Ichiro Suzuki: What Happened in 2011 to the Mariners Superstar and Looking to 2013
Friday September 16, 2011
Sam Evans (Intern – MLB reports): When Ichiro Suzuki came into the league in 2001, people did not know what to expect from him. He exceeded any and all expectations, becoming the second MLB player all-time to win rookie of the year and MVP in the same season. The next eight years seemed easy for Ichiro; the highlight moment coming when he set the all-time hits record in a single season record in 2004 with 262. Not to mention, he became the first player in MLB history to have 200 hits in ten straight years.
Going into 2011, few analysts considered Ichiro’s production tailing off drastically. Sure, he was 37 years old, but he might be in better shape than any other player in the majors. In April of this year, Ichiro batted .328 and stole ten bases. However, in May and June he batted .210 and .282 respectively. This season has turned out to be Ichiro’s worst year in the majors by a large margin. From 2001 to 2010, he never hit below .303. In 2011, he’s hitting .272 with 5 HR and 72 RBI.
Ichiro’s production relies on his ability to get on base and create havoc on the base paths. Last year Ichiro had 53 infield hits, while this year he only has 32. Even though Ichiro’s 32 infield hits currently leads the majors, it is still the lowest total Ichiro has ever had in his career. It is not like these are cheap hits either, as former Detroit Third Basemen Brandon Inge commented to the New York Times on August 22,2009, “I wish you could put a camera at third base to see how he hits the ball and see the way it deceives you. You can call some guys’ infield hits cheap, but not his. He has an amazing technique.”
One of the arguments that has been set out in attempting to explain Ichiro’s decline this year has been that he is getting slower and slower. I disagree with this statement. He is on pace to steal 43 bases, which is right around his career average. In the field, Ichiro may have gotten a tad slower, but I think that is due to his taking bad angles to the ball, rather than a decline in his abilities. However, while not attempting to insult Ichiro as a player, it is apparent though that his intensity is a definitely a lot lower this year. This leads to the following conclusion in my opinion; Ichiro Suzuki is a human being. He is playing for a Mariners team that has not reached the playoffs since 2001. He has consistently been playing about 150 games a year, not including spring training. It seems like no matter how good of a season Ichiro has, the players and team around him are disappointing. After all, we are talking about the Mariners. A player can only take so much losing at a certain point, even the great Ichiro.
One factor explaining Ichiro’s off-year is bad luck. This is his first year with a BABIP under .300 (Ichiro’s career average is .352), and according to Baseball Info Solutions, he has lost more hits than any other big leaguer on “good fielding plays.” No matter how you read the stats, the bottom line is that Ichiro has had a pretty bad year by his standards. He has played below-average defense, and at times looked lazy in the field. His On-Base-Percentage is at a career low .312, and he would need an incredible 30 hits in his last 13 games to reach 200 again. To make everything worse, Ichiro turns 38 in October.
Next year, will be interesting one for Ichiro Suzuki. It is his contract year and the Mariners are starting to acquire some legitimate pieces around him. A playoff year is probably out of the question, but a .500 year is very possible. Personally, I think he will bounce back and hit over .300 with another 200 hit season. With a better surrounding cast, I see glimpses of the old Ichiro returning. I don’t think he’ll ever return to the level he was on in 2004, but as long as he stays interested in the game, I think he will be an above-average right fielder for the next five years.
Without a doubt, Ichiro is a first ballot Hall-of-famer. He is the only player to have ten straight seasons of 200 or more hits. He also holds the all time record for hits in a single season with 262. Ichiro’s contract runs out at the end of 2012. The main question I believe is whether he will want to keep playing in North America. His friends and family are back in Japan, where he is a fashion icon. If Ichiro does continue to play baseball, I would be shocked if it were for a team outside of Seattle. When his career is finally over, most people will remember Ichiro for helping break the barrier between professional baseball in Japan and MLB. Overall, I expect most will remember Ichiro as being the greatest Japanese baseball player of all time.
***Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Sam Evans. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Sam on Twitter.***
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