Ichiro Probably Won’t be Better in New York

I’m definitely no Ichiro fan, but this is a weird, sad, and unfortunate image punctuating the end of an overrated Mariners career.

Earlier this week the Mariners traded Ichiro to the Yankees for two pitchers who are pretty uninteresting. Presumably the Yankees are receiving some chunk of Ichiro’s salary as part of the deal, but the real question is whether or not Ichiro will actually be better in a Yankees uniform.

One of the major premises that has been tossed around is that because Yankee Stadium helps left-handed hitters hit homeruns that Ichiro is bound to regress back to career average numbers and potentially outperform his power numbers. This theory follows the same parralels as the idea that Ichiro could be a power hitter if he chose to, a theory that has been debunked to some extent this year, and that probably never had a lot of validity. Ichiro has an isolated power rating of .093 on the road for his career at home, and .091 on the road. Not to mention, in 179 less plate appearances at home than the road, Ichiro actually has seven more homeruns in his career at home.

Ichiro isn’t a power hitter. He’ll never be a power hitter. But there was a time when he was a much better hitter.

Another theory is that Ichiro will have more with better players around him. There’s certainly an anecdotal truth here, we often tend to magnify the cases where players improve when surrounded by better players without examining causation, all while forgetting the failures in the same category.

Even if we assume however, that environment will have as much influence on Ichiro’s production as proponents of that theory would suggest, the idea that he’ll improve as a result of it may be a fallacy. Ichiro is a very unique player, and it’s entirely possible that playing for the Yankees may actually hurt his production, or have very little effect on him at all.

You see, Ichiro isn’t a guy that hits a lot of extra base hits, and even at the best in his career his best skill was his ability to make opposing infielders rush throws, or to beat their throws out entirely. Of all the aspects of Ichiro’s game that have slipped in recent years, it’s almost unarguable that his ability to beat out infield singles has slipped the most.

Ichiro got infield hits in 10.0 percent of his batted balls last year, and so far his at 7.9 percent this year. Those are the lowest rates he’s posted since 2005, which was also the year when he achieved a career high Isolated Power (.133).

And for the last four years Ichiro has begun swinging at more pitches outside the zone (35.5 percent this year compared to 27.9 percent for his career), less pitches inside the zone (66.3 percent compared to 67.7 for his career ), and pitchers have begun to realize that he’ll chase balls out of the zone and are throwing more pitches out of the zone (53 percent pitches outside the zone compared to 49.2 percent for his career).

But the most damning evidence against this theory rests in the flaw in it’s cultivation. The concept of players performing better in better lineups assumes that with more men on base the batter will be in a better position to succeed.

But Ichiro’s an odd hitter. He breaks some molds truly, at his best and at his worst.

For Ichiro’s caree he’s got a wRC+ of 111 with the bases empty, 102 with men on base, and 101 with men in scoring position. Ichiro gets 10 percent worse with men in scoring position.

You see, Ichiro’s game has always been to put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses to execute. Ichiro made a habit of hitting the ball to the left side of the infield and has had a lot of success doing so. However, with men on base, execution often means a shorter throw to put out a slower runner.

When combined with the idea that slip in his skills, and with no advantage received by Ichiro playing in a lineup that is on base more often, the chances of Ichiro reviving his career in New York seems considerably unlikely. Ultimately, Ichiro’s issues likely have less to do with  a string of bad luck or a bad supporting cast, and instead seem to indicate he doesn’t have anything left in the tank.

Will Ichiro be better in New York?

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  • Ron

    He goes from a perennial loser to a winner. How could he possibly be worse? Just wait and see….

    • http://twitter.com/CaseyMcLain34 Casey McLain

      Do you have any arguments based on anything in the post besides the headline?

  • Uncle Bob

    I think his numbers might improve…some. What I don’t understand is, Ichiro ASKS to be traded to a contender, Griffey WANT’S to go home and play for the Reds, Randy Johnson leaves, and every one of those players (and more) get a standing ovation every time they scratch their asses when they play or played against Seattle. Yet when A-Rod comes to bat, he gets booed and trashed constantly! Are these latte loving, rain soaked fans telling me they’d never leave their homes and jobs and move to a new locale if offered a quarter of a billion bucks? The Seattle Mariners are nothing more then a stepping stone to the REAL MLB. No self respecting veteran players WANT to play for Seattle. I hope Ichiro does make it to the WS, he sure as hell would have never made it with the Ms! The only way the Mariners will ever make it to the WS is to watch the game and see how many ex-Mariners are on both teams. Rebuilding my ass! Just sayin.

  • maqman

    I guess A-Rod has just been screwed by history.  If they really want to get into his head they should give him a standing ovation the next time he come to the plate in Safeco.  Speaking of standing O’s Ichiro probably won’t get many in the Bronx but he’ll get a few Bronx cheers when he leaves runners in scoring position.  I think his taking the initiative to ask to be traded was a major assist to the team and he knew it.  I give him full marks for that, it was a classy move.

  • http://www.cinemademocratica.blogspot.com Dave_in_Gainesville

    This is a well-written article with sound reasoning supported by an excellent command of the facts — and on that basis I have no reason to disagree. The one ingredient of a change-of-scenary that seems to have conspicuously escaped mention here, however, is the possibility that a new hitting coach could lead to some more efficient at-bats. I have been a Yankee fan my whole life (which is increasingly a long time, now) and one of the things that fascinates me about my team is that it always seems, year in and year out, to be a team whose players see more pitches than those same players did before they got there. Kevin Long is the genius-du-jour in the Bronx, but the eerie thing is that it doesn’t seem to matter: Chris Chambliss was supposed to be God Incarnate as a hitting coach when the Yanks went on their dynastic run, and he’s been flat-out awful everywhere he’s gone since. Correlation does not imply causation, of course, but if it did I would predict that Ichiro will see more pitches, swing at fewer of them out of the strike zone, and generally bat a lot more like a Yankee now that he is one. …Which may well be enough to countervail everything else going on in this very well-crafted piece. Neither of us will know for a while, but I respectfully disagree with your conclusion.

  • InvalidUserID

    “I’m definitely no Ichiro fan, but this is a weird, sad, and unfortunate
    image punctuating the end of an overrated Mariners career.”

    I can’t take anything in this article seriously after reading the last three words in that sentence. Overrated? You’re kidding, right?

    I will say that obviously at this point in Ichiro’s career, he isn’t the marquee franchise player that he was during his prime but he isn’t expected to be. All the Yankees can and should expect from him is to play a solid outfield and provide some speed which he can certainly still provide. He’s replacing Brett Gardner so he isn’t expected to replace a .300 hitter.

    • CaseyMcLain

      Speed is futile when he isn’t on base. Brendan Ryan has a comparable OBP

  • http://www.givejonadollar.com/ Give Jon a Dollar

    I think the better (hitter friendly) ballpark surroundings, the fact that more people are on base, and the fact that Ichiro knows his role has changed, will result in a solid 3th to 5th outfielder for the Yanks now and in the playoff hunt.  I don’t think people will be cringing if Ichiro is up in a big hitter’s situation in the playoffs.   He can still get it done, even if not as good as in the past.

    • CaseyMcLain

      Don’t think you read the post



    • CaseyMcLain

      What do you mean?