DISCLAIMER / ED.NOTE: I started writing this before Jeff's Ichiro story that appeared on the site Friday afternoon. His story is better and tighter and funnier, and it even contains a new instant classic Ichiro! .gif to boot. But this post delves a little deeper into how and why Ichiro's batting line has improved, so here it is, slightly redundant and all. Thanks for understanding. Thanks for reading!
With the Yankees hurtling toward the postseason (their playoff odds at coolstandings.com are a healthy 99.4 percent through Saturday), I've been thinking the LL community would enjoy a statistical update on Ichiro Suzuki, Yankees outfielder, number 31.
Brief synopsis of the post:
1. Ichiro looks the opposite of done.
2. It's all about the BABIP.
3. An extra helping of stats.
4. Rooting for the Yankees? Beats the alternative. Barely.
Jump with me, won't you?
1. 2004 Ichiro may never reappear, but Ichiro! is back
Crucial caveat: Small sample size warning applies when considering a full season of numbers, and even more so if that season gets split, like by a surprise trade or something. Now with that giant disclaimer out of the way, here are some 2012 numbers for Ichiro, as a Mariner and as a Yankee:
M's uniform: .261/.288/.353, .621 OPS, 84 OPS+, 80 wRC+, .281 wOBA
In pinstripes: .335/.361/.489, .849 OPS, 128 OPS+, 134 wRC+, .371 wOBA
For purposes of comparison, here are some important numbers for Mr. Suzuki:
Career: .322/.365/.419, .784 OPS, 113 OPS+, 115 wRC+, .345 wOBA
2001 season: .350/.381/.457, .838 OPS, 126 OPS+, 130 wRC+, .360 wOBA
Earlier in the week, I tried to find the year from Ichiro's past that most closely matched his production as a Yankee. Some came close, but what matched best as of Thursday evening was, yep, his career line.
Then came stellar games on Friday and Saturday, and what started to match best on Sunday morning was his MVP season of 2001. The last three numbers, especially. It's uncanny.
It seems Ichiro went from being himself to Willie Bloomquist for a year and a half, then back to one of the best versions of himself. So Ichiro's new and improved New York numbers aren't new and improved. It's simply a classic Ichiro! slash line. Give the man back his punctuation!
I'll say it again: SSS cautions apply. But If you have any leftover comments about how he's actually a robot cyborg machine, this is where they go.
2. That change of scenery looks like it was helpful... sort of.
It appears that playing in New Yankee "Stadium" is boosting Ichiro's slugging percentage. (Who could have seen that coming!?) Here are some pertinent HR/FB numbers:
2012, pre-trade: 4.3
2012, post-trade: 14.3
That makes sense. Some slugging numbers, too, in the form of ISO:
2012, pre-trade: .096
2012, post-trade: .153
More dingers are a good sign, but they wouldn't explain why Ichiro looks rejuvenated. For that, we turn to an old friend: BABIP.
2011, yeeech: .295
2012, pre-trade: .279
2012, post-trade: .358
Career, mm hmm: .350
By now we all know that BABIP excludes home runs, so playing in NY isn't what's boosting that number. Maybe he's hitting more line drives since the trade, then? Yeah no.
2012, pre-trade: 25.6 LD%
2012, post-trade: 22.4
Career percentage: 20.5
I'd caution against reading too much into the LD numbers anyway, as people smarter than me have said before. They're not predictive, and they're not always classified properly. Suffice it to say that the notion that Ichiro is hitting the ball harder since he switched uniforms is not supported by the evidence. Especially when the evidence adds this:
2012, pre-trade: 48.6 GB%, 7.4 IFH%
2012, post-trade: 55.1 GB%, 16.3 IFH%
He's hitting more grounders. They're finding holes, and he's beating them out when they don't. It really all comes down to BABIP, from the looks of it. A strong case can be made for the fact that Ichiro was getting unlucky earlier this year, and regression kicked in sometime in July. Not necessarily on July 23 exactly, but the baseball gods have been known to possess wicked senses of humor.
There's also this to consider:
BABIP, Sept. 8-21: .542
BABIP, Sept. 15-21: .750
Ichiro! is one hot dude right now. Or, alternatively, thanks for showing up, regression. Yes, much of that regression has happened since The Trade. Maybe they're correlated! Maybe not.
3. Statistical Amuse-Bouches
Thought I'd throw in a few more number-nuggets, nothing earth-shattering, just something to chew on.
Ichiro remains fast. He stole about one base a week as a Mariner, then 11 bases in eight weeks as a Yankee. He's 38, in human years, but still runs like he hasn't lost a step.
He's striking out more and walking less since he started dressing like Babe Ruth. He was running a 0.43 BB/K ratio as a Mariner; that plummeted to 0.16 since the trade.
Otherwise, his pitch-by-pitch plate discipline is as it's always been -- O-Swing, Z-Swing, contact rates are all holding pretty steady. (Fangraphs page is here if you crave even more specifics.)
His UZR/150 was at a career-high 25.4 with Seattle in 2012 but is in negative territory, -4.1, with New York. Depending on how much you trust UZR, that will mean different things to you.
4. At least it's not the Angels
I share in a widespread sentiment: rooting for Ichiro to succeed in the postseason -- and by extension, the Yankees -- is OK this time around. I really don't find myself wishing the usual demise upon the Evil Empire. The main goal of a sans-playoff 2012 becomes fucking the Angels, and success is imminent: Anaheim's odds of making the playoffs are just 14.6 percent. At least MVP-for-life Mike Trout will be watching the postseason like the rest of us. Probably.
And really, who cares if the Yankees pad their trophy case with another shiny object? Outside of New York, another world title (what? their 28th? 29th? 51st?) will be forgotten by Thanksgiving. Even if Ichiro were still here, reaping the benefits of regression with the Mariners, I'd rather some team keep the Rangers, A's, and the White Sox (hate hate hate them) out of the World Series.
If the team purging those undesirables from the playoffs also finds a way to have Ichiro! on its roster, then hell yes, all the better. Especially if he churns out some postseason numbers like he did in 2001:
.421/.488/.474, 5BB, 4K
Go Yankees. (sigh)
P.S. The links for more Ichiro investigation: