One of the greatest runs in the history of baseball came to an end last season as Ichiro Suzuki failed to record 200-hits for the first time in his 11 year career. Is he washed up as a fantasy ace after one down season that saw him hit just .272?
Already 38 years old after a distinguished career in Japan, there are certainly concerns with Ichiro’s game heading into 2012. Let’s me start with the two biggest issues facing the venerable All-Star.
(1) Most obvious is Ichiro’s age. There simply no way anyone can put off Father Time forever, and it seemed like the old fella really dug his fingers into Ichiro last season.
(2) Ichiro’s performance suffered significantly last season. A career .326 hitter, Ichiro hit just .272 last season with only 184 hits ending Suzuki’s big league record of 10-straight 200-hit seasons.
With those two facts in place, Ichiro’s ADP is as low as it has ever been. Over at MockdraftCentral Ichiro is barely holding on to a top-30 spot in the outfield and a top-100 overall ranking. Given his struggles last season, does his current placement among outfielders make sense? Some thoughts.
Ichiro played 161 games last season, the 10th time in 11 years that he’s appeared in at least 155 games. The dude is a rock.
Ichiro scored 80 runs, just one run behind his average of 81 from 2009-10.
Ichiro knocked in 47 runs last season. Obviously that’s a terrible total, but it was his 4th straight season in the 40′s, so it was the same as usual for this lefty hitting slap hitter.
Ichiro may have hit much worse than ever before, it was his first season under .300, and his OBP fell from a previous career worst of .350 all the way down to .310 – which is below his career batting average. Still, would it surprise you to learn that he still stole 40 bases for the third time in four years despite being on base much less frequently than normal?
As for that average dip, given his style of hitting, it wouldn’t take much of a lost step to cause his average to fall. Still, I just mentioned how he was successful as always on the base paths, so a loss of speed isn’t solely to blame for the dropoff. Ichiro had a walk rate of 5.4 percent last year (career 6.2) and struck out at a 9.6 percent rate (career 9.3). Nothing changed there. His line drive rate was 19.1 percent, just below his 20.2 percent career rate. Again, not much to explain the nose dive his average underwent. It should be pointed out that he did produce a seven year high in his ground ball rate at 60 percent, and when you hit that many balls on the ground it’s pretty darn difficult to generate extra base hits (even when he did hit the ball in the air, his HR/F rate was a career worst). Ichiro, the owner of one of the more impressive BABIP marks of all-time (.351) failed to reach .316 for the first time in his career as his mark fell to .295. At his age it’s not a shock that his BABIP would start to dip, but after he posted a mark of at least .334 each of the previous five seasons his .295 mark last season really came a bit out of nowhere.
Let me ask you this. Which set of fantasy numbers would you prefer?
The first line belongs to Ichiro, the second to Cameron Maybin. According to ADP numbers, Maybin is being selected one pick ahead of Ichiro in the outfield, so clearly people are banking on an improvement from the younger but far less accomplished Padres outfielder (“far less accomplished” really isn’t even accurate. How about I throw the famous ‘he can’t hold his jock strap’ line out there). I’m not going to say that the majority of people are wrong in selecting Maybin over Ichiro, but it’s pretty interesting how far Ichiro has fallen at this point of his career isn’t it when a decade of excellence has him being taken off the board right behind a guy who has one full season in his major league career?
Ichiro, a leadoff man his entire career, is being asked to hit third in the order this year by the Mariners. Owner’s of one of the worst offenses in baseball, Ichiro should still be able to have success in the three hole. Conventional wisdom would have you believe that he will run a bit less but knock in more runs than he has in the recent past. I’m not so sure that he’s really going to curtail his running that much because so much of Ichiro’s game is being a mover and shaker on the base paths. Whatever the truth, Ichiro is to the point where excellence can no longer be expected. That doesn’t mean you should forget about him completely, he’s still capable of improving slightly upon last years effort (never doubt greatness), but he certainly is no longer someone you’ll want as a top option on your fantasy squad – not even close.
By Ray Flowers