October 22 – Happy Birthday Ichiro Suzuki

I’ve always admired the way Ichiro Suzuki played the game of baseball, but since he did it mostly in Seattle I would never have classified myself as an “Ichi” fan. I am now.

When the Yankees learned in late July of the 2012 regular season that their injured starting outfielder, Brett Gardner was unlikely to return to the active roster before the end of the year, they traded pitchers D. J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the Mariners for the aging native of Kasugai, Japan. I liked the deal immediately because I thought New York had missed Gardner’s defense and his run-scoring ability and by adding Suzuki they were actually getting someone who was an even better outfielder and run scorer than Gardner.

During his first half-season in pinstripes, it was a pleasure to watch this guy play the game. Unlike most of the high-paid sluggers in that Yankee lineup, Suzuki was content to take what he was given from opposing pitchers (except bases on balls) and as a result, he was a very tough out. What was most surprising to me, however, was his ability to turn on an inside fastball and drive it easily into Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch.

The highpoint of his first year as a Yankee was a five-game mid-September stretch he put together against the Blue Jays and Orioles. He went 14-20 in those games, scoring seven runs, driving in five and New York won them all. Without that five game win streak, the Yankees would have not won the AL East and without Suzuki, there would have been no five game win streak.

He ended up appearing in 67 regular season games for New York in 2012 and hitting .322. For some idiot reason, the Yankees had him batting at the bottom of the order when he first joined the team, because I think he would have scored a lot more runs than the 28 he did manage.  After hitting just .217 in the Yankee victory over Baltimore in the ALDS, Suzuki was the only member of New York’s lineup who could hit Detroit pitching in the 2012 ALCS, averaging .353 against the Tigers.

He used that great first half-season in the Bronx as leverage to squeeze a contract for two more out of Brian Cashman. After Suzuki wilted under a full-time, full-season playing load in 2013 and hit just .267 with a .639 .OPS, I’m sure the Yankee GM regretted agreeing to that second year. Personally, I thought the epidemic of injuries to the Yankee offense that year robbed the aging Suzuki of the type of protection he now needs in a batting order to be effective. He was much more effective in the part-time role Joe Girardi carved out for him in 2014.

Suzuki turns 42-years-old today. He shares his October 22nd birthday with one of his own Yankee teammates and this long-ago Yankee pitcher.

2012 NYY 67 240 227 28 73 13 1 5 27 14 5 21 .322 .340 .454 .794
2013 NYY 150 555 520 57 136 15 3 7 35 20 26 63 .262 .297 .342 .639
2014 NYY 143 385 359 42 102 13 2 1 22 15 21 68 .284 .324 .340 .664
14 Yrs 2204 9663 8964 1303 2844 336 85 112 717 487 565 944 .317 .360 .411 .771
SEA (12 yrs) 1844 8483 7858 1176 2533 295 79 99 633 438 513 792 .322 .366 .418 .784
NYY (3 yrs) 360 1180 1106 127 311 41 6 13 84 49 52 152 .281 .314 .364 .679
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/19/2014.

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