What Went Wrong: Ichiro Suzuki

Prioritizing the offseason needs
Crasnick: MLB investigating Jay-Z for possible inappropriate gift to Cano

The 2013 season is over and now it’s time to review all aspects of the year that was, continuing today with a big name outfielder who provided small name production.


It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while a move will work out exactly the way I expected it to work out. The Ichiro Suzuki re-signing was one of those moves. It was a terrible signing at the time (two years!!!) and it looks just as terrible today. Those three great weeks at the end of last season were a total mirage — the Magic of the Pinstripes™ failed Ichiro miserably in 2013. He looked old and washed up because, well, he’s old and washed up. Here is his 2013 season in three acts:

Act One: The Terrible Start
It’s hard to believe Ichiro was asked to be the everyday right fielder at the outset of the season. Yet there he was, starting ten of the team’s first 13 games and playing against both righties and lefties. He singled to center field in his second at-bat of the season and then went hitless in his next 14 at-bats. Ichiro went 8-for-42 with one extra-base hit (a homer) in the team’s first 14 games, good for a .190/.255/.262 batting line. The Yankees were winning and an early season slump is usually nothing to worry about, so Suzuki got a free pass because hey, he’s Ichiro Suzuki and he’ll figure it out.

Act Two: The Inevitable Hot Streak
Naturally, Ichiro figured it out and went on a two-and-a-half month hot streak. From April 19th through July 4th, a span of 70 team games, he hit .296/.339/.408 with four homers and 12 stolen bases in 255 plate appearances. It wasn’t exactly Ichiro circa 2004 or even Ichiro circa September 2012, but it was good enough. The highlight of the hot streak was a walk-off solo homer against Tanner Scheppers and the Rangers, one of four games in which New York swatted four of more homers in 2013.

That 70-game hot streak featured 18 multi-hit games and only 26 strikeouts, raising his season batting line to .280/.318/.387. Ichiro was piling up base hits and making noise on the bases, plus he was still playing solid defense. He was contributing both at the plate and in the field, exactly what the injury-riddled Yankees needed. The early slump was forgotten and any concern that he was, uh, old and washed up disappeared for a little while. A streak like this was inevitable at some point, I felt.

Act Three: The Awful Finish
Things very quickly went south for Ichiro. Following the (arbitrarily cut-off) hot streak, he went into a 6-for-27 (.222) and 17-for-73 (.233) slide. Ichiro hit .239/.272/.290 with two homers and eight steals in his final 253 plate appearances and the team’s final 76 games of the season. Ichiro started only 57 of those 76 games because he hit his way out of the lineup, first losing time to Zoilo Almonte and then to Curtis Granderson before Brett Gardner got hurt late in the year. He did record his 4,000th professional hit on August 21st, which was pretty cool:

Ichiro finished the season at .262/.297/.342 (71 wRC+) with seven homers and 20 steals (in 24 attempts) in 555 plate appearances. He set new career worsts in AVG, OBP, wRC+, stolen bases, and plate appearances. It was, by a not small margin, the worst offensive season of his career. Ichiro did play strong right field defense despite developing what appeared to be a Bobby Abreu-esque fear of the wall late in the season. Maybe he was hiding an injury and didn’t want to aggravate it by running into the wall, who knows. Maybe that explains the noodle bat as well, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

* * *

Depending on your preference, Ichiro was either a 1.1-win player (fWAR) or a 1.4-win player (bWAR) in 2013, obviously on the strength of his defense. That’s … okay, I guess. It’s basically the bare minimum for a starting player. Suzuki’s season, these three acts, is best shown in graph form:

Ichiro 2013 wOBA

Down, then up (teetering on good!), then really down.

Unfortunately, we’re all going to get a look at Act Four in 2014. Ownership signed Ichiro to a two-year contract (!!!) and pending the team’s offseason moves, he is currently slated to open next season as the regular-ish right fielder. His skillset at this point is that of a fourth or fifth outfielder: some average, no on-base skills, no power, good base-running, good defense. The kind of guy you can find for maybe a million bucks in the offseason. Instead, Ichiro and his unparallelled marketability will earn $6.25M in 2014 and again provide below-average production. Old, overpaid, and on the decline. The Yankees way.

Prioritizing the offseason needs
Crasnick: MLB investigating Jay-Z for possible inappropriate gift to Cano
  • Adam

    It’s possible that some teams may be interested in taking him off our hands if only for the marketing boost.

  • Hank

    That GIF has me curious. What is the rule if Ichiro had actually made contact on that pitch after it bounced? Is it in play?

  • Delbert Grady

    As a 5th OF, he’s okay to carry next season. Thinking of him in the Rock Raines role. He can steal a base, get a hit, make a play, lay down a bunt, try to pull one over the wall. As a starter? The Yankees are not trying to win. If the OF somehow is Choo, Grandy and Gardner and you go get a real RH bat to replace the ghost of Vernon Wells and use Ichiro as team mascot/spot starter it’s not horrid. If Grandy walks or Choo isn’t pursued, you cannot platoon Wells/Ichiro and pretend you’re trying. Ichiro is a bench player. Wells isn’t a major leaguer at this point.

  • Coolerking101

    Tim Raines hit .290/.395 in his final year in pinstripes. Please don’t compare him to Ichiro.

  • Farewell Mo

    I think they obviously need to upgrade RF but $6.25 million for a little over 1 WAR isn’t that bad

    • Need Pitching & Hitting

      Kind of depends on how much playing time it takes to accumulate the little over 1 WAR.
      There is an opportunity cost involved. If he could do that over maybe 300-350 PA and leave the opportunity for somebody else to provide additional value, it might be OK.
      If it’s the result of being a below average player getting way too much playing time, it’s a problem.

      • http://www.jeremytice.com Jeremy T

        So basically, you think the replacement level for the Yankees is higher than it is for everyone else?

        • LK

          Above replacement level does not mean good; it means better than a random minor league FA. Average full time players are ~2 WAR, so Ichiro was below average. A 0 WAR player is an absolute disaster. A 1 WAR player is only bad – that’s where Ichiro falls. In the current market, $6M for a below average player isn’t a huge overpay, but that’s within the context of free agency, where essentially everything is an overpay.

        • Need Pitching & Hitting


          • http://www.jeremytice.com Jeremy T

            WAR already takes into account opportunity cost. If you think he’s taking away time from someone else that’s freely available, and you think that someone else would provide more than 0 WAR, then you think that the replacement level for the Yankees is higher than the “replacement level” defined by WAR.

            • LK

              He said that Ichiro playing so much was a problem. That’s different than saying that there was a better solution available for free.

            • Need Pitching & Hitting

              I didn’t say it was somebody freely available.
              I’m saying the additional playing time could go to someone else who could provide above replacement level production.
              And WAR doesn’t really take into account opportunity cost.
              The more you play, the higher a player’s WAR is going to be (as long as they are at least slightly above replacement level).

            • Caballo Sin Nombre

              That’s not what he meant by opportunity cost. He means the ABs are an opportunity cost. You could have had a player providing 2+ WAR over the same 300-350 ABs. You need about 40-50 WAR to be a serious contender. You fall short with 1 WAR RFs, even if they are just half-time.

  • hey now

    “Old, overpaid, and on the decline. The Yankees way.”

    Man, if one of us posted that in the comments section, we’d be set upon like chum in shark-filled waters.

    It’s entirely true, of course, but unless you’re running the site it’s the kind of statement that erroneously gets you called out as a “troll”.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      You wouldn’t get called a troll, but I can tell you there’s nothing about that refrain that I wasn’t hearing from fans when I was in grade school in the 1980’s. It’s nothing new.

    • WhittakerWalt

      I think virtually all of us agree that the Yankees have a problem with overpaid/old players and a paucity of stud minor leaguers coming through the system. Seriously, we all know that. The problem is that this complicated systemic problem gets boiled down to CASHMAN FAILED AND IS TEH SUXORZ, and that’s pretty feebleminded.

  • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

    Well…on the bright side…we have our 5th OF locked up for next season. On to the next task!

  • Robinson Tilapia

    I love Ichiro. I love him, even as a clearly depleted player. They don’t all need to be guys who hit moonshot HR’s.

    I also think what should be his final season as a major leaguer should be spent as a fourth outfielder, especially on a team that may not be able to overcome the firepower lost at that premium position somewhere else.

    • WhittakerWalt

      I think it’s possible to love the idea of Ichiro, and to appreciate his overall career, and still not want him manning RF for us next year.

  • New Haven

    I was surprised at how much Suzuki-wear there was for sale in the stadium. Pins, cards, figurines, clothing, all sorts of collectibles. Right away I thought this is part of their plan. Market Suzuki off the charts. Maybe there is some way to measure how much revenue he generated by selling all this crap and having the Japanese fans and media following him to the Bronx. I can think of no other factors in this signing.

    I respect Suzuki for what he has done, but this 2 year deal was ludicrous.

    • mitch

      If Japanese fans are what they’re after they should sign Tanaka. Then call up Gasuke Katoh. Katoh and Tanaka – The Orient Express 2.0.

      On second thought, that would probably offend Japanese fans more than attract them, but it’d be a real crowd-pleaser with late-80s wrestling fans.

      • Robinson Tilapia

        Pat D. and I would be there in costume.

  • Tom

    The most unfortunate part of Ichiro is that because he stands in the box that is on the 1st base side, Girardi will continue his caveman platooning and think Ichiro vs righties and Wells vs lefties(despite Ichiro hitting lefties better than righties over his career). They may have a 2014 platoon where both parts of the platoon hit lefties better… which is less than ideal when you consider 60-70% of pitching is right handed.

    I’d like to see them cut Wells, Girardi to open his damn binder and actually look at Ichiro’s real splits and platoon him with Almonte (Almonte vs righties, Ichiro vs lefties). Or keep Wells as a 5th OF and have Ichiro and him split time vs lefties (and PH).

  • jim p

    if they had given Almonte the starter role he likely wouldn’t have been much worse; likely much better PLUS get experience. Yankees seem unwilling to mix in younguns as a way to uncover talent and develop it.

    If only Ichiro and Wells would retire. They’ve got money, and the experience can’t be helping their pride any.

    Fun, in a House of Horrors way, to look at Ichiro and Wells compared to all other OF with 300 ABs the whole year (110 players)

    OBP: Wells 9th worse; Ichiro 21st
    SLG; I, 13; W, 16
    OPS: W, 9th; I, 12th
    Fangraph’s OFF rating: Wells, 3rd worst; Ichiro 4th worst.

    Of 110 players with 300 ABs, both Leagues

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Almonte was hurt for a good portion of the season. The job would have found its way back with the vets, no matter, and his development would have been hindered.

      I don’t think anyone is quite sure what the team has in Almonte.

      • jim p

        Well I should have written “say, an Almonte.” Wasn’t really thinking of him in particular. Really anyone they expect to have a future.

  • Dale Mohorcic

    PEPPER: Wish we had him two years ago.

    DONOVAN: We did.

    PEPPER: Four years ago then.

  • Nathan

    Each time I saw Ichiro have an ugly strikeout, I’d think back to when he was the hardest batter to strike out.

    Oh how Father Time is cruel and unforgiving.

    • qwerty

      Actually, he still is one of the hardest batters to strike out. The crux of his problem appears to be that he can no longer get around on the fastball. He’s never been a great fastball hitter outside of 4 seasons, but it’s never been as bad as it has been, and for 3 straight seasons now. I only now looked up his more in depth batting stats. By all appearances Ichiro appears to be done. I hope he can hang in there for at least 2 more seasons so he can reach 3,000 hits.

  • Phil Z

    I do not agree with this at all. Yes he tired towards the end but the plan was never to use him as much as they had to. If you watch the games and not just read stats you would know all the little things he did to help win games. He bunts, he steals, he moves runners over and plays great defense. He isn’t the player he once was but for a good part of the season he was their second best player.

  • mike

    another guy who got exposed by playing too much because Cashman could provide no alternatives.

    if granderson did not get hurt a second time, wells and Ichiro would have been platoon players, and their skills would have theoretically been maximized over the 250 ABs they each would have received.

    From looking at the numbers and watching the games, a wells/ichiro platoon in RF with each getting 250 ABs and Girardi “riding the hot hand” would have provided more than sufficient overall production – IMO its the exposure in non-opportune situations and the daily grind which knocked these geezers off the rails

    neither were regular players for the past few years of any value, so why the Yankees thought they could contribute beyond their initial limited role is very confusing, and reflects poorly on Cashman