Tag Archives: Ichiro Suzuki

Yankees win on wild pitch, avoid sweep

Sometimes you’ll take a win any way you can get it. After losing three consecutive slug fests to the Red Sox the Bombers finally got some pitching. Hiroki Kuroda lasted six innings allowing just two runs while striking out six. Was it great? No, but it was a tad better than Jon Lester who lasted eight innings but gave up three runs. The Yankee runs came off doubles by Mark Reynolds and Robinson Cano.

The Pinstripes took a lead into the top of the ninth, Mariano Rivera time. Mo, unfortunately, didn’t have it. Will Middlebrooks hit a game tying home run off the sandman. At that point it was looking like the Yankees were once again going to blow a lead and ultimately lose to Boston.

In the bottom of the ninth Ichiro Suzuki happened. He got on base with a single off Brandon Workman. He stole second base. He tagged up and advanced to third on a Vernon Wells sacrifice. That brought Alfonso Soriano to the plate with two outs. Soriano didn’t need to do a thing. Workman threw a wild pitch that allowed Suzuki to score. The final was 4-3 Yankees.

It was ugly, but a win’s a win. Mercifully the Yankees have actually gained ground on the Wild Card during this series. Baltimore and Cleveland jumped ahead of the Bombers in the standings, but the Yankees now find themselves just two games out of the final Wild Card slot. The games will remain meaningful. Monday the Yankees play the Orioles.

The struggles of Ichiro Suzuki

ichiro-suzuki-540x351I don’t have enough time to write about all the Yankees who are under-achieving offensively. Instead, I’ll try to pick off the grossest offenders. We can start with Ichiro Suzuki. When the Yankees acquired Ichiro last season, the team wasn’t acquiring the .330 AVG hit machine who became famous in Seattle. When the Bombers picked Ichiro up he was hitting a miserable .261/.288/.353. That’s not a player you want in your lineup. I don’t care how famous he is.

Surprisingly, Suzuki stepped into the way-back machine when he donned the Pinstripes. Ichiro hit .322/.340/.454 with the Yankees, almost vintage stuff. But it raised the question who the real Ichiro was. Was he the automatic out in Seattle? Or was he the .320 hitter in the Bronx?

So far this season we’ve only had the bad Ichiro. He’s hitting .278/.315/.385. That translates into a .304 wOBA or an 88 wRC+. No matter how you slice it, that’s below average production. In total, Ichiro has given the Yankees 1.3 fWAR. His defense and his base running have helped to lift his overall value, but he is a shadow of the player he was in his prime when he was putting up 4-6 fWAR a year.

Ichiro’s return to his diminished self is bad enough. But what makes things worse is that he remains one of the better hitters on the Yankees. His .314 OBP is well below average, but entering Sunday’s game only Robinson Cano and Brett Gardner had better OBPs on the team. Put another way, as bad as Ichiro’s been, I’m still glad the Yankees have him, but for all the wrong reasons.

The Return Of The Old Guy Outfield Platoon

Ichiro vs MIN

The Yankees won for the first time in almost a week last night.  And they did it with one of their most recently productive bats on the bench to start the game.  With a left-handed starter on the mound, Joe elected to sit Ichiro Suzuki, probably for rest more than anything, and start Vernon Wells in right field.  With Zoilo Almonte looking good in his Major League debut and solidifying his role as the starting left fielder, right field turned back into the L/R platoon the Yankees always envisioned it, for one night at least.  With the way things worked out last night, Joe might want to consider going to that well more often.

Not even joking, I think last night might have been the first game all season in which both Wells and Ichiro had good games.  Wells, still batting cleanup even though the stats and spray charts say no way, had 2 singles in 3 plate appearances against Scott Diamond before giving way to Ichiro in the 8th.  The Twins went with right-handed Jared Burton that inning and Joe used the righty-righty matchup as the perfect reason to lift Wells and go with the lefty Ichiro, who set up the go-ahead rally in the inning with a bunt single.  He came up again in the 9th and lined one off the pitcher that could have been another run-scoring hit.  A 3-5 night from the right field position with a run scored, solid defense, and 2 hard-hit outs.  I don’t know about you, but I can live with that.

What little value Wells has left offensively only comes out against left-handed pitching.  He’s got a .295/.330/.419 split against them this season in 112 PA, almost 200 OPS points higher than his split against righties.  Ichiro himself has actually been better against lefties this season (.810 OPS) than righties (.610), but that trend goes against his recent splits and career averages and could be heavily-influenced by a .358 BABIP.  While the current numbers may support Ichiro playing every day, it does make sense for Joe to continue working this platoon.  By playing Wells against lefties, Joe is able to maximize what he can get out of him and what he can get out of his short 3-man bench that features 2 more really bad bats.  He’s also able to give Ichiro some regular rest for his 39-year-old body and hopefully spark a turnaround in his production against right-handers.

Perhaps most importantly, Joe gives himself the lefty bench bat that the Yankees desperately need right now by not starting Ichiro against lefties.  Not only is their 3-man bench terrible, it’s all right-handed.  Joe’s been unable to capitalize on the matchup game in the last week because he hasn’t been able to play it.  The perfect situation came up last night – a newly-entered righty pitcher in a late-game RISP situation – and Joe jumped at the chance to play that L/R matchup.  If he starts Ichiro every day, he never has that chance last night.  And who knows how Ichiro would have handled his 4th PA of the night after already playing 7 innings in his 15th straight game?

For as wrong as the decisions to bring Ichiro back and add Wells on multi-year deals may have been, I’m willing to grant the Yankees some slack in the belief that they were always intending on platooning both of these guys in right field.  Injuries negated that option early in the season and we’ve already seen the extended playing time sap Wells.  Ichiro hasn’t been much of a production fiend anyway, but he’s had sparks of good play here and there.  He’s also on pace for over 500 PA this year, a number I’m sure Joe didn’t want to see that high.  Now that he’s got some stability at the other outfield corner, he can and should get back to platooning his 2 older players and stretching what he can get out of them for another few weeks.

(Photo courtesy of the AP)

Is Ichiro’s Bat Speed Slowing Down?

Us Yankee fans have grown used to watching older veteran players, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that patience is an important factor in baseball. In the not so distant past, we’ve written off players like Raul Ibanez, Derek Jeter, and Mike Mussina, only for them to rebound into extremely important pieces.

Last year, the Yankees acquired the 38-year old Ichiro Suzuki after a year and a half of below average baseball. You’d think this was a big enough sample size to start coming to some conclusions, but there were some tidbits hidden in his advanced data. Ichiro was producing extremely high line drive rates, and for some reason the ball wasn’t falling into play. After the trade to the Yankees, the outfielder flourished, and looked like he reverted back to his old self through 283 plate appearances.

In reality, neither his three months with the Yankees in 2012, nor his previous year and a half with the Mariners is a big enough sample size to justify calling him done. We watched Derek Jeter produce awful numbers for the same length of time, only to rebound in the matter of a month to a silver slugging short stop at the age of 37. Now that we’re a little more than three weeks into the season, fans are starting to get restless over Ichiro Suzuki, and it’s fair to worry about a player so close to 40.

After producing a career high 24.7% line drive rate in 2012, Ichiro is only hitting line drives at a 17.3% rate in 2013. One factor that we saw influence him both last year and thus far in 2013, are the amount of liners that are falling for hits. Not all line drives are created equally, but only 5 of his 9 line drives have landed for hits, and in 2012 he only hit .571 on those balls in play. Over his career, Ichiro has held a slightly below average batting average on line drives, .672, which is still significantly higher than what we’ve seen of late.

Much like his line drives, only one of Ichiro’s 15 fly balls have fallen into play for a hit. While these two batted ball types can be influenced by age regression in hitting, the numbers have fallen so low that you’d have to think that they will normalize, even with just 3 weeks of baseball played. Fly balls and line drives make up more than 46% of his hits this year, and have been a huge influence on his .231 BABIP, which is .115 points lower than his career average, and around .070 points lower than last year’s.

So the question is whether or not these batted ball rates will continue. There’s no doubt that he’ll increase the BABIP on fly balls, and likely his line drive hits as well, but it’s very possible that Ichiro’s age has caused his bat speed to slow down. Less bat speed would mean a poorer ability to hit the fastball, and thus we see poorer contact and more strike outs. So I gathered all the pitches that Ichiro has seen and hit, counted them, and averaged their velocity.

Pitches InPlay (C) Hit/Run (C) SwStr (C) CaStr (C) Ball (C) Foul (C)
FF 91.5 (20) 92.2 (5) 89.4 (4) 90.8 (18) 90.6 (21) 91.1 (21)
FT 92.3 (9) 91.7 (4) 94.3 (1) 92.4 (8) 89.4 (13) 92.5 (7)
SI 88.2 (2) 83.9 (1) 90.8 (3) 91.8 (2) 90.9 (1)
FS 85.5 (1) 79.2 (2) 79.7 (1) 82.7 (4)
FC 87.4 (3) 89.7 (1) 85.9 (3) 85.1 (5) 90.2 (1)
CH 83.4 (5) 83.6 (2) 85.1 (10) 83.3 (10) 93.1 (3)
CU 76.8 (7) 75.9 (3) 75.9 (3) 75.7 (8) 80 (1)
SL 81.5 (7) 83.2 (1) 79.5 (6) 78.9 (5) 81.1 (9) 83.8 (2)

This is far from scientific, and the sample size is obviously incredibly small, but it doesn’t appear that Ichiro has any problem hitting the fastball. The average four-seam fastball he’s put into play has been 91.5 mph, while the average four-seam that he’s hit or earned a run on has been 92.2 mph. Meanwhile, he’s making outs on the slower stuff, swinging and missing at four-seam fastballs that have averaged 89.4 mph, and taking called strikes at 90.8 mph. Although fastballs are the most thrown pitch in baseball, 74% of the balls in play have come on the fastball, (he’s looking for it) and 73% of the hits have come on the fastball. Meanwhile, only 47% of his swinging strikes have come on the pitch, and an unsurprising 40% have come on the slider alone.

Obviously this could change very quickly, but it seems that Ichiro has no problem making contact with the fastball, and he’s actually making better contact off the harder stuff. Perhaps his swing is actually a little ahead of where it should be, but it looks like the current batted ball issues have nothing to do with slower bat speed. If Ichiro is having a problem with any pitch, it’s definitely the slider, which is to be expected from any hitter. Though it looks like he’s making poorer contact, I’m chalking it all up to small sample size.

Just one more day …

Tonight, the 2013 Major League Baseball season begins, with the Texas Rangers playing the Houston Astros. The most beautiful thing about the baseball season is that it changes how I spend my leisure time. Nothing on TV tonight? They always play baseball. Can’t think of something to do after work? Call a buddy and watch some baseball. Don’t know how to spend time on a sunny afternoon? Upper deck tickets are cheap on Stub Hub and the 4 train moves fast. 162 games plus the playoffs means something to do, something to watch and something to talk about for half the year, and in terms of weather it’s the better half of the year.

After the gift of always having something entertaining to do, my second favorite thing about the baseball season is following story lines. Most Yankee fans are upset because the team enters 2013 in the weakest state that it has been in since 2008. Not only is the team not favored to win the AL East, but many believe the team will miss the playoffs. Win or lose, challenging seasons at least give fans like me more story lines to follow. When the Yankees put a juggernaut on the field and it demolishes its opponents every success was essentially scripted and only the failures make headlines. When the team is predicted to struggle, as it is this year, then new story lines will emerge, not only about failure but also about unexpected success. If the Yankees are going to make the playoffs they’re going to need to get strong performances from a number of players who are not household names, especially while household names Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson are on the DL. Here are some of the story lines I’ll be following during the first month of the season:

Mariano Rivera – It has become far too easy for Yankee fans to pencil Mo in for a 2.00 ERA and 40 saves every year. Last season was the first in a decade that didn’t go according to script, but the Bombers had Rafael Soriano to fall back on. This year the Yankees are more dependent on Mo than they’ve been in a while. Sure, he’s superhuman, but he’s also 43 years old and pitching on a surgically repaired knee. Will he struggle?

David Robertson – Mo may be the main story line in the bullpen, but now that Soriano is gone Robertson will probably be the guy the Yankees lean on more. The past couple of seasons Robertson has been called upon more often then not to get the Yankees out of jams, and to pitch more than one inning. He hasn’t disappointed. He’s averaged 12.03 strikeouts per nine innings in his career, and averaged 12.02 last season. Numerically, his 2011 looks like it was the outlier. His strikeout rate jumped up to 13.50 per nine, while his homer rate plunged to 0.14 per nine. In 2012 his averages of 12.02 and 0.74, respectively, were a lot closer to his career norms and what he did in 2010. If that’s what D-Rob figures to give the Yankees then I’ll take it, but he’ll be under more pressure than ever this season. How will he respond, especially if the Yankees try to make him close some games?

Kevin Youkilis/Travis Hafner – Four years ago these were great guys to have on your team. Now, not so much. But with so much of the Yankee offense starting the season on the DL, the Yankees will need to find veteran leadership wherever they can to start the season. The Bombers won’t need either of these guys to find his old form for the entire season (but it won’t hurt). They just need one of them to get hot early. Will it happen?

Brett Gardner/Ichiro Suzuki – The Yankees have been stubbornly dependent on the home run to score the past several seasons. Right or wrong, the conventional wisdom last year was that this reliance became a liability in the playoffs. One way to break the reliance on the homer for scoring output is with speed. Brett and Suzuki figure to give the Yankees just that. Can Gardner come back from his injuries? Will Ichiro turn back into the fossil who was manning the outfield in Seattle? Can the Yankees capitalize?

Phil Hughes/Ivan Nova – More than anything else, I’ll be watching these two. So much has been made of the injuries to the Yankee offense that the media has overlooked how strong the Yankee rotation figures to be. The 1-2-3 is CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte. Assuming no one is injured that’s a solid top of the rotation. The difference between a good rotation and a great rotation is the back end starters. Over the past several seasons the Yankees have seen both Hughes and Nova flirt with establishing themselves as reliable blocks in the Yankee rotation. Given that each has had several seasons now to develop as a starter, this year figures not only to be adequate time for them to come into form but also the season the Yankees will need them both to realize their potential. Can they?

An outfield made of glass?

Yankee spring training has gotten off to a rough start. By now everyone knows that Curtis Granderson will be out until early May with a fractured forearm. That’s a huge loss for the Yankees. Granderson’s 2012 may have paled in comparison to his 2011, but he’s still a critical bat in the Yankee lineup. His absence will be felt immediately.

The most glaring weakness that comes from Curtis’ injury is the loss of power. Granderson’s OBP may be inconsistent, but he’s managed 40+ homers each of the past few seasons. That’s production I’d rather have on the team than on the bench. The Yankees don’t have any substitute on a lineup that was already missing a lot of pop due to injury or players leaving.

But this also means that the Yankees are that much more dependent upon Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki to stay healthy. That’s no small order. Gardner has been injury prone his entire career. Suzuki is 39 years old. The odds that either of them goes down with an injury, leaving the Yankees with not one but two injured starters in the outfield, is not insignificant.

All of this demonstrates just how little room to maneuver the team has under the new austerity budget. As recently as 2012 the Yankees could turn to Raul Ibanez to step in for Curtis and give the team some power while playing the outfield (badly). This year there is no clear internal replacement. Instead, the Yankees will have to hope Curtis suffers no setbacks in his recovery and that Gardner and Ichiro remain healthy. It’s becoming increasingly clear that 2013 will be one of the more interesting, and potentially frustrating, Yankee seasons in recent memory.

Piecing it Together: Part Three

In my last two pieces talked about building the lineup. To quickly test the potency of these lineups, I ran them through the lineup analysis tool from Baseball Musings. I used the PECOTA and ZiPS projections to get the players’ OBP/SLG. Remember, though, these projected OBP/SLG numbers are NOT split adjusted. Here are the results:


This lineup projects to score 4.874 R/G, which translates to about 790 runs over the course of a 162 game season.

PECOTA vs LHP, Rivera

Using PECOTA and Juan Rivera as the, DH, the Yankees project to score 4.840 R/G, about 785 per 162 games.


Using Matt Diaz at DH, we get 4.805 R/G, which is about 779 runs over 162 games.


ZiPS is a little more friendly to the Yankees, projecting 4.974 R/G. That would push the Yankees over the hump to about 806 runs per game.

ZiPS vs. LHP, Rivera

This gets us 4.887 R/G, about 792 for the season. Again, ZiPS is a little more friendly than PECOTA.

ZiPS vs. LHP, Diaz

Last but not least, we get 4.831 per game, 783 over the course of the season.

So these projections, which are NOT split adjusted, give us somewhere between 785-805 runs for the Yankees. Those are perfectly reasonable, but they do sell the Yankees short a bit. Both are probably a bit conservative and the fact that they’re not split adjusted affects the output in the analysis tool. Certainly, e can expect certain players (Derek Jeter, Kevin Youkilis, Mark Teixeira, Juan Rivera, and Matt Diaz) to hit better against lefties than their overall projections while we can expect others (Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, and Travis Hafner) to do the same against righties. The Yankee offense has never been flawless, but this season, there do seem to be a few more flaws than there have been in the past. Remember, though, offense has been down in the last few years. Despite the fairly conservative projections, the Yankees have a chance to be a top offensive club, as they always do.

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.

Piecing it Together: Part Two

You’ll remember that last week, I mused about the possible lineup construction for the 2013 squad. Let’s revisit the idea of the lineup one more time, with something else in mind.

If you’ve read this site, then you’re probably familiar with the Replacement Level Yankee Blog and its CAIRO Projections. The last iteration of them came out on January 28th. What’s nice about the CAIRO splits is that they also include platoon breakdowns; each player has his normal projections and his split projections in the form of wOBA vs. LHP and RHP. Let’s take a look at the lineups I presented in my previous post and see what each guy is projected to do. We’ll start against lefties for a bit of a switch. The number next to each player is the projected wOBA:

1. Jeter, SS: .354
2. Youkilis, 3B: .367
3. Teixeira, 1B: .362
4. Cano, 2B: .356
5. Diaz, DH: .321; Rivera, DH: .324
6. Granderson, CF: .305
7. Cervelli, C: .310
8. Ichiro, RF: .323
9. Gardner, LF: .309

The only disappointing things are the relatively low wOBAs for Diaz and Rivera. They’re both in camp to hope to become the team’s Major League lefty mashers, so we’d hope for something a little higher than wOBA’s in the low-to-mid .320’s. Brett Gardner might need a platoon partner in left, but seeing Ichiro projected for a wOBA that “high” is encouraging. CAIRO also seems to predict a platoon partner for Curtis Granderson, though he’s been better against lefties of late (and we know Joe Girardi won’t platoon Granderson…at least not right away). Let’s jump to righties and see what we come up with.

1. Gardner, LF: .332
2. Jeter, SS: .322
3. Teixeira, 1B: .346
4. Cano, 2B: .392
5. Granderson, CF: .361
6. Youkilis, 3B: .341
7. Hafner, DH: .362
8. Cervelli, C: .292
9. Ichiro, RF: .331

This lineup is a bit more well rounded and a bit more solid. There’s just one wOBA under .320 and it belongs–predictably–to Francisco Cervelli. For posterity’s sake, Chris Stewart‘s projected wOBA against RHP is .283 (.303 vs. LHP). My eyes definitely lit up thinking about Cano having a .392 wOBA against righties (for the record, he did .461 against righties).

Remember, projections aren’t predictions, but logical inferences as to what each player can do. If the CAIRO projections I’ve put forward here are indicative of anything, it’s that they might be a bit on the conservative side. However, they show us that the Yankees should still have a pretty solid offense. It may not necessarily be the complete and total package that we’re used to, but it should still pound out some quality runs. How many could it do? We’ll check in on that on Thursday.