Ichiro Suzuki Will Rebound: A Final Postulation

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.

Power numbers, Dave? Hahaha!

Hmm… Yes… His declining power. 

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.

Applying those xBABIPs to FIO or FI wOBA, tools which allow us to regress a player’s wRC+ and wOBA according to a predicted BABIP, we can effectively estimate how Ichiro will hit moving forward:


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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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.


50 Responses to “Ichiro Suzuki Will Rebound: A Final Postulation”

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  1. Julian says:

    “Today, I will posit that argument for you, the dribbling masses.”
    Best line ever.

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  2. maqman says:

    Hey! I’m 75 years old and am entitled to a Senior+ dribbles exception.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Blue says:

    This will be an amusing column after he completely craters this year and begins to raise serious doubts about his HOF case.

    -15 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Jason says:

    “but the calculator has a .002 difference in expected BABIP and Ichiro’s career BABIP, so it’s clearly working well for him.”

    …if “working” is defined as equal to his career BABIP, then why bother doing the silly calculation. Just use career BABIP. It will “work” every time.

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    • Cliff says:

      I assume he means using his career numbers, the formula arrives at his career BABIP

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      • Llewdor says:

        And what a career BABIP it is. The Fangraphs leaderboard tells me that Ichiro has the 10th highest career BABIP in baseball history (minimum 5000 PA). Notables ahead of him: Ty Cobb, Wee Willie Keeler, Rogers Hornsby, Rod Carew, Derek Jeter.

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  5. sprot says:

    “Of all the expletive-filled shouting matches between Dave Cameron and I during the recent Arizona FanGraphs retreat..”

    Between Dave Cameron and ME, is what you should have written.

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    • Baltar says:

      I didn’t even know you were there, sprot.

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    • deadpool says:

      That doesn’t sound right either. Between Cameron and myself?

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    • Nadingo says:

      Comments that only correct grammar are annoying, but not as annoying as the “between him and I” plague that is sweeping the nation.

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    • Kampfer says:

      If you are into linguistics, the usage of “me” and “I” are both grammatically correct as they not only are lexically equal, but also natural utterance from native English speakers. Your “grammar” is called prescriptive grammar, and it is merely preference of some people, not the rule of English.

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      • Matt says:

        I don’t understand that. You cannot say “shouting matches between I” or (a parallel) “Dave heard from I.” The correct phrase is “Dave heard from me,” and “shouting matches between me and Dave,” so it is wrong to say “between Dave and I.”

        I don’t know what distinctions you are making about what are and are not rules of English, but in any case this one seems pretty clearly wrong. My reference is Woe is I by Patricia T. O’Connor where she addresses this exact issue. (And even addresses a possible objection, that Shakespeare uses “between you and I” by merely remarking that you are not Shakespeare.)

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      • Nadingo says:

        Me agree compleetfully with interpretation yours on grammar prescriptiveness! Rules of English make nosense to I!

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  6. badenjr says:

    I enjoy the fine work that the writers do here at Fangraphs, and I’m not one to question others’ writing since I don’t think of myself as a good writer. That said, I do think greater care should have been given when referring to the BABIP regressor tool. There’s a whole team of writers at Fangraphs. I find it hard to believe that no one was able to clarify what the tool is and how it is to be used. Even if that is the case, the smart people at Fangraphs could re-implement the tool if needed. In the future, explain the methodology for the calculation instead of pointing the finger toward an internal document.

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  7. tylerv says:

    Maybe I’m the only one who didn’t appreciate the undergrad jokeyness of this piece. The data by itself would be more interesting.

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  8. Aesop says:

    Yeah there are at least 2 of you

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  9. Justin says:

    Fangraphs has some of the worst commenters when it comes to whining.

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. DavidCEisen says:

    If you are assuming Ichiro’s lack of triples is due to his lack of willingness to be aggressive, then you are assuming some of his doubles would have been triples in the past. Therefore if you should subtract a percentage of doubles from Ichiro’s totals. You can’t have your cake and eat it.

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  11. todmod says:

    Wow, 36% think he’ll have a .340 wOBA or better. He’s done that once in the past 4 seasons, and now he’s 38.

    I understand the bounceback case made in the article, but I think way too many people are optimistic given Ichiro’s age. He’ll play better than last year, but getting back to 2010 levels seems farfetched.

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  12. slash12 says:

    that’s my equation! here’s the related xBABIP article: http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/index.php/xbabip-spreadsheet/

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  13. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    No way no how, Age 38? I’ll bet you a pair of headphones. “Changing batting stance” i take to mean “can’t hit um anymore so i’m trying to tweak some things”

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  14. bstar says:

    Maybe Ichiro’s BABIP went down because he was making weaker contact than in previous years. Nah, don’t even consider that.

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  15. Jibb says:

    We’re always willing to expand realistic expectations for the players we like, and everyone likes Ichiro. Thus far he’s done a great job of avoiding what we’d consider a “normal” aging curve, but he’s still only human. He’s turning 39 next year. I understand he’s a special talent, but it’s foolish for this article to purely expect a regression toward Ichiro’s mean, without considering the very large toll that we should expect his age to have taken by now.

    To be honest this is one of my only quibbles with sabermetrics. With so many statistics at our disposal it becomes too easy to match an argument to fit our predetermined hopes or conclusions. I have no doubt that the truth is out there, and that sabermetrics offer a window to that truth, but due to our preconceived biases (which exist whether or not the player in question is on a team we actively root for) its difficult to arrive at that truth rather than an argument for why our original opinion was correct. This isn’t to say that the author’s conclusions are wrong, but I think that when I consider regression in 2012 I’ll be thinking about guys like Carl Crawford, Adam Dunn and even Albert Pujols long before I start predicting 40+ point upticks in wOBA for a 39 year old.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Not to mention how many times players change things at the plate, or with a new pitch, or with ….

      They most often change things when things aren’t going to well or to compensate for decreasing skills.

      Honestly the whole “He’s changing his stance and that could result in lots more homers” seems like stuff that I often attribute to “Cub Fans”. “If these 47 things all go our way, this year could be our year.”

      Love Ichiro, but a speed based player turning into power guy at age 39, drug free is just not reasonable.

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