Tuesday, April 16, 2013

What about Ichiro?

Like I did with Kevin Youkilis, Travis Hafner, and Vernon Wells on Friday, I decided to take a closer look at Ichiro Suzuki's hitting stats. Although, unlike the three guys I mentioned, I was looking for reasons why Ichiro has been hitting so poorly, and whether he would improve or not.

It may take more lucky charms than this for things to work out.

The first thing I looked at was Suzuki's batting average on balls in play, and what I saw was shocking. His BABIP at this time is a miniscule .167. My first reaction was "holy cow, is Ichiro getting unlucky or what!?" Outside of Ben Francisco and Chris Stewart, who collectively only have 20 plate appearances, that is the lowest BABIP on the team. The average BABIP in the majors is .291, and usually hovers somewhere around .300. But before anybody starts feeling bad for Ichiro, allow me to tell you a bit more.

I'm not so naive as to think a player's batting average on balls in play is a good way to tell if a batter has gotten lucky or not. I mean, if a player is hitting the ball hard every time he swings the bat, and less than 20% of those balls fall in for a base hit, then sure... he may be getting unlucky. Unfortunately that's not the case for Mr. Suzuki.

Before getting traded to New York, Suzuki was struggling in Seattle hitting a paltry .261/.288/.353. During that time his BABIP was .279, which may be a bit lower than the league average, but hardly indicative of somebody running into a bout of bad luck. Meanwhile, Ichiro's line drive percentage was 22%, which is right in line with his career average of 21%. So Suzuki was hitting the ball as hard as he had been his entire time in MLB, and those batted balls were dropping in for base hits at a fairly normal pace, which taken together tells me that the guy we saw in Seattle in 2012 could very well be the guy we should expect.

"You got me, babe."

Since donning Yankee pinstripes in late July of 2012 Ichiro saw his BABIP jump up to .337... an increase of 58 points. Now you may be thinking that his BABIP of .279 before the trade is an outlier, and not a good indicator of what to expect from Ichiro. Well, you could be right, seeing as how his career BABIP sits at .346. But allow me to point out that his BABIP in 2011, the year he hit .272/.310/.335, was .295. So we're not talking about a small sample size in which Ichiro was getting unlucky, since when you add up his 2011 and 2012 time with Seattle it equals 1,144 plate appearances.

Like I said, though... BABIP doesn't tell the whole story. What about Suzuki's line drive percentage after the trade to New York? That jump from .279 to .337 could be due to him hitting the ball harder. Sounds good in theory, but when we take a look at his LD% with the Yankees last season things don't look any better... 19%. That's right! Even though Ichiro wasn't hitting the ball as well in New York as he was in Seattle, 6.7% more of the balls he hit into play were falling for base hits.

Another thing to add to the argument that Ichiro was lucky in New York last year, and what we saw then should not be expected of him from here on out... Before being dealt to the Yankees, Ichiro was drawing walks in 4% of his plate appearances. After being traded, and seeing his batting line jump like Cody Ranson standing in front of a 60" box, Suzuki's walk percentage dropped almost in half to 2.1%. Seeing as how Ichiro wasn't hit by a ton of pitches after the trade, his OBP jump from .288 to .340 is also thanks to a run of good luck.

I don't mean to say that I expect Ichiro to hit .176/.237/.265 all season long. But what I am going to say is that he won't hit .322/.340/.454, and therefore those Yankee fans holding their breath for him to turn things around big-time can exhale, because I really don't think it's going to happen.

Funny, I did the same thing when I remembered that Ichiro is signed through 2014.

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Sorry for the Capatcha... Blame the Russians :)