What to expect from Ichiro

Ichiro Suzuki

Many Yankee experts were less than thrilled when the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners on July 23, 2012. And yet, despite a year and a half of far-diminished results prior to joining the Yankees, Suzuki had a bit of a renaissance in pinstripes. In 67 games for the Yankees, Ichiro put together a triple slash line of .322/.340/.454. He then was one of the few bright spots in the debacle of an ALCS and has been (cliche alert) tearing the cover off the ball this spring. The interesting question for a 39 year old Ichiro is whether we are to believe his last year and a half as a Mariner or his few months with the Yankees.

There is disagreement in the projection systems. His OPS projections range from a low of .653 to a high of .729 and a wOBA from a low of .283 to a high of .313. The interesting part of the projections was the range on his walk percentage. ZiPS has him at 3.8%. Bill James has him as high as 5.1% and Oliver Projections has him at 5.4%*. All those seem quite optimistic considering Ichiro’s actual walk percentage was a minuscule 3.3% for 2012. It seems astounding that Suzuki accumulated only 17 unintentional walks in 663 plate appearances.

And here is a number that will blow your mind. Ichiro Suzuki accumulated three walks in 237 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. And so, though he hit .284 against lefties, his OBP was .294 against them.

Ichiro Suzuki’s career walk percentage is 5.9% helping to boost his career on-base percentage to .365. Intentional walks have to be brought into the discussion of his walk percentage. Suzuki has been walked intentionally 173 times. If you subtract his intentional walks from his plate appearances and his career walk total, his career unintentional walk percentage is 4.0%. If the Yankees’ lineup had not been decimated as it is now, it would be reasonable to expect that Ichiro would not receive many intentional walks. He was given only five free passes last season, way down from his career average. Saying that, with less power brokers in the lineup–at least to start the season–he might be intentionally walked more than last year.

One of the positives is that Ichiro Suzuki absolutely loves hitting in Yankee Stadium 3. Since the new Stadium opened in 2009, Ichiro has an insane triple slash line there of (small sample size alert) .350/.374/.539 in 194 plate appearances. Ichiro also hit really well in the previous Yankee Stadium (.341/.372/.439). So he obviously likes hitting in New York. Again, a healthy dose of sample size alert has to be inserted here.

The unfortunate thing for Ichiro Suzuki (other than being 39 years old) is that he is effectively the replacement for Nick Swisher in right field. If you have to weigh the two against each other, Swisher provided more power and a much better on-base percentage. On the plus side for Ichiro is that he is probably a better right fielder and has better results in the post season. Overall, there is probably a one win difference for what Swisher brought to the Yankees (3.9 fWAR) and what Ichiro provided all of last season (2.9 fWAR).

There has always been a dubious notion that Suzuki could hit 30 homers in a season if he wanted to. While that idea has never held any weight here, 2013 would be a nice time to pull that rabbit out of a hat. Short of that happening, any offensive value he brings the Yankees will be based on how high he can hit for average and use what speed he has left on the base paths. One concern on that actually happening is the amount of ground balls Ichiro hits. He has always hit twice as many ground balls as fly balls. Despite his batting average recovering somewhat in 2012 over 2011, the difference was a jump in his line drive percentage from 2011 to 2012. His batting average on ground balls went from .293 in 2010 to .254 in 2011 to .248 in 2012.

It will be interesting to see the new-look Yankees start the season with more speed than oomph. While Ichiro has lost a step or two, he still possesses better speed than most. The ideal from this perspective is if he can hit .285 or higher and perhaps cobble together 280 total bases. If he can do that, he will help. If he hits lower–closer to his last year and a half with the Mariners–then it could be a long summer.

* Projections culled from Suzuki’s Fangraphs.com page.

About William Tasker

William Tasker grew up in Bergenfield, New Jersey but has lived in New England since 1975 and in the far reaches of northern Maine since 1990. Tasker is the author of nine (non-baseball related) books and, besides writing here for three years, has written for his own site at www.passion4baseball.blogspot.com since 2003.

11 thoughts on “What to expect from Ichiro

  1. In my opinion IF Ichiro can bat .280 or above use his speed on both defense and on the bases it will have been a good deal for the Yankees to re-sign him. I think Yankee fans are going to be very pleasantly surprised as the season go on by his performance.

      • Jason, I know. I was really referring to if he didn't do the things I mentioned we fans might be disappointed with his re-signing. Not sure if I'm explaining myself correctly.

  2. I was talking to Kevin Long and he said that swisher sucked in the postseason because he didn't have any confidence and didn't believe. Also he said JETER goes up every at bat with great confidence basically saying in his head "This pitcher has nothing on me and isn't better than me, I can hit him." while swisher he said would go up like in a little league game where it's like a 6' confident pitcher and a 4'10 hitter and the hitter hopes for the vest instead of being confident. Ichiro although has great eyes and can almost place the ball where he wants it to go.

  3. Welcome back, Will. The new guys are ok, but its nice to see an IIATMS writer on,,,,wait for it,,,,,IIATMS.


    • It wasn't that long ago, Jay, that I was the new guy. We did okay together, right?

  4. Well off topic but since their isn't a blog on today's game I'll post this comment here.

    I think after this afternoon you can cay goodbye to both Jose Rameriz and Adam Warren. They absolutely stunk it up in the first inning.

  5. Funny how many observers have noted that Ichiro can hit 30 homers if he tried. Very few words get written about players "trying" to hit homers…or the opposite. What would the opposite of "trying" to hit a homer be? Perhaps shortening the swing? Perhaps hitting the ball where it is pitched rather than waiting for the pitch you want? Perhaps all hitters should study a bit of Charlie Lau's approach to hitting? Perhaps GM's should remember that the team that hits the most homers rarely wins the World Series. (if ever)

    I wonder what it is about Ichiro that makes him choose to "not try" to hit 30 homers despite the notion that he can? What secret does Ichiro know that others don't? Is there a price to pay for hitting 30 homers? Homers are glamorous. What is it about Ichiro that he can survive without the glory of the home run trot that some players crave so much? Is it attitude? Ego deflation?

    Ichiro is an enigma…hard to figure out. Swisher is easy to figure out. He wants to be famous and knows the best way to get there is via the home run, and if he disappears every October, its a small price to pay for glory. Besides, he walks a lot, which is good.

  6. On the home run topic… last year with Seattle, Ichiro hit 4 HRs in 423 PAs over 97 games (extrapolated out to 650 PAs would = 6 HRs). Then with the Yanx, he hit 5 HRs in just 240 PAs over 67 games (over 650 PAs = 13.5 HRs).

    So will eetchy hit 30? No, but 15 is not out of the question if he can log 700 PAs. He does have 3 double digit HR seasons with Seattle (15, 13, 11) though none since 2009. ZiPS has him down for 10 which is the most optimistic HR total for him in the projection systems, but I wouldn't be shocked if he bested that with a full season of short porch action.

    • Good points, Mike. But even ZiPS has him with a slugging percentage under .400 and a total bases total of 275 and a wOBA of .301. Ichiro hasn't slugged over .400 since 2009.

  7. When Ichiro joined Seattle in 2001, they had a pretty good team, and I expect that Ichiro expected to do some 'Winning'. However, Seattle proceeded to go into a 12 year slump.

    Ichiro is VERY smart. Absolutely one of the smartest guys in the game. While he is no longer a kid, I am sure he will make adjustments as a Yankee, to help the team Win. I also believe at the end, he was very depressed in Seattle, and just phoning it in.

    He is indeed rejuvinated with the Yankees, and the idea of playing in the PS. I don't know if he will post a .800 OPS in NY (as he did last year), but I think .750 is very doable. With his speed, D and throwing arm, that could put him in Gardner territory in terms of WAR.

    He won't be great for us, but he could certainly be above average.