A-Rod, a former teammate of Ichiro, says it’ll give the team a “shot in the arm”. Funny for him to say that, but I digress.
We’ve read and heard that people think leaving a last place team to join a team with the best record in baseball will reinvigorate him. This is fair in theory, especially if you look at how Bobby Abreu and Nick Swisher are two examples that come into mind of players who left a bad situation, then were dealt to the Yankees and thrived.
We’ve also seen his paltry .214 average this season at Safeco Field, which must mean he’s due for improvement, right? I’m not so sure I buy this, especially for a singles hitter like Ichiro. The infield diamond is the same at every baseball stadium (duh), and he’s also a career .320 hitter there. There’s nothing to really to point to here. Now, of course he’s getting older so he’s not getting any better, but bad luck must be a factor here.
Scouts have been quoted saying the athleticism is still there (we saw it on display with the stolen base last night). So, basically, many have come to the conclusion that this is a no lose situation for the Yankees, especially because they merely gave up the DJ Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.
Mitchell, a former 10th round pick of the Yankees in 2008, was not a highly touted prospect by any means, but the Yankees did think highly of him enough to protect him from this past offseason’s Rule V draft. Farquhar was also a 10th round selection in ’08, but chose by the Blue Jays. He’s toiled around Oakland’s and the Yankees’ system this year prior to the trade, and doesn’t have much upside other than a fringy reliever.
Diving further into the trade analysis, what does Ichiro’s stats say about his performance the rest of the season?
Ichiro’s batted ball profile, provided by FanGraphs.com, gives some hope for the Yankees. First, he’s posted a career high line drive rate in 2012: 26.1%. For his career in the States, his LD% is 20.5%. There’s no doubt he’s hitting the ball on the screws still.
From there, BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play) tells the rest of the story. For sabermetric rookies, this basic statistic takes out home runs and strike outs from the player’s batting average to show how successful a hitter is when the ball is in the fielder’s hands. Often times, it can show how lucky or unlucky a batter has been when the ball is in the field of play, especially when combined with a player’s batted ball profile (LD%, infield hit%, bunt hit%, etc.). In Ichiro’s case, it’s pretty clear he’s been unlucky, with a .279 BABIP compared to a career .347, especially considering how hard he’s been hitting the ball.
Thus, if he keeps making solid contact like this (even if it’s on par with his career norms), he is certainly due for some better luck. I’m not saying he’s going to hit .350 the rest of the way, but don’t be surprised if he approaches the .300 mark for the Bombers. Plus, let’s not forget the elite defense and rifle of an arm he provides, something the Yankees sorely would have missed due to the loss of Brett Gardner.
While Ichiro certainly provides value, we have to consider the opportunity cost of adding
him to the roster. In order to make room for Ichiro, the Yankees designated DeWayne Wise
for assignment. It may sound strange at first, but Ichiro and D-Wise are actually very similar
players. Both are left handed hitting outfielders who provide plus defense.
Although Wise is typically thought of as a light-hitting outfielder, he has actually hit well this season (albeit in a very small sample size) between AAA and the majors. ZiPS (a system which projects player performances based on past statistics, see explanation of ZiPS and other projection systems here) projects that Wise will put up a wOBA (see explanation of wOBA here) of .296 the rest of the way. While .296 is poor, it’s not much worse than Ichiro’s projected wOBA of .304. To provide an idea of how poor these wOBAs are to those who are new to the statistic, see Russell Martin’s .294. These projections are by no means guaranteed to be correct, but they provide an unbiased baseline because, let’s face it, it’s not easy to be unbiased when dealing with a player as popular and exciting as Ichiro.
This difference is small, but obviously any slight advantage can be beneficial. Plus, you could argue that Ichiro’s experience could count for something in post-season play. Ichiro makes the team better, but it doesn’t appear to be by all that much. Considering the Yankees didn’t give up anything of great value, this trade is acceptable, but replacing DeWayne Wise with a slightly better DeWayne Wise won’t change much.