Monday, August 13, 2012

Thoughts On Ichiro Since The Trade

(Still too early to call on this trade, right?  Courtesy of Dan Levine/EPA)

I thought the trade to bring Ichiro Suzuki to New York was a good one for the Yankees.  Not good in the sense that I thought he was suddenly not going to be 38 years old anymore and revert back to the way he played in his prime.  But it was good in that he gave the Yankee lineup exactly what it was missing on paper with Brett Gardner out, and I did think there was some legitimacy to the idea that he could step his play up a bit being out of baseball purgatory in Seattle and in the middle of a divisional playoff race in New York.  It's been 3 weeks since that trade was made now, so enough time has passed that, even with small sample sizes, I think I can attempt to talk intelligently about Ichiro in New York and what kind of impact he's had.

In terms of just numbers, there hasn't been much of a difference between Seattle Ichiro and New York Ichiro.  He was hitting .261/.288/.353 (.281 wOBA) for the Mariners before being traded, and since becoming a Yankee he has hit .265/.296/.368 (.287) in 71 plate appearances.  That's hardly enough on its own to be considered conclusive, but when paired with his pre-trade numbers and the big downward trend his production has taken since 2010, you can look at that and pretty much nod in agreement that this is the type of hitter Ichiro is now and to expect much more would probably be a stretch.  He has driven in 11 runs, if you put any weight into that kind of thing, but his 4 runs scored and 3-5 on SB attempts minimize the value of his speed in the lineup because of his still sub-.300 OBP.

Where Ichiro has been of greatest value is in the field.  The defensive metrics don't indicate it yet in such small sample sizes, but having Ichiro available to play right field, his natural position, while Nick Swisher was out recovering from his hip flexor was an upgrade over having to play both Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez in the corners, and the switch over to left field now with Swisher back gives the Yankees a better outfield combination than they would have had without Ichiro.  He's already made one nice catch out in left and seems to be having no trouble adjusting to the new digs in Yankee Stadium.

More Ichiro in the outfield has also led to less Ibanez in the outfield, and the offensive outcome for Ibanez has been predictably positive.  He's hitting .279 (12-43) since Ichiro joined the team, 7-21 in August, with 6 XBH, 10 R, 10 RBI, and 6 BB.  His line is back up to .247/.309/.469 for the season, and he's being use more regularly as the left-handed DH that he was supposed to be.  Ibanez was showing signs of being worn down earlier in the summer.  Now that he's back getting regular rest and more ABs as the DH instead of an outfielder, he should have a better chance of staying healthy and productive down the stretch.

The one downside to Ichiro joining the team has been his having to play almost every day.  The thought was that he would form a L/R platoon with Jones in left, and obviously the Yankees' injury situation at the time of the trade necessitated him being in the lineup more, but Ichiro brings almost nothing to the table against lefties and that trend hasn't changed with his uniform change.  The fact that he started every game since being acquired up until Saturday and Sunday has probably contributed a little bit to Ichiro's continued pedestrian numbers.  Now that they have a full healthy complement of outfield options again, the Yankees can be a bit more strategic with their use of Ichiro and hopefully maximize the value from the skill set he does still have.

I wouldn't call the trade a solid win or loss for the Yankees with what Ichiro's done so far.  They're 10-9 since making the trade, and Ichiro has yet to show any kind of offensive spark that many of us were hoping for when he changed teams.  That spark still might not come, but if the Yankees can get him away from too many consecutive games and having to hit against lefties, there's still a chance that the Yanks come out on the positive of this trade, for 2012 at least.

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