I've known for a long time, at least since 2002, that Ichiro Suzuki's value at the plate would drop off when his singles dropped off. His secondary numbers were never great. He didn't draw many walks (season high: 68 in 2002) and he didn't hit for much power (season highs: 34 doubles in 2001; 12 triples in 2005; and 15 HRs in 2005). Despite his speed, he didn't steal many bases (season high: 56 in 2001). He just hit singles. Again and again and again.
The singles finally dropped off last year, and they didn't come back this year. Sure, at the time of his trade to the New York Yankees today, he was leading the Mariners in hits, with 105, and, more sadly, in batting average with a .261 mark; but he had a .288 OBP and .353 SLG, for a .642 OPS, which is 143rd out of 156 everyday players in the Major Leagues. Not good.
In fact, it's the worst OPS of every position player on the Yankees save for backup catcher Chris Stewart. Even Jayson Nix, backup SS, has an OPS near .700. So while many Seattlites are wringing their hands over the deal and the loss of the face of the franchise, asking themselves, “Why why why?,” the better question is: Why do the Yankees want him? As a No. 9 hitter? As a late-inning defensive replacement?
And why would he want to go there? According to The Seattle Times, it was Ichiro, 38, who requested the trade.
The immediate assumption is that he's nearing the end of his career and wants a World Series ring. That's why most aging superstars wind up in pinstripes. But I think the reason the Yankees want him is the same reason he requested the trade. I think it's the Safeco Field factor.
Historically, Ichiro's home and away splits are pretty similar: .320 at home, .324 on the road. His home OPS is .782 OPS, while his road OPS is .785. A wash.
But this split has grown over the last few years:
|Year||Home BA||Road BA||Home OPS||Road OPS|
I'm guessing the Yankees are looking at those road numbers and thinking Ichiro still has something in the gas tank. And I'm betting Ichiro thinks the same. And with New York, he has a couple of months to prove it to the other 28 teams in Major League Baseball so that next year he can continue his march, unabated by the cold winds of Safeco, toward 3,000 hits.
Maybe. Or maybe it's as he says: the Mariners are in the midst of a youth movement and he doesn't want to get in the way.
Either way, I like the youth movement. Right now our oldest position players are Chone Figgins (34) and Miguel Olivo (33). Next in line is Brendan Ryan (30). Brings to mind the old hippie slogan, “Don't trust anyone over 30!” Which I don't. Not on the M's.
Still, it was sad tonight seeing Ichiro in Yankees attire with No. 31 on his back instead of the No. 51 he's worn his entire career. (Is this temporary, by the way? No one on the Yankees is No. 51 and it's not retired yet. Will he get 51 once they make NYC?)
But I'm glad M's fans sent him off with a standing o. I'm glad he responded the way he did, with a classy, classy bow. I'm glad he got a basehit up the middle his first time up. No. 2,534 and counting.
Arigatou gozaimasu, Ichiro. We shall not see your like again.
Ichiro Suzuki bows to the Safeco Field crowd before his first at-bat as a New York Yankee: July 23, 2012.
The familiar stance with the unfamiliar number: his first base hit as a New York Yankee.
Hit no. 2,534.