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Ichiro is Fine (for now)

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It seems to happen every year that Ichiro Suzuki gets off to a slow start and people wonder if this is finally the year that he slows down or that pitchers figure him out. Ichiro's career splits show April to be his worst month with a .740 OPS compared to his career .804 figure. And that career number includes his April totals, so you can imagine that it would be a bit higher if I could do a quick exclusion of April stats for a direct comparison between the two.

Still it would be foolish to simply brush the slow start off as typical Ichiro without digging further to see if there's something different that sticks out. I don't think there is and here's why:

Ichiro's contact rate is near an all-time high. He's not having any trouble putting the bat on the ball.
Ichiro is walking more and striking out less.
Ichiro's stat line on ground balls and fly balls including the ratio of the two and his BABIP and OPS on them, is right in line with his career.

The worrisome part is the line drive rate, which is significantly down. However, Ichiro needs about twice as many plate appearances as he so far has in order for his line drive rate to become statistically reliable enough to comment upon. Also, of his line drives so far, Ichiro has been unlucky with just two singles on six line drives (.666 OPS) compared to his career 1.635 OPS on line drives. That's the anchor on Ichiro's BABIP. It currently stands at .274 and for his career he is holds a .356 BABIP. That's a huge gap and entirely attributable to missing line drives and missing line drives falling in.

Ichiro has put 62 balls in play this season with 40 on the ground, 15 in the air, six line drives and one bunt. Using his career rates, we'd expect 62 batted balls to break down as 34 grounders, 14 fly balls, 13 line drives and one bunt. That leaves seven missing line drives so far on which he'd average five hits. Additionally, he's lost two hits on the six that he's already hit which should have gone for four hits instead of two. If you add those seven hits back, Ichiro's batting average jumps from .254 to .358 and everybody is raving about Ichiro's fast start and what it might mean for him this season.

In conclusion, Ichiro is a typically slow starter whose numbers all look fine except for the rate he is hitting line drives, and it is too early to count on those to mean anything.