After posting a career-worst 71 wRC+ and only 1.1 fWAR in 2013, it was evident that Ichiro no longer deserved to be a starting outfielder (this was really known sooner). Reacting accordingly, the Yankees brought in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to compliment Alfonso Soriano and Brett Gardner in the outfield, thereby relegating Ichiro to the bench when Beltran or Soriano DH. It must be hard for a 10-time all-star, MVP, and future Hall-of-Famer to accept such a role, but it seems Ichiro has embraced it. He’s made no complaints about his playing time, and has performed well in his opportunities at the plate and in the field.
There’s no doubt a .481 BABIP has propped up Ichiro’s batting line this season. In no way am I expecting him to maintain his 129 wRC+, let alone even league average offensive production. Yet, it’s hard not to feel a bit more rosy about his season outlook, and ZiPS agrees. Prior to the season, ZiPS forecasted an ugly .273/.299/.373 (.292 wOBA). The updated end of season projection sits at .284/.310/.383 (.302 wOBA).
We would certainly be complaining about a starting outfielder posting a .302 wOBA, but now that Ichiro has been relegated to a fourth-outfielder role, such an output is perfectly acceptable given his defensive prowess and speed. There was plenty of speculation about an offseason trade given his demotion, but now it appears that the Yankees are thankful to still have Ichiro around. He’s perfect as a pinch-runner, a late-inning defensive replacement for Beltran or Soriano, and his lefty bat is well-suited to spell Soriano against a tough righty. Ichiro may never meet the value of his two-year $13M contract expiring at the end of this season, but it appears the he and the Yankees are going to make the most of it in 2014.
Statistics provided by Fangraphs