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« Best Offspeed Hitters | Main | Put-Away Pitchers »

The inside story on Ichiro's decline

For 10 years, Ichiro Suzuki has been a hitting machine for the Seattle Mariners, but even the best machines start wearing down and that's exactly what seems to be happening to the 37-year old in season number 11.

It was only two years ago, in 2009, that Ichiro hit .352 with 225 hits. 

This is what the heat zone looks like for a .352 hitter:

Look at the plate coverage exhibited by Ichiro particularly from the outside in towards the middle. On pitches on the outside portion of the plate, Ichiro hit .321. Pitches in the middle, he hit a Rogers Hornsby-like .416. And pitches on the inside, he hit .325 as he sprayed hits all over the field.

That was then, this is now:

Here is Ichiro the .267 hitter. Visually, it's hard to envision the same batter. Even the middle, where we still see the heat of success, he's only hitting .324, a drop of over 90 points, but still a more than respectable success rate.

Let's remove the middle of the plate:

Inside and outside in 2011

If I were a pulmonologist and I looked at this I would be concerned, but if I were a pitcher, I would be pretty comfortable knowing where to pitch Suzuki.

On pitches on the outside of the plate, Ichiro is hitting an ordinary .255. But the inside story is that the real place to get Ichiro out is on the inside of the plate where he is hitting a really weak .195, with a slugging pct. of .248.

Pitchers are aware of the weakness in Ichiro now. In 2009, Ichiro saw 680 inside pitches over 139 at bats covering 150 plate appearances. He fouled off 48.6% of those pitches.

In 2011, entering play Saturday night (8/13), he has already had 133 inside-pitch at bats and seen just 555 pitches, swinging at 44.1%, missing 13.5%, putting 47.3% in play (compared to 41.1% in 2009), and fouling off 39.2%.

On pitches and in the inside and the ouside of the plate in 2009, Ichiro hit .322. This year, it's .232. Those aren't Adam Dunn numbers, but they are certainly not what we have come to expect from Ichiro.

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