Ichiro’s roster spot

Ichiro Suzuki is not a player that is easy to categorize or capture in words of objectivity. He carries himself like a proud Japanese warrior from a different time. And despite the sometimes one-dimensional side of his hitting, he has had a great career. He is nearly the same age as Derek Jeter and should be venerated for the career he has compiled. Instead, he has become the last man on the New York Yankees’ 25-man roster and it is up for debate if he should even be in the pecking order at all.

Ichiro has not been a good player since 2010. He still shows flashes of his old self like when he joined the Yankees in 2012 and the first month of his 2014 season. The rest is a whole bunch of mediocrity that rests more on his reputation than on his play.

His 2014 is playing out very similarly to his 2013–except that it might be worse. He started both seasons being fairly productive and then tanked right about the same time. In 2013, Ichiro put up a mediocre but decent .714 before the All Star Break and then crawled to the finish at .547 after it. In 2014, he put up a .684 OPS before the break and has been a dismal .396 after. He often looks over-matched at the plate and swings through pitches he would have hit solidly before. And he looks stiff and uncertain in the field.

In the last 28 days of the season, Ichiro has put up the following triple-slash line: .167/.196/.259. If you look at some of his peripherals, you see that his strikeout rate of 18.1% is the highest of his career. His ISO is at the lowest of his career. His wRC+ is at 77. His base running score is still positive, but the lowest of his career. And his defense is in the negative category for the first time in a season he’s played mostly right field.

I mentioned that 18.1% strikeout rate in the last paragraph. In the last 28 days, that figure has jumped to 22.81%. Meanwhile, his OPS has gone down every month this season and was in Death Valley for July.

The theory I have heard is that he has gotten too much playing time and wears out. Heck, if you can’t play the guy when you need to play a guy, then why do you have him? His defense helped since Carlos Beltran could not play the field after the first month of the season, but the offense he’s put up has not offset even that. Fangraphs.com has his fWAR at 1.0 and Baseball-reference.com has him at 0.7 rWAR. That is not much worth for a guy who has played as much as he has.

Remember when Ichiro’s arm was feared? Remember how people marveled? When was the last time he actually threw somebody out from right field? He has zero assists this year. Even that part of his game is a memory.

So where does it go from here? The Yankees obtained Martin Prado who is going to get most of the playing time in right. If Mark Teixeira can stay on the field, that won’t leave much playing time (if any) to Ichiro. Do you make someone with Ichiro’s pedigree to finish out the season as a defensive replacement?

The Yankees are fighting for a playoff spot in what will be an uphill battle. Most would think that Ichiro Suzuki is a nice chip to have around in reserve. I might have agreed after the first month of the season. But this year is following the same pattern as last and the numbers are even lower. The Yankees did not feel they could compete with him continuing to get playing time. Prado has gotten off to a bad start and the fans are already on his case, but he is a quality player and should get the time instead of the old hero.

Should the Yankees wait until September to get some youngsters up to get their feet wet in the pennant race (we hope) or should Ichiro Suzuki be designated for assignment? While such a thought might bring a gasp or two as to bad treatment for an old hero, it might actually be beneficial to Ichiro if he can catch on with a team that needs him.

In my opinion, he is a grand, old hero who has lost his skills. Keeping him around is not productive to the team or to him. Let him try to catch on for a last hurrah for somebody and let a young player with enthusiasm patrol the late innings and off days. The latter will certainly not harm anything as things currently stand.

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.