I put together a new little chart yesterday while the Mariners were taking a break to get in some hitting practice on MLB 2K12 (source not found). Included are the statistics HR per outfield flyball (HR/FB), OBP, ISO power, groundball rates (GB%), outfield flyball rates (OFFB%), and line drive rates (LD%).
This chart compares players to their own performance in the years 2009 to 2011, which makes it useful for analyzing changes in guys like Ichiro, but not so useful for guys like Alex Liddi. I added additional shades of green and red to highlight the changes. Generally, the greener the better, but for GB% and OFFB%, greener simply means morer. More groundballs would be good for Ichiro, but bad for Justin Smoak.
To the chart!
Earlier in the season I was high on Ichiro’s line drive rate. While line drives are generally the best batted ball outcome—producing hits 60-70% of the time—Ichiro has also traded some groundballs for some flyballs. That’s not a good trade for a light-hitting player, but I don’t think it’s the difference maker. Observe.
On his career, Itchy has a batting average of .296 on groundballs, .693 on line drives, and .136 on outfield flyballs. If he could maintain those averages with his current batted ball splits, he would have a BABIP in the .350 range. This season, his BABIP is a career-low .276.
So I would not argue that his change in approach (that was advertised at the beginning of the year) is necessarily making him worse. After all, if he could maintain the same averages on each type of batted ball as he has for his career, he would be hitting about .315 and we’d all be much happier. His ability to turn contact into hits has deteriorated and at 38, it’s probably not coming back. Age is the guilty one, your honor, not his approach.