I hope you all have had as much fun dissecting opposite field splits this week as I have. Today, we take one more look with another odd example: Ichiro Suzuki. Ichiro’s style is so different from anything else that we’ve seen in United States baseball that projection systems still have issues nailing down a forecast for him.
A major part of that is that Ichiro has a definite ability to get more hits on balls in play than other major league hitters. As ground balls have a higher BABIP, his roughly 2.3:1 GB:FB ratio is part of that. Still, ground balls only fall in for hits about 24% of the time on average, and Ichiro’s .357 career BABIP is well above that. How do we account for this?
Naturally, we look at his pull-push splits. Looking specifically at balls hit the other way, Ichiro’s .327 wOBA to left field is good, but not terribly impressive. With the average lefty push split at .316, that makes Ichiro only about two runs above average per 200 balls – approximately how many he hit to left field last season.
What makes him amazing is that he manages this with a microscopic amount of power. Ichiro’s career ISO of .112 is certainly below average, but it’s not terrible. When he goes the other way, though, his ISO is only .047, nearly 100 points below the lefty-to-left average, in large part due to a 0.2% HR/FB. That’s not a typo – Ichiro is essintially the anti-Ryan Howard when it comes to opposite field hitting, as he has only hit 1 opposite field home runs in his career, and that’s out of 1663 batted balls.
However, unlike the typical hitter, Ichiro actually hits more ground balls to the left side than fly balls. His speed out of the box and a roughly 4:3 GB:FB ratio to the left side results in a high infield hit percentage – exactly 20% – and a BABIP over 60 points above the typical lefty push split. This is wildly different from most hitters, regardless of handedness, as the fly ball is about 2 to 2.5 times more likely for the average hitter when going the other way. That’s how Ichiro manages to get around his lack of power and remain a productive hitter even to the left side, and this highly elevated BABIP to the left side is a large part of his high career BABIP.
Ichiro will turn 37 in October. He has maintained his speed throughout his career, a key to his success pushing the ball. It will be interesting to see if this kind of magic can hold up as his career continues. He’s shown no sign of slowing down, in any sense of the word, and I certainly don’t expect any downturn in 2010.
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