichiro’s 2012 season over at RotoGraphs yesterday. Here’s what he had to say:

Always an elite contact hitter, Ichiro never stopped making contact and putting the ball in play with the Mariners. His walk rate dropped a touch in recent years and even moreso with New York (just 2.1 BB%), but it’s not like he started swinging and missing more in his late-30s. That would have been an enormous red flag for a BABIP-reliant guy. Ichiro is going to make contact and he’s going to beat the ball into the ground, and it’s worth noting his infield hit rate with the Yankees (14.2%) was nearly double his rate with the Mariners (7.4%) and his highest in three years. That might not happen again, which would cut into the batting average numbers.

Mike concludes that Ichiro will likely not have the same power that he showed at the end of last year, but that with a little luck on balls in play, he could have a high average and steal a lot of bases. I tend to agree, but I’ll admit that I’m more pessimistic about Ichiro than some.

Ichiro’s success with the Yankees came in only 240 plate appearances, or about one third of a season. That’s not a large sample, and about half the sample of his time in Seattle.

Based on FanGraphs’ sample size cheat sheet, 240 plate appearances isn’t enough to make home run rate, HR/FB, BA, OBP, or SLG reliable. It does make strikeouts, walks, and FB% reliable, but Ichiro’s walk rate went down, strikeout rate stayed about the same, and fly ball rate went down, meaning that the home runs were likely more a product of luck than skill (though surely Yankee Stadium had something to do with it as well).

Long story short, while I believe that Ichiro is better than he showed in Seattle last year, and while I like his defense in right field, I do not believe he is even an average hitter, and I think that the Yankees should look for other options to share right field with Ichiro.

Questions for discussion:

1) In 2013, will Ichiro be closer to his 2012 Seattle performance or his 2012 New York performance?

2) Should the Yankees look for other options in right field?

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Tags: Ichiro Suzuki New York Yankees

  • Bill B

    5 or 6 months changes everything? It is amazing how quickly you are writing him off. ” I do not believe he is even an average hitter”. On what basis can you believe this. Deep into a season he goes from a docile environment to Broadway and produces a higher average than any other Yankee and he is not even an average hitter? There is nor reason to think he will not hit .290 or higher. Steal 30 bases and play an excellent right field. he is well liked and a good influence in the clubhouse. I think he hits 30 + doubles. You realize I highly disagree with your assessment?

    • Matt Hunter

      Haha I do realize this. Last year, the league average OPS was .724. Ichiro’s OPS for the whole season was .696. The year before it was .645. He is 39 years old. Much of his value comes from his speed, which is much worse than it used to be and can only get worse. I’m surprised you say that there is “no reason” he can’t hit higher than .290 when he hasn’t done so since 2010. He hasn’t been an above average player for a few years and at his age, I don’t see any reason why he would improve.

      I’m not saying that he’s a bad player. His glove and stolen base skills make him a fine player. But I don’t think he’s great, and I definitely don’t think he’ll do what he did what the Yankees last year. With his age plus overall performance, that just seems incredibly unlikely.

  • lumbysan

    Cant wait for these doubters to eat their own words. This is Ichiro we are talking about. An inspired one at that. But as always, we all must wait till the season starts. So till then……

    • Matt Hunter

      Look, I’m not guaranteeing that Ichiro won’t do well. These are just guesses, albeit educated ones. Can you give more reasons why you think Ichiro will do well next year. Because he hasn’t done for well the past two years and he’s 39.

      • Gremlin Brenneman

        A big reason for Ichiro’s poor performance with a losing team like Seattle may have been one of motivation. The biggest problem with your argument is that you have to produce some metric that shows age has affected him. I don’t see that from your piece. Age will no doubt catch up with him; it’s just not clear that there is any evidence it has yet.

  • Gremlin Brenneman

    Strange conclusion. Author basically says that Ichiro’s stats are not enough to convince him he’ll be able to duplicate his performance with Yankees last year, YET he somehow has enough evidence to conclude he is not even an avg hitter. Where is the evidence for that? Why doesn’t he just say the outcome is indeterminate? Is he trying to get attention?

  • ethnie

    I have watched Ichiro’s rise in Seattle from the very beginning. He has always lifted his playing even when playing with a losing team. It is pretty hard to be enthusiastic when everyone around you had lost their own enthusiasm. The past last 3 years of his time in Seattle, the press and some of his teammates were not “nice” to Ichiro. They think he wasn’t a “team player”. Not very decent to say to a man with great respect for the game. I would love to see all those critics to “eat their words” this year when Ichiro proves them wrong. He’s happy in NY and I am very happy for him. And I know he is the type of player who can prove it.