March 04, 2014

Dear Ichiro: It's time to retire after this year

Yankee outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, the star hitter of both Japanese and American baseball, has said, per ESPN, that he plans to play "not just a few (but) many" years before retiring.

Uh, yeah, that's if any MLB wants you as a No. 4, soon to be No. 5, OF, and you can accept that. 

Your own current manager, Joe Girardi, without rose-colored glasses, barely sees you as a No. 4 in the Yankee pecking order:
“We signed a number of outfielders as free agents, and things have a way of working themselves out in spring training," Girardi said. “Exactly how he fits in right now I can’t tell you, but my job is to keep everyone fresh, healthy and contributing, and I’ll have to figure that out."  
Yes, other teams don't ink new free agents on such a heavy basis. They also often have better minor league depth than the Yankees and would rather give time to a sub-23 prospect than an over-40 "geezer."

As for Ichiro, beyond his general competitiveness, I'm pretty sure the reason he's saying that is that he'd like to get 3,000 hits here in MLB. 

Yeah, good luck with that.

Here's how Ichiro's quest for 3,000 hits is likely to play out, from this year's starting point of 2,742.

I'm pretty sure Ichiro wants 3K. But, as a reserve, it's going to take him playing like Omar Vizquel or longer. And SS has more of a defensive premium than RF, if Ichiro can really play RF rather than LF in two more years.

Let's give him 345 ABs this year at .261. That's 90 hits, putting him at 2,832. OK, for 2015, 240 ABs at .257 gives him 62 hits, or 2,894. In 2016, 225 ABs at .251 gives him 54 more hits for 2,948. In 2017, 192 ABs at .245 gives him 47 hits, for 2,995. So, in a reasonable downward progression of both at bats and batting average, four years isn't enough for him to break 3,000.

And, these may well be generous assumptions. Ichiro's career isolated power is below .100 and in recent years it's been below .090. That's tolerable at SS, if you're like a Vizquel and can contribute plus glove, at least on a reserve basis.

Survey already says no. In 2010, 2011, the Yankee half of 2012, and 2013, he was a negative on fielding runs for his position. His range, for a RF, is below average and getting closer to well below average. His arm still ranks OK, but no better. And, he doesn't have the power to be a LF. 

Vizquel? He stayed in positive territory on fielding runs until he was 43, three years older than Ichiro is now. The gold standard, Ozzie Smith, was even or positive through his age-41 retirement season.

Life is cruel being an over-40 outfielder. If you have power, you can go DH, or in the National League, try to play a passable IB. Ichiro has neither option.

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