Ichiro's Aging


Spec sez:

What's your feeling on Ichiro? A lot of people seem worried he's "aging" (aren't we all?) and on the decline. He always slumps at some point. Any reason to think things are different this year?

Shannon Drayer, linked by Spec, sez:


Shannon Drayer: Thank you. As I type this Ichiro gets a hit. Worrying about aging at this point of his career is legit. It is going to happen someday. The concern is in the way he has been making the outs. He is pounding the ball into the ground rather than driving it. His line drive rate has been steadily declining for the last few years and that is a concern because he is going to slow down and he isn't going to be able to leg things out like he traditionally has. When he is convinced of this he will change his game. He told me this two years ago. He adapts. The question is, is this a prolonged slump that he will pull out of or is it time to change his game?The other thing that is somewhat disturbing is his play in the outfield. He simply isn't covering the ground that he used to. Good to see the skipper put him at DH to give his legs a break today. We will see more of this.

1.  That "adaptation" idea has been a key one in projecting Ichiro's long-term career arc.  Megaprops to Drayer for being right on it.

SSI, since about 2005, has taken it as self-evident that Ichiro would go through a career transition once his bat slowed.  

(This is a fundamental 1980's James paradigm, the career transition.  He scored some decent MLB consulting money after one club asked him about FA pitcher ... he nailed a fantastically far-sighted 3-stage career transition prophecy and his rep grew.)


2.  HOF leadoff hitters don't start running slow at 37.  No way.

I don't know what is going on in RF, but it's not that Ichiro can't run.  How long did Lofton and Rickey run well?  Ichiro's lighter, stronger, and more flexible than they were.

It's true that Ichiro's SX's have dropped from 150 to 130.  But 130 is still real fast -- does Ichiro look slow to you when he steals bases?

In RF, Ichiro's *vision* seems off to me, like he can't see the ball quite as well.


3.  Ichiro's swing is VERY long, almost uniquely long, and it wouldn't *shock* to hear that he can't make it work at age 37.

For a very light man, like Ichiro, to drive the ball, he needs all kinds of wrist hinge (the best definition of a long swing IMHO).  Could be that his quickness is lacking a bit.


4.  Ichiro is the right guy to make the call about adaptation points.  He'll change when he needs to.


5.  My own wild-eyed guess is that he simply needs to start going to LF and CF a lot -- like 80% of the time.

Seems like Ichiro is overreacting a bit to the jam-pitch syndrome (pointed out by Jeff Sullivan) and trying too hard to go for the big ones.  I'd like to hear his grandmaster explanation for why he doesn't just shorten up, hit ball with knees first to left-center field.

I've always liked that part of his game best anyway, the medium swing starting with the knees, going over the SS's head.

(Ichiro would probably tell us that his anti-aircraft strategy is not as simple as that, that it depends on the pitcher, etc etc.)


Lofton, Rose, Rickey, Raines, and the lot were VERY good players up to and through age 40.  Ichiro is a *better* athlete than they were, not a worse one.  His stardom the next several years is about as much a given as anybody's is.

Whatever Ichiro's transition is, I bet it is about to end shortly.


Your thoughts Spec, bro's?



ghost's picture

...I think the exact opposite, Doc.
I think Ichiro, while still fast enough to steal bases, can no longer beat out infield hits at a 50/year clip and in so doing keep his BA up...which means he can't hit .300 by going to the pure slap it on the ground to left and run strategy anymore. In fact I've noticed that infields which used to play hi a step up to cut off the infield hits are now playing him two steps BACK to cut off his flares and grounders toward the middle and the third base hole. And still getting him out at first on five hoppers to the shortstop...even if that shortstop is Derek "worst defensive shortstop ever to win a gold glove" Jeter.
So no...I don't think his next transition is the slap hitter squared approach. I think both he and I are thinking the next transition is to start trying to drive the ball. To become a .280 hitter with line drive power, rather than a .340 hitter on the ground...because NOW the choice isn't "get on base with groudners OR be a slightly less productive power hitter"...now it's "hit .280 with no power...or hit .280 with power"...hmmm...that one seems easy to me... :)

Steen#'s picture

...and not his reflexes, we're in for an ugly decline phase. And, a minor quibble, I'd take Rickey the athlete over Ichiro everytime. I think it's been a myth propagated by the M's and a wanting to believe fanbase that Ichiro ever had enough power to hit down in the order, and unfortunetly, this attempt to adapt and refashion his game will prove it. There's no power in that swing.

Steen#'s picture

I think it's been more wishcasting and hero worship than reality that Ichiro has the pop to hit farther down in the lineup. More than his swing, I think his body lacks the power to ever really drive the ball with consistency.    I think Ichiro has developed his style to work around his own limitations as much as any desire to get 200 hits every year. And, a minor quibble, I'd take Rickey the athlete over Ichiro everytime.

Auto5guy's picture

I think Ichiro is more of a team player than most give him credit for.  Anybody think it's possible that Ichiro has heard that giant sucking sound hitting in the two spot behind him so he's cranking up for doubles to put himself in scoring position? With Figgy being an automatic out he might be figuring that he needs to be on second and not just first to help the team.
If Ichiro suddenly returns to normal at the same time that Figgy is moved to 8, I'll never believe it was a coincidence.


Have you ever seen Ichiro take BP? Not necessarily saying it would translate to in-game power, but he can smash HR's at will. I've literally seen him step into the cage and hit six consecutive line-drive HR's to RF. When he's not halfway to first base before contact, he can hit the ball with authority.

muddyfrogwater's picture

I highly doubt that Ichiro is washed up. So I went and poked around FanGraphs and B-Ref for a little bit to see for myself.
Career BABIP .357
Current BABIP .290
Career Isolated Power .097
Current Isolated Power .093
Career Extra Base% 5.6
Current Extra Base % 3.5
I'm not a huge stat guy, but I'll have to admit that stats have come a long way in the past decade. Certainly BABIP has to be one of the best inventions. So Ichiro's power numbers are down a bit. No homers or triples, but Ichiro's quota of doubles is normal relative to Ichiro. This isn't without reason as ground ball rate is much higher than normal and fly rate much lower.
Does Ichiro still see the ball well?
Currently posting a career low K rate @ 6.7%
Currently posting a normal BB rate @  7.5%
Currently posting a career best BB/K rate
Ichiro appears to be seeing the ball well enough. The power are nearly non existant, but i assume that he can still turn on a fast ball when he gets what he wants.  Fact is many pitchers pitch him low and away. Fact is most pitchers know that Ichiro is likely to ground to the left side of the infield on low and away stuff.  Yes, he of many swings.  In fact if I were to toss an arbitrary number out there on a whim I'd say like 70% low outer half pitches go to the left side of the infield,  Sometimes he waits on those pitches and tries to slap them down the 3rd base line, occasionally he breaks out the chipping wedge for a chip shot between the outfield and the infield.Mayb tis explains the golfing interview last winter. How about that, maybe he as working on his swing after all and not relaxing. Anyhow, point is  Ichiro's ground ball percent is much higher than normal, while his fly rate is much lower. If I'm a pitcher I'd rather give up a single than an extra base hit.
Has Ichiro lost his speed? Well yea sure a small fraction perhaps. I mean it's not like he's 28 any more. However look at this.  
Current Stolen Base  Success Rate 78%
Career Stolen Base Sucess Rate 81%
On pace to steal around 40 bags
Career average infield hits 53
On pace infield hits 48
He's still doing the thing with his legs. The evidence is there to call this a bad slump rather than an epic decline in skills at least for now anyhow.  BABIP suggests that he simply isn't finding the gaps through the infield.
200 hits and .300 avg.? Who cares. Whats so magical about the numbers 200 and 300? They're just numbers. To make "The Numbers" Ichiro will have to go on a tear in another month to make up for the miserable May.
So for all you folks who cheer for the numbers , I now leave you with new magic numbers. Those numbers are 189 & .296. All is not lost though, and we'll not hang our heads in shame. We'll just buck up like real troopers and live with it. :)
BTW Ichiro, you havn't been looking good in right field lately. Dude, make me happy for once and dive for a few of those balls  that bounce in front of you every once in awhile.


I've always thought that Ichiro would go a completely different direction once his bat speed started to erode. By contracting his strike zone, being much more selective at what he swings at, taking more walks, et al.


Sorry about the line breaks at the moment amigo... read through it despite, since we felt we owed yer...Right, the K%, BB%, etc. are all fine, even a bit better than normal...The GB's are up when he's too far out in front and three-bouncing them to the 2B... this has been the case for him, when slumping, since 2002... he gets overeager and pulls the trigger a bit too quick...Ichiro has a firm corporate policy against diving for fly balls or blamming into walls too hard :- )  Bill James concurs with this baseball trend, away from risking injury for any one particular play... in baseball there are 162 games, not 16 like in the NFL, so each individual play is worth much less as a fraction of the season...


Baker is circling Ichiro like a tiger shark circling a wounded killer whale. Ichiro better pull out of his tailspin in a hurry or the Seattle media is going to turn on him.
Does anyone really want to hear Ichiro getting boo'd in Safeco?


Re:  Baker vs. Ichiro ... there's another case of the Relentless Force meets Immovable Object...
Cannot fathom the scenario in which Ichiro, in the Mariner org, can even be paper-cut, much less bitten in half ...
Baker takes that one on, he's gonna lose a lot of political capital ... in all variations except the one in which Ichiro is now permanently terrible, and that ain't happenin'...

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