Of all the expletive-filled shouting matches between Dave Cameron and I during the recent Arizona FanGraphs retreat, the most interesting one pertained to Seattle’s very own Ichiro Suzuki. I am convinced Ichiro will rebound in 2012, and though he may not be the Ichiro of five years ago, he will still be a viable asset on offense. Today, I will posit that argument for you, the dribbling masses.
“What’s there to worry about Ichiro?” I asked Dave during one of our daily cactus-hunting team-building exercises, “Wasn’t most of Suzuki’s drop-off in 2011 due to BABIP issues?”
“Well, for one thing, Ichiro’s power numbers were way down, and what are you doing with a gun?” he said.
In 2011, Ichiro hit fewer than 200 hits for the first time in his career. However, he also had the second-fewest PAs of his career (721), so it is important we look at his rate stats instead of just his totals, because even though he hit only 5 homers, he has many times before hit just 6 (with more PAs) and still been productive. The discrepancy in power, then, could be playing time instead of just bad performance:
It’s not playing time.
In other words: Dave Cameron is right to observe Ichiro’s power has declined both in balls in play (doubles and triples) and balls out of play (homers). However, his doubles rate is only down a tick, and as Tom Tango said recently, triples are just doubles with speed.
Interestingly, Ichiro’s steal totals (40 SB, 7 CS) remained at an elite level, and his speed score (6.0) and Base Running (3.8) also remained strong, suggesting his legs still have some zoom left in them.
If triples are just doubles with speed, then where did Ichiro’s go? Maybe he merely tried for the extra base less often because he knew he was slumping and became extra cautious? I’m not sure.
One thing we can do to try to calibrate Ichiro’s numbers is use an xBABIP tool. Because Suzuki had a career-low .295 BABIP, the temptation is to assume he’s losing his edge — maybe his speed — given his advanced age. Using the slash12’s BABIP regressor (
not sure who the author is, but here is a link to my copy), we can use Ichiro’s batted ball data (line-drive percentage, ground-ball percentage, etc.) to estimate what his BABIP should have been in 2011.
*The document says “forRH” which probably means “for right-handed batters.” Ichiro hits left-handed, but the calculator has a .002 difference in expected BABIP and Ichiro’s career BABIP, so it’s clearly working well for him. Moreover, I think the “forRH” might actually just describe the players within the spreadsheet, not the xBABIP formula.
Terms: FIO (Fielding Independent Offense), CaB-FIO (FIO using Career BABIP), FI wOBA (Fielding Independent wOBA), and CaB FI wOBA (FI wOBA using career BABIP).
Looking at Ichiro’s FIO and FI wOBA numbers (you will need to scroll right in the embedded spreadsheet), we can ascertain that if nothing else changes (his walk rate, his power rate, his K rate, and his steal rate), one of these two scenarios can play out:
1) If Ichiro hits a career norm BABIP: .343 wOBA
2) If Ichiro hits LDs, GBs, etc. like he did in 2011: .334 wOBA
Ichiro is also changing his stance this year and trying to hit for more power apparently. If the change is dramatic enough (statistically), then it should effectively throw all these calculations out the window (thanks Ichiro). But if he can produce at least similar batted balls and base-stealing like he did in 2011, then he should be perfectly fine.
Of course, like my boss, Dave, who many times told me I was fired, you are welcome to disagree with me.
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