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?