Yesterday, we covered a projection of the newest Yankee, Kevin Youkilis, and today we'll take care of the imminent re-sign, Ichiro Suzuki. It looks like Ichiro will be headed back to the Bronx, but this time to replace Nick Swisher.
The 39 year old will most certainly provide the Yankees with a top level defender in right field, as well as speed on the bases but the biggest question is hit hitting. Last season, he swiped 29 bags and posted a 13.6 UZR/150.While Ichiro is getting older, he's shown very little signs of regression on defense or speed. Although the stolen bases fell from 40 to 29 between 2011 and 2012, his 81% success rate is right on pace with his career 82% rate. In fact, it looks like the rate dropped because he wasn't on base enough with the Mariners. If he had played all 663 plate appearances with the Yankees, he was on pace for 39 stolen bases.
As for his hitting. I spoke about a tale of two seasons with Youkilis in 2012, and with Ichiro we have the same story. Before he was traded to the Yankees, Ichiro looked as if he was in full decline. Between 2010 and 2011, his BABIP fell from .353 to .295, and then from 2011 to 2012 it fell all the way to .279. This is unsurprising for a late 30's player facing regression, but there was also reason to believe that Suzuki was battling bad luck. Matt took a look at this case at the time of the trade, and now we have 3 months worth of data to see if a change of scenery helped him out.
The first thing you notice is that, from 2011 to 2012, Ichiro's batted ball rates didn't just stay the same, they improved drastically. In 2011, the outfielder lost some hits because he hit more fly balls and less groundballs, but in his time with Mariners in 2012, he boosted his line drive rate from 19.1% to 25.6%. With those types of numbers, you'd assume a player was hitting well above .300, but Ichiro was averaging just .261 in late July.
The reason was a low batting average on line drives. While the league usually hits around .700 on line drives and Ichiro has averaged .673 in his career, he hit just .571 in all of 2012. If Ichiro had a career normal BABIP on all the line drives he hit, he would have finished the season with a .297 batting average and a .320 on base percentage.
To add to this, his batting average on ground balls also fell from a career .301 rate to .247. There's more reason to suspect that this number is more legitimately due to decline. Aside from his stolen base success rate and defensive metrics remaining the same, there are no real numbers to indicate that he's lost speed though. If he'd hit for a career average on his ground balls, he'd have finished 2012 with a .313 batting average and a .336 on base percentage.
When Ichiro finished his season in Yankee Stadium, he finished with a slash of .322/.340/.454. The average and on base percentage are right on line with our projection, but the power is still nearly impossible to project. Yankee Stadium has the shallow right field porch, and there was a lot of speculation that he'd hit for more power once his left handed bat made it's way into the Bronx. With the sample size we have, I find it hard to project whether or not this can continue, but if he had kept the same pace as he did for the Yankees in all of 2012, he would have hit 14 homeruns.
In Yankee Stadium, Ichiro hit .338/.363/.531 in 2012, and over his career, he's hit OPS'd .913 in the new stadium and .811 in the old one. Surely we'll see some regression from these marks, but like we've witnessed with these other one-year deal from the last few years, the Yankees are trying to buy low and they have good chance with the 39 year old. They've had a lot of success with these older pick ups lately, so Ichiro could become a very good replacement for Nick Swisher.