Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is Age Catching Up With Ichiro?

Ichiro Suzuki is in his tenth season with the Seattle Mariners and once again he is batting over .300. But it's a quiet .300. His slugging percentage is the lowest of his career. His OPS+ is the second lowest of his career. The fielding statistics show him to be down from last year (but still very effective). His batting average (.309) is the lowest of his career. He will likely make it to 200 hits again for an incredible run of ten straight seasons, but he will have to hustle to get there as he needs 46 hits with 42 games to go. But he'll likely finish at 205 to 210. His career average is 229. So that will be off. The question is: Is Ichiro Suzuki, at 36 years of age, getting old?

Well, let's see. He's stolen more bases this year than last year. He's been caught stealing less. On the other hand, he is striking out at a higher rate than his career average. Ichiro has struck out 10% of his lifetime at bats. This year, he is striking out around 13.6% of his at bats. It's time to look at the splits and see if anything can be detailed that would helps us.

Ichiro has been a slightly better hitter his entire career versus left-handed pitchers than the other side. That figure is surprising. This year is no different. Ichiro hits equally well at home or on the road and this year is no different. In Ichiro's career, he's only a .295 hitter when the Mariners lose. But this year he is actually a better hitter when the team loses. So that defeats any theory that being on such a terrible team has defeated his will or his drive. That doesn't appear likely by these statistics.

If you look at Ichiro's career, his batting average is similar for every inning he bats. In other words, over the years if he bats in the first inning (which he always does since he leads off), his average is little different than if he bats in the third inning or fourth or fifth and so on. This year, though, he's only batting .246 in the first innings. Does that mean anything? Maybe.

Ah, but there is a statistic that seems to indicate that Ichiro has shown his age a bit. During Ichiro's career, he has batted .314 with a .785 OPS against power pitchers, .327 with an .805 OPS against pitchers with an average fastball and .343 with an .820 OPS against finesse pitchers (all stats according to The strikeouts against each category of pitchers were all the same career-wise. His batting average for balls in play (BABIP) against all three of those types of pitchers has been around .350.

This year, Ichiro is still hitting finesse pitchers at a .333 pace with an OPS of .803 and is at .314 against average fastball pitchers with a .731 OPS. His BABIP is .390 against finesse pitchers and .347 against average fastball pitchers. But Ichiro has really struggled with power pitchers. His average is .246 against them and his OPS is .640 with a BABIP of .306. This would seem to indicate that Ichiro can't hit a good fastball as well as he has in the rest of his career. That might also explain his struggles in the first inning when starters try to establish their fastball early.

Of course, this could all be a statistical anomaly for Ichiro as last year, he hit .379 against power pitchers with an incredible .454 BABIP. So he was either incredibly lucky against them or he just nailed them all year. In either case, Ichiro is still an effective player. He's probably not worth the $18 million the Mariners are paying him with a 106 OPS+ (just barely above league average) and a paltry 2.4 WAR (FanGraphs has his WAR listed at 3.0 because they rate his fielding higher than B-R does). According to FanGraphs, there are 18 more valuable right fielders as batters than Ichiro. But his fielding--according to FanGraphs--brings up his value to fifth among that group.

It is reasonable to suggest that at 36, Ichiro is not the player he was five years ago. That wouldn't be unusual or any kind of knock on the Japanese star. Nothing can take away his history as a one of a kind hitting machine. It's just a simple reminder that time marches on even for players as good as Ichiro.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

Really did your homework on this one. If it's true that he can no longer catch up to a good fastball, the writing might be on the wall. Still, if he can hit .300 and get 200 hits again, hard to completely write him off.