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|
|2004 (His best season)||125||.792||.372|
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.