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Entries in Seattle Mariners (36)

Tuesday
Jul242012

For Ichiro, More Fly Balls Don't Pay Off

After 12 years, 10 All-Star appearances and 2,533 stateside hits, Ichiro Suzuki is changing coasts: The Yankees acquired him from the Mariners for D.J. Mitchell, Danny Farquhar and cash. Ichiro still looks like the same lithe, speedy strike zone Jedi of years past. But he's batting just .261 this season (61 points below his career average) and has an 82 OPS+ (113 career), both personal worsts. The now-38-year-old has become more of a fly ball hitter. That new approach isn't paying off.

For years, Ichiro slapped the ball on the ground and used his top-notch wheels to leg out hits. He hit a collective .294 on ground balls from 2008-10, nearly 50 points above the MLB average for qualified hitters. Those hits on grounders started to vanish last season, however:

YearGround Ball Pct.Avg. on Ground Balls
2008 57.1 .297
2009 55.9 .359
2010 57.1 .300
2011 59.8 .264
MLB Avg., 2008-11 44.2 .247

 

Ichiro's decline on grounders has continued in 2012, as he has just a .220 average when smacking the ball on the grass. Perhaps in an effort to compensate for his lack of ground ball hits, Ichiro has taken to the air more often. Check out his fly ball rate by pitch location from 2008-2011, and then 2012:

2008-11

 

 2012

 

Ichiro has a 29.3 percent fly ball rate this year, compared to 22.5 percent from 2008-11. His ground ball rate is 47.8 percent, down from 57.5 percent over 2008-11. Those extra fly balls are leading to little more than weakly-hit cans of corn. Ichiro has never been a slugger, but his ability to drive pitches he hits skyward has really bottomed out in 2012. Here's his slugging percentage on fly balls from 2008-11, and then 2012:

2008-11

 

2012

 

Ichiro slugged .489 on fly balls from 2008-11, a far cry from the .759 average for qualified hitters. This year, though? He's outslugging only Flash Gordon's waif-thin progeny on fly balls hit:

Lowest slugging percentage on fly balls, 2012

BatterSlugging Pct.
Dee Gordon .265
Ichiro Suzuki .274
Michael Young .278
Marco Scutaro .292
Jamey Carroll .327
Cliff Pennington .329
Jemile Weeks .333
Alexei Ramirez .338
Willie Bloomquist .383
Darwin Barney .388

 

Ichiro's slap-and-dash skill set held up remarkably well into his late thirties. But time has seemingly caught up with -- and passed -- him down the first base line. While many players make concessions to age by trying to change their approach, Ichiro's altered plate approach doesn't appear to be for the better. He was an ultra-quick ground ball hitter with very modest pop. Now that the grounders aren't leading to infield hits, he's trying to make up for it with more fly balls and extra-base knocks. When your outfield drives only impress Dee Gordon, that's a problem.

Tuesday
Apr102012

Yu Darvish vs. Ichiro

While Yu Darvish opened his MLB career with a win over the Mariners last night, that was more the product of Texas teeing off on Hector Noesi than the $112 million man's great outing. Darvish allowed five runs in 5.2 innings, surrendering eight hits while striking out five batters and walking four.

The matchup eagerly anticipated by seamheads ten time zones apart was Darvish vs. Ichiro. The first tilt between the former Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters ace and Sawamura winner and the erstwhile Orix BlueWave and three-time Pacific League MVP went in Ichiro's favor. Here's a quick look at how Ichiro went 3-for-4 against the latest Japanese star to make the jump to MLB.

First Inning

Darvish started Ichiro off with a 92 mph cutter, which was generously called a ball. Ichiro then fouled off a 95 mph four-seamer thrown up and away, took a 94 mph four-seamer inside for a ball and fouled off two more 94 mph four-seamers. With a 2-2 count, Darvish reared back, fired a 96 mph four-seamer and missed over the heart of the plate. Ichiro lined the pitch into left field for a single.

 

Second Inning

Darvish fell behind Ichiro again by missing way outside with a 93 mph two-seamer and then just missing low and inside with a 92 mph four-seamer. Down 2-0, Darvish left another four-seamer over the middle of the plate that Ichiro clubbed over right fielder Nelson Cruz's head for a double.

 

Fourth Inning

In the fourth, Darvish yet again got behind in the count by narrowly missing low and inside with an 80 mph slider and then well outside with a 92 mph four-seamer. Ichiro fouled off a 92 mph four-seamer on the outer third of the plate and took a 93 mph four-seamer low and inside to make it a 3-1 count. Darvish made one of his best pitches of the night, hitting the black with a 93 mph four-seamer thrown away that produced a ground out.

 

Sixth Inning

Darvish tried to stay away from Ichiro in their final battle. Ichiro took a 93 mph four-seamer outside for a ball, poked a 92 mph four-seamer foul that was way outside, and then took an 82 mph slider in the dirt to work a 2-1 count. Darvish then tried to hit the outside corner again, but the pitch was high and Ichiro singled to center field.

 

Overall, 15 of the 18 pitches Darvish threw to Ichiro were fastballs. Darvish fell behind in the count in each AB, and poor fastball command led to three base knocks. At least until the NPB stars match up again, Ichiro has bragging rights.

Wednesday
Mar282012

Dustin Ackley's High-Pitch Slugging

Along with Ichiro, Seattle second baseman Dustin Ackley starred in the first game that counts in 2012. Ackley ripped a fourth-inning solo homer off Brandon McCarthy and lined a go-ahead single off Andrew Carignan in the 11th as the Mariners topped the A's 3-1 at the Tokyo Dome.

That both hits from Ackley came on pitches high in the zone -- the go-ahead single was nearly at eye level -- shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Ackley performed well overall as a rookie, batting .273/.348/.417 with a 117 OPS+, but he was especially deadly against high stuff. Look at his in-play slugging percentage by pitch location in 2011:

Ackley's in-play slugging percentage by pitch location, 2011

The number two pick in the '09 drafted slugged .547 on pitches thrown up in the zone, 161 points above the MLB average last season. That high-pitch slugging placed him in the top 15 among all hitters:

Highest slugging percentage on high pitches, 2011

BatterSLUG
Pablo Sandoval .779
Mike Napoli .687
Troy Tulowitzki .675
David Ortiz .642
Josh Willingham .636
Dustin Pedroia .613
Adam Jones .592
Ben Zobrist .587
Carlos Gonzalez .586
Hunter Pence .585
J. J. Hardy .580
Ian Kinsler .577
Adrian Beltre .575
Carlos Beltran .548
Dustin Ackley .547

 

An Ichiro rebound is important for Seattle, but continued growth from Ackley (projected for a .261/.348/.410 line by ZiPS) and offseason pickup Jesus Montero (.257/.322/.438) will determine whether the M's finish last in runs scored in the AL for the fourth straight year in 2012. So far, so good for Ackley.

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