The Return of Ichiro!

Banuelos to have Tommy John surgery this week
Brett Gardner cleared to swing, no longer has any restrictions
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

I was very skeptical when the Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners prior to the trade deadline. He could still run and play strong defense, but his  offensive production had really cratered these last two years. From the start of last season through the date of the trade, Ichiro hit just .268/.302/.342 in nearly 1,100 plate appearances. That’s not a small sample, and at 38 years old, I thought he was done as even a league average hitter.

The Yankees made the trade and I suppose they believed three factors would help spark Ichiro’s bat. One, he was going from a last place team to a legitimate World Series contender. Ichiro had 10-and-5 no-trade protection and had to approve the deal, which he obviously did. That was at least an indication that he was looking forward to the opportunity to play meaningful games again. Two, he was moving out of cavernous Safeco Field and into hitter friendly Yankee Stadium. Three, they were going to limit his exposure to left-handed pitchers by platooning him.

Ichiro started his Yankees’ career with a 12-game exactly-one-hit streak, but through his first 41 games and 140 plate appearances with the team he had hit just .271/.297/.398. Yankee Stadium did help him hit some homers (three to be exact), but he was only 4-for-7 in stolen base attempts and really didn’t provide that game-changing speed on the bases. My expectations were low and I was still pretty underwhelmed. Worst of all, the Yankees were slipping in the standings and their one notable trade deadline acquisition wasn’t having much of an impact.

That all started to change about a month ago. The Yankees were wrapping up an important ten-game stretch against the Orioles and Rays with four games in Baltimore, a four-game series in which Ichiro went 8-for-14 with a stolen base and three multi-hit games. In a three-game series against the Blue Jays two weeks ago, he went 9-for-12 with three doubles, a homer, and four steals. All four steals came in the middle game, a 4-for-4 effort in which the fourth hit drove in the game-winning run. At one point he had six hits in six straight plate appearances against left-handed pitchers as well.

Since the start of that series in Baltimore, Ichiro has hit .417/.411/.560 with nine steals (in eleven attempts) in 24 games and 90 plate appearances. That has raised his batting line with the Yankees to a stout .327/.339/.461 in 230 plate appearances, and his season batting line to a respectable .284/.309/.391 in 653 plate appearances. He has eleven multi-hit games in his last 24 contests, which is Ichiro of old stuff. Exclamation point Ichiro. Ichiro!

The hot hitting as prompted Joe Girardi to bump Ichiro up in the lineup, and he now hits second rather than eighth or ninth. The move has added some length to the batting order, and in a lot of ways it has recreated the Derek JeterJohnny Damon dynamic of 2009. Ichiro doesn’t hit for the kind of power that Damon did in 2009, nor does he walk or work deep counts as often, but he’s a far better defender and is creating more havoc on the bases. With the resurgent Jeter leading off and the hot hitting Ichiro behind him, the Yankees have two high-contact, high-average hitters setting the table for the big power bats.

I was really skeptical at the time of the trade, but Ichiro … ahem, Ichiro! … has gone on to prove me and every other doubter wrong these last few weeks. It’s not like he’s hitting .300 or something during a hot homestand, he’s hit over .400 for nearly four weeks while saving runs with his glove and taking extra bases with his legs. Ichiro has more than replaced Brett Gardner at this point, the very man whose injury created the need for the trade in the first place. He’s also gone from the world’s most famous complementary player to a key cog in an offense that has averaged 6.3 runs per game since he moved up in the batting order.

Banuelos to have Tommy John surgery this week
Brett Gardner cleared to swing, no longer has any restrictions
  • Eddard reboot v.1.0

    Yeah, some of us have been behind Ichiro send we got him. I’ve often been mocked for saying he’s one of Cashman’s greatest trades. I feel I’ve already been vindicated but I think he’ll have to help us win a WS for some to finally come around. Good to see Mike has already.

    • Rich in NJ

      As with Soriano, it has been reported to be a Levine move.

      The question may become: Does Levine insist on bringing both back.

      • JohnnyC

        Rich, please keep to the narrative. All good trades and signings are from Cashman, all dumbass moves are Levine and Hank Steinbrenner. I insist on this.

        • Rich in NJ

          I hear you…

          On a related note, Levine’s apparent emergence as the public face of the team (e.g., his decision to make a statement after the blown call on Tex’s dive in Baltimore), along with his role in signings and trades, may indicate that he is now the most important Yankee decision maker.

        • RetroRob

          Among a group of RABers, I thought the narrative was the opposite. Cashman gets no credit for anything that goes right, yet all blame for anythinng that doesn’t?

          Or are we talking an Eddard narrative?

        • Steve (different one)

          We dont need any “narrative” either way. We just need google. Armstrong called Levine, Levine brought it to Cashman, and Cashman and Jack Z completed the trade.

          This was not like the Soriano deal at all. Cashman made the trade, but it was initiated by Ichiro himself.

      • gc

        Actually, it originated from the Mariners, as Ichiro was requesting a trade to a contender. That the initial conversation was between Chuck Armstrong and Randy Levine doesn’t mean that Levine orchestrated the deal or was some great decision maker in all of this (why not give Armstrong the real credit if that’s the case!). Levine has connections with many front office people around baseball and, like he does with many of those conversations, he brought the message to Cashman and Cashman did the rest as general manager, including making sure Ichiro understood the nature of the deal and what it would mean in terms of playing time and role, etc.

        As for Levine’s recent (and often in the past) quotes in the media, he has show the propensity to speak his mind pretty bluntly and the media loves that. He gives them good sound bites, so they seek him out for comments. Brian Cashman is more apt to give the non-answer answer, and Hal really doesn’t give many interviews. That does not mean Levine is the “public face of the team” or that he plays a more crucial role in personnel decisions than that of an advisor or key member of the front office, which he obviously is.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      He’s proven to be a great pick up for this season at a very minor cost. One of Cashman’s best trades? I’d save that for trades that provided longer-term inpact to the organizations.

      For now, I’m enjoying what he is providing.

    • hornblower

      No chance of him coming back. Gardiner is cheaper and younger. You can’t have two of the same kind of player in your outfield. With the payroll staying firm the Yanks seem to be ready to see if Austin, Flores and Heathcote are ready to play in the next year or so. Time to get younger.
      By the way, with the news about Banuelos, how about Joba 2.0.

      • jim p

        Though a big Gardner booster, I have to note that he has had major arm/hand/wrist injuries in every year since 2009. He missed 43 games in ’09, and although he appeared in 150 or so games in ’10-11, in the second half of each he was playing injured, and with a notable loss on productivity. I still like him a lot, though.

        But I’m sure this hasn’t escaped the notice of the Yankee organization. “Two of the same kind of player” doesn’t mean that they’ll both be in the starting lineup every day. We will be carrying a 4th outfielder no matter what, after all.

  • Austin Aunelowitzky

    2012 World Series MVP. You heard it here first. Actually, second, because I said it here a few weeks ago.

    • JonS

      I’m not sure which is the more bold statement, WS MVP or Yankees 28 in ’12.

      • Austin Aunelowitzky

        Go Bold or Go Home ;)

      • DC

        Yeah, God forbid someone have a positive outlook around JonS.

        • JonS

          Hey it is what it is. Why try to have a positive outlook on something that can go bad? Why have a negative outlook on something that can become positive?

          Why not just view things as they are at that moment?

    • MannyGeee

      from your mouth to MOs ears

    • Mickey Rivers

      First of all, much as I would love it, there is no chance of the Yankees going to the world series this year. Lets be real. We’re not getting past the Wild Card winner, whether its the Birds, Texas of the A’s. Each of those teams can wipe the floor with the 2012 version of the Yankees, we have to admit it. Our pitching is not that strong, its inconsistent, the bullpen is very leaky, and the lineup is inept unless swinging for the fences. LOB is a major problem here. That being said, I do love Ichiro, and love the way he cranks it up a notch in these games. I hope and pray we retain him. I actually prefer him to Gardener, who can run but can’t hit to save his life, and I think Ichiro is a guy who will be strong for another few years given his conditioning and lifestyle.

  • JD

    We may see him next year on a one year deal considering Grandy and or swish gonna go bye bye.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      Grandy will almost certainly be back next year. No reason for the Yankees not to pick up his option, as there’s no viable replacement currnetly within the organization and no salary constraints until the following season.

  • FLYER7

    Do we dare bring Ichiro back in 2013?

    • Nedro

      Sure, one year deal, why not? Doubt if he’d fit with the ’14 budget plan, though.

    • FachoinaNYY

      I think it honestly depends on his contract demand

      1 year 10 million?

      I hope we bring him and both Huroki and Andy back

      • forensic

        I don’t have a problem with him coming back at this point, but I would hope the front office would be smarter than to give him $10 million.

  • john

    ok, how does one accumulate a lower OBP than BP?

    • forensic

      More sac flies than walks/hbp’s.

      • forensic

        I should say sac bunts too. Ichiro has 2 walks and 0 hbp’s vs. 1 sac fly and 3 sac bunts.

        Meanwhile, there’s apparently a bug in when highlighting a group of games. They were counting the sac bunts as PA’s but not including them in the OBP calculation, so they actually show it as a .425 OBP instead.

    • jjyank

      Sac flies.

  • forensic


    • Betty Lizard


      My first thought when the trade was announced: Ichiro? He’s done.
      My second thought, when I saw him at the plate for the first time as a Yankee: Thank god!

      I wanted him to succeed for us so badly, and he has. Win, win, win.

  • Graig not Craig

    Not to mention the Ichiro jersey sales, third in the majors.

  • Bavarian Yankee

    Ichi Banzai!!

  • Joe R

    Has anyone read/heard anything about the game tonight with the rain? Have tickets but have to leave early enough to make it. Obviously dont want to go for nothing.

    • Big Members Only (formerly RI$P FTW)

      They want you to show up, pay for parking, pay for shitty food and terrible beer. Then they will call it and send you home with a sore ass.

      • Steve (different one)


  • Nathan

    It’s great to see Ichiro show some flashes of his old self. Of course he’s a little slower and strikes out more than he used to but he still puts some good wood on the ball, plays a good outfield and brings much needed speed.

    I wouldn’t be adverse to bringing him back next season, even if he and Gardner are similar players. As mentioned, Gardner hasn’t been very healthy lately so having Gardner around as a fourth OF/pinch runner isn’t a bad thing if Ichiro is brought back.

    The question with Ichiro (as well as Kuroda) is whether they would accept a one-year deal and at what price.

  • LarryM., Fl.

    Ichiro has been a pleasure to watch. I noticed his defensive play then the speed or base running ability. His hitting over the past month has been marvelous. Ichiro of old has been enjoying his stay in the Bronx. I often sit while watching the games and ponder if Ichiro fits in the 2013 plans. As much as I like both Granderson and Swisher in the lineup for different reasons one or both may not be back.

    I like Swisher as the backup first baseman and starting RF. He’s a solid player with some warts such as playoff offense. If he was to have a quality playoff offensively. He maybe worth a tumble for three years at reasonable rates. Whatever reasonable is to Swisher and Boras? Granderson another good guy but .229 BA with 40 homers just is not so acceptable.

    I’m getting ahead of myself because there is plenty of baseball still to play. Winning the 2012 WS could give the Yankees the stones to blow up this team and go radically young all a once. Where contracts would allow.

    Melky Messa maybe in the Bronx next year by the All Star break.

    • Slugger27

      Other than RF and C, the contracts won’t allow that anywhere. and given our farm system, we should all be hoping not.

      • LarryM., Fl.

        Young could mean going outside the organization with trades of a pitcher (Hughes, Nova)or Granderson? just wondering.

        • hornblower

          Hughes and Nova are young. Never trade young pitching.

  • Eddard reboot v.1.0

    And where Ichiro has really helped is vs LHP. Not only is he a vast improvement over Andruw in the field, he’s also an improvement with the bat. And people said Ichiro couldn’t hit LHP. People always like to cite numbers from 8-10 years ago. Who cares? Ichiro is the best we’ve got in LF and he should play there everyday.

    • Better off Eddard/Syrio Forel/Occasional Troll

      People always like to cite numbers from 8-10 years ago.

      I don’t think anybody does that regarding either Ichiro or Andruw Jones. Nobody knows what you (me, us) are talking about.

      We’re better than this.

  • Darren

    People gave me a lot of shit on this site for making a case that Ichiro should have been batting lead-off in his first game as a Yankee (which was at Safeco), even though there was all the incentive in the world to do that for ONE GAME and absolutely ZERO downside. It was like SABR had warped your brain to the point where you weren’t even aware that we were talking about a maximum of one extra at bat sacrificed in the name of trying to inspire Ichiro.

    If only Girardi had shown him some respect and not been so tone-deaf, we might have been reaping the rewards of this resurgence a little sooner and maybe the race wouldn’t be coming down to the wire.

    • gc

      So that’s all it would have taken? To bat him leadoff in that one game? And then this entire race to the wire might not have happened?? If you honestly believe that’s what Ichiro needs to “inspire him”, then you’re a fool.

      • gc

        And for the record, I acknowledge the advanced statistics only up to a certain point (as I do for ALL statistics). You didn’t need ANY statistics at the time to see that Ichiro had been a shell of his former self for quite some time as a hitter. But to imply that Girardi was disrespectful because he didn’t bat him lead off in one game is beyond ridiculous. Ichiro knew the deal when he asked for this trade. He agreed to the deal. The Yankees have a leadoff hitter, and he’s one that has played pretty damn well in that spot all year long. Get a freaking grip.

        • Darren

          How can you be so obtuse?

          It would have cost the Yankees absolutely nothing to bat Ichiro first or second in that game and it might have helped his ocnfidence and improved his play. You do understand that a player’s mental state affects his game, right?

          Would it have definitley made a difference? Of course not. Could it have been good for a win or two? Maybe, but we’ll never know because Girardi has zero feel for the game.

          Aslo, you sound like a major league asshole.

          • DC

            I had no idea ball players were such fragile creatures.

          • jjyank

            He has zero feel for the game because he didn’t bat a guy lead off who was OBPing under .300 at the time? Seriously?

        • jjyank

          It was CRIMINAL. CRIMINAL!

          • gc


    • forensic

      So, batting him lead off is what caused this? I guess we just need to ignore the fact the he was at the bottom part of the order for the first 8 and 12 of the first 14 games of this hot streak.

    • Steve (different one)

      Yeah, this is batshit insane.

      • Darren

        No, you’re misunderstanding. This hot streak proves that Ichiro had it in him, that’s all.

        • Genghis

          Yeah, but your theory is pulled straight out of a black hole. Absolutely not one shred of supporting evidence. If batting leadoff is so inspiring, maybe they should try it with ARod, or Martin? Or Melky Mesa? What would it cost them, except the opportunity cost of not randomly inspiring some other player through the mysterious magic of the Batting-Leadoff-Inspiration-Phenomenum (BLIP)?

  • Joe F

    I would bring him back for the right cost.

  • forensic

    Crazy huge splits.. .363 point OPS advantage at home vs road. .265 point OPS advantage vs lefties instead of righties. That’s all well and good, but a little bringing up of those numbers vs righties and on the road would sure be nice, even if the numbers vs lefties drop a bit in exchange.

    Guess it really depends on how teams would stack their rotations against the Yanks in the playoffs.

    • RetroRob

      I’m guessing the crazy splits are indicative of what can happen with smaller sample sizes. A player with a few hot games at home or on the road can really spike his numbers in one direction or another. For the most part, I don’t pay much attention to full season home/road splits over a single season. I look at them, but don’t put much faith in them. I’d want to see at least two full seasons of data.

      But whatever he’s doing, keep it up!

  • mustang

    I don’t care who put this team together Cashman or Levine the fact is that the FO did a great job. However they did use a bunch of old guys and as we all know baseball careers end at 35 so this team bound to fail.

    PS- I did love the trade for the price I however totally made fun of John and Susan when they, in their special way, envision this kind of output from Ichiro damn those old people.

  • Midland TX

    I too thought he was done. Besides the park factor and meaningful games, I think he fits better with this veteran team. Working out and playing alongside fellow workaholics and Hall of Famers like Jeter and A-Rod has to have been inspiring and motivating and probably a lot more fun. Trying to lead a team of AAAA youngsters with no plate discipline, on and off the field, had to take a toll.

  • murg

    “but he’s a far better defender” (than Damon).
    Understatement of the century.

  • Midland TX

    I still say he gets nothing more than a Chavez/Ibanez/Jones-type offer next year. His career earnings exceed $125MM. If all the intangible reasons for liking NY are true–the chance to win, the reduced burden of shared stardom, playing with HOFers–then he can afford to come back at a discount like Chavez did.

  • Kosmo

    Ichiro is a career .330 hitter vs LHP. He can´t hit lefties ? He still runs like a Gazelle in the OF. He´s a human highlight reel. Great pick-up.

  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    He is also a contact hitter and they are valuable in the post season as we have seen far too many swings and misses and risp failure in October from several of our HR hitters. A ground ball out with 2nd and 3rd 1 out to score a run in the post season is a very valuable ab.

  • http://- JFish

    Swisher @ DH next year with Ichiro in RF and Gardner in LF? Obviously Swisher would get a lot of playing time in RF when Ichiro is on the bench.

  • DJ4K&Monterowasdinero

    He puts the bat on the ball which, in the post season, is good enough for me with the rest of our lineup’s tendency towards post season risp failure.

  • Klemy

    I love that this is now working out so well. A lot of people were critical of the move, a lot were cautiously optimistic…who cares? We all wanted him to do well and now he is. Loving the ride.

  • FreeAgentSignee

    Go Ichiro!