I’ve spoken to a few people who would like to see Ichiro play everyday, even against lefties. I’ve also read some columns clamoring for it, and also heard WFAN’s Mike Francesa call for it. But, is it really logical to play him against lefties?
In his career, Ichiro has actually hit lefties better than righties, to a tune of a .328 batting average and 112 wRC+. Against righties, he hits .315 with a 107 wRC+. A lot of times with big names like Ichiro, we get caught up in the fact that he’s Ichiro and think he’s still the guy who’s a lock to hit well over .300 and have a solid on-base percentage thanks to that high average. At age 38, the fact of the matter is that he’s not the same player anymore. He’s declined sharply and isn’t a dangerous hitter at this stage.
Against right handers, Ichiro has been perfectly average this season (100 wRC+). During his Yankee tenure, he’s been slightly above average in the same split (102 wRC+). But when it comes to lefties, Ichiro is worthless: 47 wRC+ in 2012. With the Yanks, it’s 69 wRC+, which is still pitiful.
He’s done an OK job since coming over here. That’s the best I can put it. I didn’t expect him to really do much more, given his age and his swift decline. Fans may like his .288 batting average in pinstripes, but that stat tells us very little.
The fact of the matter is the Yankees would have been much better off with DeWayne Wise, which Chris alluded to at the time of the Ichiro trade. Since joining Chicago, Wise has excelled with a 114 wRC+ in 135 plate appearances. He’s hit five homers, stolen ten bags, and hit .288. Both have very low walk rates and have solid reputations with a glove, so those components a wash out. But Wise clearly has more pop left in his bat (.346 vs. .310 wOBAs since the trade). Chris showed me this article a little while back, in which Wise credits Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long for getting his swing together.
Given how bad Raul Ibanez has been, I certainly believe that Ichiro should always be playing one of the corner outfield spots against a righty. When Mark Teixeira returns, and Nick Swisher moves back to right field, Ichiro should be the regular left fielder vs. righties. Unless Ibanez starts hitting like he did in the first half, I believe that will be the alignment.
As the stats show, there really isn’t a reason to put Ichiro in the lineup against lefties. At the same time though, Andruw Jones has been beyond awful against lefties as well, so it’s kind of a pick your poison situation unless Jones turns it around. The Yankees have currently been putting Steve Pearce at first, Swisher in right, and Jones in left vs. lefties with Teixeira out. When Teix returns, it may actually make more sense to put Pearce in left and bench both Jones and Ichiro. Pearce has played left field this year for Houston and Baltimore, so he’s capable (although not a good fielder).
Ultimately, I don’t think it would make a difference playing Ichiro over Andruw Jones against lefties for the time being. Perhaps you will get a defensive boost, but both players UZR indicates that Jones is still a superior defender. However, if Jones somehow begins to mash lefties like he had been earlier this season, there’s no question Jones should play over Ichiro.