Home of the Ichiro Power Swing

A renewal of vows between Ichiro Suzuki and the Yankees is beginning to take on an air of inevitability. I don’t know what the Yankees thought they were getting when they first brought Ichiro in, but he had good success down the stretch, and he expressed a willingness to re-sign. The Yankees need an outfielder, and they’re trying to avoid multi-year contracts. Weeks ago, Ichiro’s agent all but declared that Ichiro just wanted to stay where he was, and now Ken Rosenthal reports that a contract agreement is just about reached. Barring a complete surprise, Ichiro will play for the Yankees during the 2013 season. Which, of course, just a few months ago, would’ve been a complete surprise. You’re not even aware of how quickly the things around you are changing. Ichiro is on the Yankees. Michael Young is on the Phillies. Kevin Youkilis is on the Yankees too. Consider this reality.

Had Ichiro performed poorly with New York, it stands to reason he wouldn’t be re-signing, because it stands to reason they wouldn’t want him. It would’ve been fascinating to see if a market would’ve developed had Ichiro struggled. He didn’t, though, batting well north of .300 with the Yankees, so of course they like him on a small contract. They’ll add a right-handed outfielder and then they’ll see how that goes come summertime. Ichiro’s stretch run added a good amount of value to his name, after a year and a half of hard times in Seattle.

Ichiro and the Yankees seems to me like a good fit, given where both parties presently find themselves. Ichiro seemed to be a little rejuvenated, overwhelmed by the notion of actually playing for something, and the Yankees seem content to avoid big splashes. They saw Ichiro succeed, and they saw Ichiro blend into the clubhouse. The Yankees have reason to believe Ichiro’s still got something left in the tank.

Yet what I find most interesting is how Ichiro’s numbers break down. Ichiro, in 2011, posted a 79 wRC+. Ichiro, with the Mariners in 2012, posted a 77 wRC+. With the Yankees in 2012, he posted a 114 wRC+, excluding the playoffs. He did that over 240 plate appearances, and it just so happens his career wRC+ is 110. Ichiro didn’t bounce back a little with the Yankees; he bounced back all the way, just about.

As Ichiro aged, he tried to make adjustments, and there were indications early on in 2012 that he was trying to hit for more power. Through three months, he was less of a groundball hitter than ever before. This taps into a bit of Ichiro mythology — people who’ve seen his batting practice sessions swear that he can hit dingers on a whim. People always wondered if Ichiro had the potential to be a power hitter if he wanted. Ichiro always said he wouldn’t change his game.

But it looked like he was kind of trying to change his game, and it wasn’t working. Ichiro homered four times last year as a Mariner, just once at home and twice in the U.S. Cellular bandbox. Things suddenly picked up after the trade. Ichiro homered five times as a Yankee down the stretch, and once more in the playoffs before the team was eliminated. I want to show you .gifs of all six of those home runs. I am now going to do that.

These .gifs are ordered in the order in which they are presented. Does anything in particular stand out to you, about all of them? Let me know. I’ll also just tell you. You’ll notice that all six of the .gifs feature Ichiro pulling a dinger at home. After becoming a Yankee, Ichiro hit six dingers in Yankee Stadium, and zero dingers in not-Yankee Stadium.

The home/road split, playoffs included this time:

Home: .913 OPS, 151 plate appearances
Road: .636 OPS, 132 plate appearances

We know enough not to take samples that small too seriously. One of them has to be regressed down, one of them has to be regressed up, yada yada, small samples, we’re all math experts. This is basic stuff, but it also highlights something of potential interest. From Texas Leaguers, here’s Ichiro’s 2012 ball-in-play spray chart:

Any and all of Ichiro’s power is pull power. As Ichiro’s skills have partially deteriorated, it would really help him to be able to hit for power going forward. He hit for power in Yankee Stadium, and that might be just the perfect stadium for a guy like Ichiro, at Ichiro’s age.

This is the FanGraphs park factor guts page. Sort by “HR as L”. Your winner: Yankee Stadium, at 116. StatCorner shares this mathematical opinion. Not that you needed to be told how easy it is — relatively speaking — to hit a homer to right in New York. But it’s really really easy, relatively speaking. The short porch beckons, and it makes home runs not only of doubles and triples, but also of would-be routine outs.

Yankee Stadium was not built with extending Ichiro’s major-league career in mind, but it could very well serve that purpose, along with all of the other purposes it serves. Ichiro does not have and never has had a power swing capable of launching the baseball 450 feet. He has a power swing capable of launching the baseball 350-400 feet, and Yankee Stadium’s right field is well within reach. In Seattle, maybe it wouldn’t have helped Ichiro very much to try to hit for more power. In New York, there are total bases to be claimed. That ballpark could keep Ichiro productive, and while Ichiro’s used to being productive on his own, I doubt he’d turn down a little help. God knows he was given pretty much zero help in any respect over much of the previous decade.

Ichiro probably can’t just turn himself into a power hitter. In Yankee Stadium, though, he can get the closest, and while that means Ichiro just has to rely on Ichiro on the road, he might be in position to take unique advantage of the home environment. That’s a friendly porch, and now Ichiro knows it. There’s good sense behind this relationship. I don’t know how much Ichiro has left to give to some other ballclub. He might have plenty yet to give to the Yankees.

Print This Post

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

29 Responses to “Home of the Ichiro Power Swing”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Greg Rybarczyk says:

    Here’s Ichiro’s HR plot for 2012: 5 at Yankee Stadium (reg. season only), 4 elsewhere, longest was 404 feet.


    Sort of reminds me of Craig Biggio in 2006. Here’s his HR plot – 15 at Minute Maid, just 6 on the road, the longest covering just 404 feet.


    +8 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • That Guy says:

      For those that click the link for Biggio, you might have to manually change the year to 2006 (upper right hand corner). For some reason when I loaded it, it didn’t find HRs for him, since it was searching 2012.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Nats Fan says:

    To me, Ichiro is proof that it is much easier to succeed on a team with talent than on a bad team. Losing causes huge pressure to someone used to being successful. Winning makes everything fun and easy.

    -12 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Choo says:

      One can only imagine how difficult it was for Ichiro to concentrate with Munenori Kawasaki threatening to go all Single White Female on him at any given moment. I am relieved he escaped alive.

      +11 Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Tak says:

    This is really interesting…. Out of any player in baseball, I think Ichiro is the one that has the brains and talent to essentially have two vastly different approaches at the plate that he could use. Maybe 10-15 homers at home if he really committed to it?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. RobM says:

    Nah. I mean, yes, there’s a better chance some of his flyballs will fly over the shorter wall at YS. I also buy into he knows this and will try and hit more fly balls. Yet if he alters his hitting approach at YS, scouting reports will pick this up and pitchers will adjust. They most likely continued to pitch him as a Yankee as they had for the past ten years. He made a change, and if he continues to try and generated more fly balls, so will the pitchers.

    We are looking at a spectacuarlly small sample size here to the point where it is totally meaningless. It’s the same with Ichiro’s overall numbers in NY. He was basically Ichiro of 2011 and most of 2012 during his first roughly seven weeks on the Yankees, and then he got very hot for a three-week run. That makes his Yankee stay appear more impressive than it really was. The really proof would come over a 162-game schedule.

    Maybe playing for the Yankees rejuvinated Ichiro. Maybe playing at YS half his games will cause a change in his hitting approach that he can capitalize on for a short period. Most likely, though, I think we’re dealing with SSS issues on both his HR rate and his overall hitting as a Yankee, reading way too much into it. Maybe we’ll see some improvement, but I don’t see Ichiro tapping the fountain of youth and hitting .320 and yanking 20+ HRs. I will say that maybe, maybe he might rebound to a .290/.325/.395 hitter, and instead of hitting 7 HRs, maybe he’ll hit 12! His real value to the Yankees will come on defense and running, where he is still strong, helping to replace the 4.0 fWAR departure of Nick Swisher to a downgrade to maybe only 1.5 WAR loss, with more of it coming from arm and legs. In fact, if the Yankees install Brett Gardner in CF as is rumored, Ichiro in RF and move Granderson to LF, they’d have an exceptionally strong defensive OF.

    Now I will never quickly write-off an aging, HOF-caliber player. As we saw with Derek Jeter, adjustments can be made to hold off father time a year or two. In Jeter’s case he began to attack more first pitches so the pitcher could no longer get ahead in the count. Perhaps in Ichiro’s case his trade to the Yankees will cause him to alter his overall slap-on-the-ground hitting approach to the point that his BABIP trends back up. I wouldn’t bet on it, but I wouldn’t bet on Ichiro hitting a ton of HRs next year either just because of the shorter porch in his home park. A few. Not many.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      This is pretty reasonable, though I don’t think the author was implying Ichiro would hit 20 HRs next year, just that Yankee Stadium is uniquely positioned to help him remain a productive player.

      As an aside, if you hit a ball on a line 350 feet down the RF line, that’s going to be out of a lot of ball parks. The cheapies at yankee stadium come from the long pop flies, that just land one or 2 rows back. Russell Martin hit several of those. I remember A-Rod hitting one against the Braves. People like to cite Yankee Stadium as a reason for Granderson’s HR’s, but just because he’s hitting bombs to RF, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t leave many other parks.

      My point? According to hit tracker, 4/5 of those HR’s Ichiro hit would have been out in many stadiums. There was 1 cheapie. The ones he’s hitting off Beckett would have been out in 29 and 30 MLB parks.

      So perhaps yankee stadium is causing him to TRY for more HRs and that is the reason he hits more, but when he connects, he is hitting legit HRs. I think that is slightly different than saying the ballpark is giving more HRs.

      +6 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • RobM says:

        That’s a valid point, and one I meant to check. Would those HRs have been out in most parks. My visual reaction was yes, most cleared the fence by a good margin, and one was pulled right down the line and into the second deck. Most would have cleared most parks.

        Yet that still leads to another point I briefly touched on. Will Yankee Stadium’s short RF cause Ichiro to change his overall hitting approach. That might lead to a four or five more HRs over the course of a season, but perhaps it will have another more positive impact. More line drives to the OF, most not coming anywhere near close to clearing the fence, might drive up his BABIP, which had been in decline. If so, he might want to take the same approach he has at YS on the road, too.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Ray says:

    Reminds of me of a video baseball game I played a few years back (I forget which one). I figured out the best hitters to play with were recognized by the system as opposite field hitters and then sell out on inside pitches with power swings. I would put up ridiculous numbers with Ichiro and Crawford because the defenses never adjusted from playing them oppo. If I didn’t go deep it was a triple down the right field line waiting to happen. Coors Field was heaven. Now back to the real talk.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brad says:

      MVP Baseball 2005. Triples all day.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mark says:

        Obviously I was playing a different MVP Baseball 2005 than you were because I had Albert Pujols hitting 82 homers and Berkman fairly close at 65 on the hard mode.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Dingers All Day says:

      Yes, definitely MVP 2005. Easiest baseball game in history. No matter how many times I played the game, Angel Berroa ended up being the best power hitter on my team jacking over 100 HRs a year on the most difficult setting.

      When Angel Berroa is getting more than 100 hits, let alone HRs, you know it is a terrible game.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • binqasim says:

      Backyard Baseball? I remember playing that game and destroying any pitcher with Ichiro, Sosa, Piazza, etc. Just hit HRs after HRs.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Brandon T says:

        Sorry… easiest baseball game ever was MLB baseball for the original Nintendo. I recall scoring some like 84 runs in a single inning, once.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. roadrider says:

    I’m not buying into Suzuki’s dead-cat bounce at the end of last season, let alone his “transformation” into a slugger. You know, two of those HRs came in one game against Josh Beckett who was basically throwing BP.

    Suzuki is not really who he was in that hot streak in late September – he’s basically the guy he was for the previous year and a half with Seattle and his first six weeks with the Yankees. I don’t buy into the “motivation ” thing either. I mean, what does that say, that because Seattle was losing he stopped trying to the extent that he was one of the worst hitters in baseball (by wOBA+ and wRC+)? That just doesn’t add up, not for a guy who is so concerned about his personal statistics that he bunted for a hit with a runner in scoring position when he was chasing the single-season hit record.

    And I also don’t buy the “he could hit homers if he wanted to” thing. Batting practice is not the game – there’s lots of 5-o’clock sluggers who can’t reach the seats against actual pitchers. If Suzuki could have hit more homers and chose not to he was cheating his team. If he could only do so at the expense of his overall game then, well, he couldn’t really do it.

    The Yankees are signing him because they’re cheaping out on Swisher and because they want to sell a bunch of Suzuki-themed merchandise. I don’t really see this ending well.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Slade says:

      I love Ichiro and think he’s one of the best ball players I’ve ever seen. However, I tend to agree with you. I think he’s in decline, but I also think that he can still be productive and that playing in Yankee may help him out a bit. However, upon watching the GIFs, I couldn’t help but notice that 2/3 of his homeruns were hit off of Josh Beckett, Jose Valverde and Aaron Laffey. Even Ozzie Smith could transform himself into a Silver Slugger against those pitchers.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      Merchandise bought outside of YS is split 30 ways, so I don’t think that is the motivation.

      Perhaps they believe Ichiro is something somewhere in between the zombie Seattle Ichiro and the All-Star Yankee Ichiro, and that guy is a pretty good player? Nah, HAS to be one or the other.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • roadrider says:

        Well, the better part of two seasons against a few weeks is pretty strong evidence that it’s not one or the other – it’s the 2011-2012 first half Seatlle guy or something very close to it. “Somewhere in between” captures a lot of ground – most of it bad – and there’s little evidence to support some kind of miraculous transformation unless you buy into the “motivation” theory which is palpable bullshit or the slugger transformation which is even more difficult to believe.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Steve says:

      Here are Ichiro’s 2012 splits:

      Ichiro in Seattle: .261/.288/.353
      Ichiro in NY, July: .258/.281/.387
      Ichiro in NY, August: .297/.319/.440
      Ichiro in NY, Sept/Oct: .362/.376/.486

      Ichiro was “good” for more than that 3 week stretch in Sept. He wasn’t “great”, but IF he brings his usual defense and baserunning and hits like he did in August, the yankees would get their money’s worth.

      Expecting September Ichiro is obviously foolish. Expecting August Ichiro doesn’t strike me as outlandish.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • roadrider says:

        Expecting September Ichiro is obviously foolish. Expecting August Ichiro doesn’t strike me as outlandish.

        Interesting that you don’t include Suzuki’s 2011 numbers in your “analysis”. And IMO it is outlandish to extrapolate Suzuki’s August numbers into an expectation for a full-season performance. You’re talking about 96 PA vs > 400 for the previous months (not to mention 2011).

        Also, most comments by Yankee fans on the blogs I read are supporting their enthusiasm for Suzuki based on the Sept/Oct numbers.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Steve says:

        Just as you are telling us to completely ignore Ichiro’s September (not to mention his entire career before 2011) in your “analysis”.

        August and September DID happen, and therefore should be rolled into any projection of what to expect going forward. Just because the sample is small, doesn’t mean it tells us nothing. It seems reasonable that Ichiro will fall somewhere between NY Ichiro and Seattle Ichiro. This is different than you saying “expect Seattle Ichiro”. Are the August numbers probably on the high end of that expectation? Yeah, that’s probably on the optimistic side. Are his Seattle numbers too pessimistic given the change from one of the worst parks to hit in to one of the best? Yes, I think so.

        And why is it relevant to this discussion what other yankee fans have written on other blogs? No one on this site would try to argue that Ichiro is going to hit like that this year.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. craig richards says:

    Yes, well, back to the GIFs…
    All pitches are inside to middle -inside. Bu what I find classically unorthodox is Ichiro’s approach. Note the front foot is off the ground, Mel Ott style. How can he muscle out longer HRs with such a stance? Thinking of his performance in New York,

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. craig richards says:

    Opps…sent too soon…
    Where was I … ah.. yes, I was going to comment on how much the fans responded to him. I am based in Seattle now but used to attend many Yankee games. These fans know their baseball. Ichiro is a Player and headed to the Hall and they know it. He is still impressive and I think he can and will produce. You didn’t mention his stolen bases and the fact he can still fly.
    Looking back: I remember a game I attended (against the Angels, September 2011) and Franklin Gutierrez cut in front of Ichiro and caught a fly that Mr. Suzuki would have easily had. The Ms have stunk for a long time. They are pitiful and they had long ago stopped deserving a player of Ichiro’s all-around ability. A guy who never gets injured even after crashing into the wall or diving into the stands, never gets a “headache”, and, never bloody complained when that injury-magnet Gutierrez cut hm off. I saw Ichiro’s face that day, emotionless and stoic, as I was sitting behind the dugout that day. He let it go and glided in and took a seat.
    The man is a thoroughbred horse who isn’t going to “let the bastards get me down.” He will produce in NY this year, or elsewhere, and here’s an immeasurable plus: people will pay to see him play. I am so happy for him that he got out of Seattle. But Now Here This: We have much better young talent than the Yankees.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Buddy says:

    I think Perd Hapley wrote this article.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Hurtlockertwo says:

    If scouts looked at a swing like that in a high school kid he would never even get into college, just amazing he has had so much success.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Kazinski says:

    The thing that made Ichiro’s decline the past two seasons hard to understanding was just what skill was declining? Was it his speed? Possibly but not so you could tell. Take a look at his UZR and baserunning for the last 3 seasons.

    2010 15.1 2.1
    2011 -5.7 8.4
    2012 13.5 2.4

    Or his stolen bases and caught stealing, they dipped last year, but 2011, is the same as it ever was:
    2010 42-9
    2011 40-7
    2012 29-7

    His BB% was way down last year but his strikeouts and contact rates were stable. In 2012 His GB% was down, but not at career lows, his LD% was at a career high. In 2011 his GB% was the second highest of his career, while his LD% was a little below his career average.

    The one trend that was the same over 2011 and 2012 was that his IFFB% was up, and his IFH% was down, but that might just be noise, because neither were career highs or lows for him.

    So while it certainly is obvious that Ichiro is getting older, I think he is likely to follow a Kenny Lofton type career path and maintain his speed based skills for at least a few more years.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. Horrified says:

    “These .gifs are ordered in the order in which they are presented.”

    It’s like a car accident I pass on the highway. I just can’t stop staring.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. chris hines says:

    The part of the deal that makes it bad is the guaranteed 2nd year, he was basically a platoon player at 38 what’s he going to be at 40?

    As far as 2013 I think expecting anything better than .290/.320/.390 is probably a little too bold. The decline in walk rate scares me because the Yankees are signing him to be a 2 hole hitter, unless he’s notching a .340+ OBP they’d probably be better off havingh Gardner leadoff with Jeter hitting 2nd.

    On a 1 year deal, hitting 7th or 8th, with expectations of a low OBP and good defense I like the signing. However I think adding a 2nd year, because you are hoping to cash in on his possible 3000th hit, and hitting him 2nd is foolish and makes this a bad deal.

    Vote -1 Vote +1