Yet Another Take on Ichiro


Everyone seems to have their own take on Ichiro, and this blog, and just about every other Mariner related site, has talked about him a lot. I hope you are not sick of Ichiro yet, because it’s my turn to give you my opinion on the situation.

Honestly, I think that Ichiro is just fine. I believe that if he wants, he will be able to hit for a very high average, just as he has done for his entire career. I really don’t even think there was anything dramatically wrong with his performance last year. Obviously, you can look at his stats and say, “His batting average dropped 40 points and his BABIP dropped .60 points,” but I think there is more to the picture than that.

After last season, I was confused, and I wanted to find some sort of explanation to Ichiro’s horrible season. Like most baseball fans, my first stop was fangraphs.com. When sorting through his splits from last year, this was the stat that popped out at me: Ichiro had a .583 average on line drives.

When hitting line drives last season, his batting average with .583; 100 points below his career average on liners. Here is a graph of his line drives and their relation to batting average.

Year line drives hit Average on line drives Total batting average
2011 115 .583 .272
2010 101 .723 .315
2009 102 .775 .352
2008 122 .664 .310
2007 119 .784 .351
2004 (His best season) 125 .792 .372
Career 1221 .685 .326

 

As this chart shows, his amount of line drives hit were not particularly low, but for some reason, those line drives didn’t translate into hits at the same consistency as they did in the rest of his career. He even did a better job of hitting line drives, but his batting average didn’t show it.

While you can argue that this discrepancy is due to him hitting less authoritative line drives, I don’t think that slightly softer hit liners can account for a 150 point drop in batting average on line drives from the previous season.

I truly believe that Ichiro suffered from unluckiness last year. His dramatic inability to get line drives to land tells me that he had a case of hitting the ball right at fielders. Just look through baseball; you won’t find many players who did as poorly as Ichiro when it came to turning line drives into hits. From the most powerful batters to the least, they all did better than Ichiro in the category. Even the disastrous Jack Cust hit .720 on line drives last year and the abysmal Chone Figgins has a career .713 average when hitting balls on a line.

If Ichiro had kept his pace from the previous season and hit .723 on line drives last year, his batting average would have been about .295 and he would have had about 200 hits. While this is still low by Ichiro standards, it would be considered a great season for nearly anyone else in baseball.

Now that I have made my case that last year was mostly a fluke, I want to finish by saying that I’m not sure that Ichiro will have a particularly successful upcoming year in the batting average column. With Suzuki’s transition to the third spot in the order, a decision that it appears he has bought in to, Seattle will look to him less for base hits, and more for extra base hits and homeruns. While you won’t see him taking the same plate approach as Mark Reynolds, don’t expect to see him looking for groundball base hits every time he steps to the plate. Expect him to try to lift the ball a bit more than in the past. Unfortunatly, Ichiro hasn’t had a lot of success hitting the ball in the air, as he has just a .189 career average while hitting fly balls. Because of this, don’t be too surprised if his batting average drops more this year. However, this drop won’t be because he can’t hit like he used to, but instead because he is taking on a new role at the plate.

Tags: Ichiro Suzuki

  • Coug1990

    The Heyman article was worthless.  He eviscerates Ichiro using an unnamed source?  Come on.  The source wasn’t even man enough to put his name on the information.   It sounds more like jealously on the players part. 
     
    Seriously, many players over the years have had had their own set of rules, including Griffey.  The article was a hatchet piece pure and simple.  It is unfortunate because there are a lot of people who will believe it.

  • JCondreay

     @Coug1990 Your right, every clubhouse has a player it gravitates around, but I find it scarier when a player is potentially pulling an owner’s strings, which is why I’m a little concerned by this article. It does make me wonder why we haven’t heard about this for the last decade of Ichiro’s tenure. Since we havent heard ex-mariner players or front office guys complaining about the issues Heyman talked about, I’m not too worried about Ichiro’s negative impact, but its something to keep an eye out for. 

  • Coug1990

     @JCondreay There are times that a witness needs to hide their identity, like if their life is in danger.  That the person who is the source does not want to be named calls into question the validity of his claims.  There is a reason why in a court of law a defendant has the right to face his accuser.
     
    There is varying degrees of things. What if there is a sliver of truth to what this unknown person says.  However, because this person is biased, he remembers everything in the most negative light and in his subconscious exaggerates the severity of the situation.  We don’t know because this guy is hiding.  This person strikes me as a coward and not a good teammate. 
     
    So, it is not surprising the guy is jealous of Ichiro.

  • Mariner_Melee

    Great article. Luck is such a horrible thing is baseball. It’s aggravating, as a fan, as an analyst, and I’m sure three time over for the player. Trying to explain to the less than intelligent buffoon sitting a few rows in front of you that Adrian Beltre suffered from some of the worst luck in baseball during his extended stay here in Seattle is the equivalent of trying to teach you’re dog quantum physics. People just don’t get it.
     
    Ichiro is set for a different role in the three hole, but I’m not sure how much his approach will change. We’ve seen him in the three hole before, but never for an extended period. We’ll see how this goes. You have me more intrigued than before.

  • http://sodomojo.com/ MattyK

    On the topic of the Heyman article, I definitely think it’s smart to take a look at Ichiro this season. But I see no reason why the M’s couldn’t come up with a logical deal to keep him around another couple years. 
     
    As for his “superstar” attitude, baseball is one of the few team sports where players can’t really hurt the team by being more superstarry. It’s not like basketball where players can shoot their teams out of games (oh hey, Jamal). In fact, I think it was Michael Lewis that pointed out that a player’s personal goals in baseball line up almost exactly with the team’s goals. Hit more homeruns, win more, get paid more. So even if he’s an asshole in the clubhouse (and I’m not claiming to know), it’s probably not affecting the team’s win tally. 
     
    So hey, if we can get him for 2 or 3 years at a reasonable price–assuming a bounceback year in 2012–let’s do it!
     
    Good stuff again, Joel!

  • JCondreay

     @Mariner_Melee Considering he has already changed his batting stance, I think he will change his approach at least a little bit.
    Beltre did have bad luck here, combined with his struggle (like all right handed mariners) to hit the ball out of left field. 
    Random fact: Beltre it 23 of his 32 homeruns last year in Texas. 

  • JCondreay

     @MattyK Thats true, its pretty hard to be an “at bat hog.” I’m more worried about him making decisions that should be made by the gm or front office guys. 
    I’m not totally sure about 3 years, at some point you have to give a chance to wells/saunders/catricala, but if you can get 200 hits at a reasonable price for a year, go for it! Maybe toss in a club option for another year and your set.

  • http://sodomojo.com/ MattyK

     @JCondreay Ooooh…team options are awesome. Three years would probably be a bit much, and it seems like the M’s could get a hometown discount. Maybe one year with a team option for a second? But you’re right, it is time to think about the future, and Ichiro is not an integral part of this teams long-term plans.