It’s Still Important To Stay Grounded With Ichiro & Gardner

Can this trio carry enough offensive weight? Courtesy of Getty Images

(Syndicated from An A-Blog for A-Rod)

ESPN NY’s Spring Training countdown series got off to a pretty crummy start, but he’s been a little better lately.  Earlier this Sunday morning, Wally Matthews took a break from handing out fictional punishments on Alex Rodriguez to discuss the 2013 outfield, which is actually a worthwhile topic.  The Yankees are looking at a serious offensive downgrade from that group this year, and the ability of Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki to be productive in their ways could be a big determining factor in the level of success this season’s team can have.  Wally, to his credit, thinks Ichiro and Gardner can get the job done, and maybe they can.  But Wally’s reasoning for why leaves much to be desired.

Matthews gave reasons to be optimistic about the slap-hitting duo, citing their strengths.  But in doing so, he made the mistake of looking at Ichiro from a high level, where the overall numbers are still very good.  Matthews references Ichiro’s career .365 OBP, a value higher than that of the departed Nick Swisher, and his 38 SB per year career average as reasons for why Ichiro can be productive.  Ichiro is 39 years old and has been on the decline for a while.  Even with his strong .342 wOBA stretch in pinstripes, Ichiro still finished 2012 with just a .307 OBP and hasn’t had a truly elite OBP season since 2009.  It’s also worth mentioning that he hasn’t scored over 90 runs since ’08.  The truth still is that Ichiro hasn’t been an elite offensive player for a while now, and has hardly been average the last few seasons.  His career numbers can’t be looked at as a basis for expectations.

Gardner’s strengths are also based on his strong on-base and base stealing skills, but as a player still in his prime at age 29 his career numbers can be given more weight.  He may not be as good as he was in 2010, but even at a season below that he still had a solid .345 OBP in 2011.  Gardner’s age or production trends aren’t the concern with him, but health is.  He’s always been the type to get incredibly banged up over the course of a full season, making him a weaker offensive players when the games count most, and he only played in 16 games in 2012.  And as better as I feel about Gardner’s possible production ceiling compared to Ichiro’s, Brett doesn’t have a 100-runs scored season under his belt either.

Too many Yankee fans made and continue to make the mistake of reading too much into Ichiro’s strong team debut after last year’s trade, and looking at him that way can create unrealistic expectations.  Looking at his career totals instead of his recent history can also create unrealistic expectations, as can ignoring Brett Gardner’s injury history.  It was true what Matthews said about Gardner and Ichiro being very good defensively, and there will be value in that.  But to expect both of them to provide consistent above-average offense or better because they’re fast is a stretch, and to expect them to make up for the loss of Swish probably is as well.

About Brad Vietrogoski

Born in Dover, Delaware and raised in Danbury, Connecticut, Brad now resides in Wisconsin, where he regularly goes out of his way to remind Brewers fans that their team will never be as good as the Yankees. When he’s not writing for IIATMS, he likes to spend his time incorporating “Seinfeld” quotes into everyday conversation, critiquing WWE storylines, and drinking enough beer to be good at darts.

10 thoughts on “It’s Still Important To Stay Grounded With Ichiro & Gardner

  1. So in regards to ichiro, we are supposed to ignore his career numbers and his numbers from last year and focus solely on the time that he was crappy!? In that rationale of thinking, we should ignore Jeter’s great 2012 and assume he is going to put up his declining numbers from years previous? I like the article, but you can’t pick and choose which stats make your argument Better and ignore everything else. If you are talking about ichiro, you need to look at last year as a whole, not just the crappy pre-trade numbers.

  2. Swish has his negatives also. I believe that Ichiro will score more runs this year than in the last few years because the Yankees are a more run producing team than the Mariners. As a matter of fact, the Mariners were last(AL)in runs scored the last 5 years in a row.

  3. I believe Ichiro is going to continue his descent offensively and defensively in 2013. A lot of people (myself included) thought a short-lived bump was possible when we traded for him last year, but acknowledged that it would almost certainly be just that.
    I can’t imagine he’s going to be anywhere near the top of the order, at least not for very long. Our offense took a pretty good sized hit, and there aren’t any solutions for the short term anywhere in the system.

  4. Ichiro’s production suffered in Seattle because he was stuck in lineups that made him useless anywhere but at the number 1 spot. His declining skills are still very dangerous when you let him bat in the 7-9 spots or put him at #1 or #2 with Gardner and/or Jeter. Ichiro avoids double plays, he puts the ball in play and he can hit the ball with enough control and power to foil situational defense. His knowledge and skills are perfect for a team like the Yankees as his partial service proved last year.

    • I think everybody would be ecstatic if that happened. I know I would be. I just don’t have the confidence that Ichiro can put up numbers like that in that many ABs.

  5. I will be curious to see how Ichiro plays in a full season in NY for a few reasons.

    1. As others have stated, Ichiro was the only offensive weapon in Seattle, and that may have changed his style of play. With the Yankees he can focus on getting on base and advancing, while in Seattle he had nobody else to rely on to drive him in.

    2. He will be platooned much more in NY, and he OPS against righties has been about 50 points higher than against lefties recently.

    Basically, I would not expect prime Ichiro, but I would not expect 2012 Seattle Ichiro either. A player in between is valuable indeed.

  6. Ichiro: .294/.338/.390 28 SB
    Gardner: .272/.348/.380 48 SB
    Those are my predictions. Also, don’t forget that these guys are a massive defensive upgrade.

  7. Don’t be surprized if Ichiro does very, very well in 2013. He’s coming to New York, New York to show the ‘bigger’ baseball world what he can do and his 2 year slump was mostly mental (in my opinion). A lot of players had great years at 39 and 40 and there’s not a player around who takes care of his ‘health’ like Ichiro. I think his numbers this year will match his Yankee 2012 numbers.