Ichiro and the Month of April


With Ichiro’s slow offensive start, one explanation I’ve seen thrown around quite a lot has been that he “always struggles in April”. Now, I’ve only been closely following the Mariners for the last three years or so, and this wasn’t a claim that I could confirm or deny strictly from memory. So naturally, I decided to do a little bit of research, hoping to either confirm or disprove this notion, and if accurate, find an explanation.

First of all, it is true. In general, Ichiro has historically had offensive trouble in April. Now, it’s not quite as cut and dry as you might think, as he has had 3 or 4 really solid Aprils in his career. Overall though, it has clearly been a trend. Here are a few interesting splits via Fangraphs.

March/April, Career:

.285/.342/.386, 10.1 K%, 7.2 BB%, .306 BABIP, 19.6 LD%, 62.2% strikes

Overall, Career:

.332/.377/.433, 9.8 K%, 6.2 BB%, .357 BABIP, 20.6 LD%, 63.3% strikes

These numbers are a little bit strange, because I, personally, was expecting to see a significantly higher strikeout rate in March/April, or a significantly higher percentage of strikes, as I thought it would turn out to be mainly an issue of pitch recognition and timing. These two things may certainly still be factors, however, just in a different sense. The problem appears to be that he just isn’t making real good contact, evidenced by both the drop in line drives and the drop in BABIP. Now, BABIP is a stat that tends to be heavily influenced by luck when skewed like this, but when talking about ~900 plate appearances, I’m inclined to think it’s a little bit more than that, and the lower line drive percentage supports this.

For whatever reason, he just doesn’t hit the ball as well early in the season. In all likelihood, it boils down to either a timing issue or a vision issue, and either of those two things could probably be explained by a little bit of early season rust.

This isn’t groundbreaking stuff, but I find it extremely interesting, as Ichiro is the last guy I would expect to be a slow starter. I mean, right now, Vernon Wells, who was one of the least valuable players in the game last year, has a 1.359 OPS and 6 home runs, while Ichiro is out there struggling to start hitting. Any idiot can tell that Ichiro is the better player, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at the two’s current stats.