Which Ichiro Suzuki will show up in 2013?

When the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki mid-way through the 2012 season I was unimpressed. Suzuki is a star who had played his entire career to that point in Seattle, so there was considerable fanfare after the deal was completed, but this wasn’t the Ichiro of old, the perennial 200 hit machine with a high average. This was the Ichiro of 2011, a player who managed a 79 wRC+ and a .310 OBP. He was a big name, but no longer a big player.

I proceeded to eat my words. Suzuki returned to form with the Yankees. Over 240 plate appearances Ichiro hit .322/.340/.454 in pinstripes. He hit five homers and thirteen doubles, essentially matching his output from his time this past season in Seattle, in half the plate appearances. He stole fourteen bases. Seattle traded the Yankees the Ichiro in decline and the Yankees got vintage Suzuki. Can he keep it up?

Bill James is uncertain. His projection system sees Ichiro batting .294/.331/.370 next season, which translates to a .304 wOBA. The good in the projection is the OBP. Ichiro’s speed is a valuable asset. If he can get on base at that clip he’ll do damage regardless of whether he’s hitting for power or not. The bad is the complete lack of power. Suzuki has never been a power hitter, but for his career he has a .419 SLG. He hits mostly singles, but not exclusively.

There are two x-factors that make any projection of Ichiro next season difficult. First, he’s old. 2013 will be Suzuki’s age 39 season. When his service in Japan is taken into consideration he has a lot of mileage on him. While his skill set – contact hitter, solid defender, smart base runner – ages well, any 39 year old ball player is borrowing time. If he can’t cut it anymore at 39 it should be expected, not surprising.

The second factor is Yankee Stadium. Ichiro is not known for hitting home runs … during games. During batting practice and exhibitions, however, he is famous for knocking them out of the ball park, which means he has the ability to do it. Yankee Stadium plays perfectly to his swing. Ichiro will never have power like, say, Raul Ibanez, but he could easily juice his SLG next season abusing the short porch in right.

Taken as a whole, it is clear why the Yankees made a play for Suzuki. He gave the Yankees a vintage performance during his short tenure with the team, and made that potential available to the Yankees at a discount over the next two seasons. It was a gamble worth taking. The Yankees don’t need Ichiro to maintain the pace he put forward towards the end of last season to be worth the money. They just need him to be a slightly better than average hitter who gives them plus defense and base running. All-in, Ichiro seems more likely to be a plus asset for the Yankees in 2013 than not, an asset the Yankees got at a discount.

10 thoughts on “Which Ichiro Suzuki will show up in 2013?

  1. hawaii dave

    There has been a lot written on this site about the Ichiro signing as a bad move…I liked him for 1 season, not sure about 2, but even if his hitting skills decline in the 2nd year, he still might be a nice bench player, defensive replacement, lefty pinch hitter when the situation calls for contact to be made.
    I just do not see his swing as being in the “made for the short porch” category. He does not hit a lot of fly balls. But he’ll benefit….just not due to his swing. More because any lefty would benefit from a 305 right field porch. I think he’ll get 10-12 homers in 2013. if Tex can bounce back and add 6…we might not miss Swish as much.

  2. Tom Swift

    Everything about Ichiro is so unorthodox. If anyone can reinvent himself at age 39, he can. The second year of that contract is speculative, but I have high hopes for 2013.

  3. pharlort

    I think your predictions are going to tend toward the low end of what we should expect. I think .300/.340/.390 is a better line for one reason. Ichiro’s BB numbers will be slightly better than what they were with the NYY (his worst BB% yet). Not an enormous jump, but enough to keep pace with a his solid .340 OBP even if his BA drops to .300.

  4. Duh, Innings!

    I said the same thing about Teixiera here and/or at Yankees Lohud, only I added Cano to the mix. Tons of people are completely ignoring the fact that Teixiera hit 15 less homeruns and drove in 27 less runs in 2012 than he did in 2011. Had he posted say 32 HR and 100 RBI in 2012, the 2012 Yanks would’ve had the same HR and RBI from him and Swisher even if Swisher posted just 16 HR and 77 RBI.

    The Yanks lost 24 HR and 93 RBI in Swisher. ‘Say Ichiro smacks a dozen homeruns (why not?), Teixiera smacks (as you wrote) six more homeruns than he did in 2012 for 30 HR, and Cano smacks just two more than he did in 2012 for 35 HR. These three would have hit only 4 less homeruns than 2012 Swisher/ Teixiera/Cano – big deal. Ichiro hitting for average, getting on base at a decent or better clip, playing better defense than Swisher, stealing say 30-40 bases (15-20 times the number Swisher stole in 2012), the runs he drives in, the extra HR and RBI Teixiera and Cano produce, Gardner’s OBP and SB over a full season (my guess minimum .360 OBP and 50 SB in 57-62 SBA), and better BA-OBP by Granderson (I’m thinking he hit rock bottom and the only way is up) will (I think) more than make up for the loss of Swisher.

  5. sportsfan

    The yankees are just heading into a bunch of holes, not next season, but at the end of the seaon.Cano and granderson will be free agents and then with all the 1 and 2 year deals they still need to sign a lot of players again. I just dont see without gutting their team how they can get under the payroll.

    • I’m sure the Yankees are hoping to have at least 1 or 2 guys in the Minors ready to play in the Majors by the start of 2014. That is the only way I see them getting under $189 and able to field a playoff team. Unless A-rod retires and forfeits the rest of his contract.

    • hawaii dave

      They will get under the 189…and I too do not know how, but they will be under. And they already know how they will do it. The plan is there, they are just not telling us. (which is totally expected)

  6. David in Cal

    To answer the question “Which Ichiro?”, I think one needs to decide why he hit so much better in 67 games with the Yanks than he did in the prior 256 games with Seattle. If the answer is the short porch in Yankee Stadium or it’s because he played harder when involved in a pennant race, then one can hope he continues to do as well as he did with the Yanks last season. But, if the answer is “small sample size”, then we can expect him to be no better than he was with Seattle. In either case, one has to assume some deterioration due to age, especially in 2014.

  7. jeff in seattle

    While a life long Yanks fan, I live in WA and have seen Ichiro’s entire career with the Mariners. While highly likely that his skill set has diminished some with age, don’t underestimate Ichiro’s abilities going forward. During the time Ichiro’s stats with Seattle began to sag, he was playing for the most inept offense in MLB history. When Ichiro resigned with Ms several years back, the worst FO in MLB, and a Japanese owner, made certain promises to Ichiro that they were committed to building a competitive, playoff team. This was total BS and never happened. Ichiro, a leadoff, singles hitter, was THE face of the Mariners, the superstar, the face of the offense…..a singles hitter. Reports say that a couple seasons before the Yankee trade, while mired in historically pathetic offensive team performance with no indication of improvement, Ichiro quit on the team. Personally, I don’t blame him if true. Promises were made to keep him in Seattle and then broken. I’m not sure, but I think this is a big no no in Japanese culture, vis a vis the Japanese owner and Ichiro. John Sterling asked Chris Chambliss, Ms batting coach, if Ichiro had anything left in the tank. Chambliss said Ichiro had “plenty”. Like Raul, who the Yanks should have kept, Ichiro is a conditioning devotee and don’t be surprised if Ichiro has a very good year for the Yanks. Before Ichiro’s numbers fell, many in Seattle were predicting Ichiro playing at a high level into his forties because of his skill set and conditioning regimen. I think that Ichiro’s numbers fell more for his involvement with the losing train wreck of the Mariners and the hopelessness therein, than with a massive diminution of skills with age. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Ichiro performs at a high level for both years of his new Yanks contract.

  8. Todd

    The reality is, the Yankees signed Ichiro more for affordability reasons than his projections. The Yankees are playing for 2015 while putting together a makeshift effort for this year and next. It is hard not to like Ichiro because he is both a consummate professional and a talented player. However, the likelihood is that the Ichiro in Seattle was the real Ichiro but with a Yankee Stadium and playoff fever boost. In that regard, I would expect Ichiro’s numbers to better than Seattle’s but not as prodigious as his NYY numbers but for one difference, his potential power. It is quite possible that Ichiro could hit 15 hrs in NYY which if accompanied by say a .290 avg and .330 obp could be a nice season with his other intangibles. Nevertheless, the drop off on offense could still be significant for the Yankees. As of now, Martin’s replacement at catcher is less impressive than he was, not that he was that impressive to begin with. Youkilis, based on last year, was worse than even last year’s version of ARod and much worse than ARod and Chavez combined. Swisher was also the Yanks 2nd best obp guy whose value lost will, to a significant degree, be determined by Gardner’s growth, though not in the power department. Plus DH, as of now looks to be replaced by fringe prospects. The Yanks were 8th in the AL in batting average last year and as of now, they have no definitive upgrades other than the hope for the return to health of some players whose average were historically questionable anyway.

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