There’s no doubt about it: for Ichiro Suzuki and his fans around MLB, 2013 will be remembered as the year the Japanese superstar got his 4,000th career hit as a professional baseball player.
It’s an accomplishment that can’t be overstated enough, of course; however, the sheer magnitude of it all has also done a deceiving job of hiding one unfortunate, but wholly apparent fact: Suzuki is no longer a reliable contributor at the plate.
Just to get it out of the way now — that is not to say he’s not a valuable baseball player for the New York Yankees.
In fact, at 1.3 fWAR on the season thus far, the veteran is currently the fourth-most valuable player on the team. That said, much of it has to do with the fact that Suzuki is still a great defender at 39-years old, owning (mostly) right field at 10.7 fielding runs above average heading into play on Thursday.
As for his offensive contribution to the Bronx Bombers … well, let’s just say the fountain of youth at Yankee Stadium has run dry.
Remember that spike in production when he arrived in New York via a change-of-scenery deal from the Seattle Mariners, jumping from a dismal .261/.288/.353 triple-slash line through his first 95 games to a fantastic .322/.340/.454 in his last 67 — an OPS jump of over 150 points?
Well, if you thought that spike was going to last, Suzuki’s .654 OPS through 477 PA going into Thursday has some bad news for you …
There are plenty of numbers we could go through here to explain his dismal .268/.301/.353 line in 2013 like a natural drop in power, a single-season career-high in pop-ups (17.5 percent), a career-low 87.4 percent contact rate, and the fact that he’s swinging at more pitches than ever (PITCHf/x era) at 49.9 percent. But all of them point to just one obvious fact, and one that we’ve known for quite some time now: he’s almost 40-years old.
As they say, time waits for no one, and the simple explanation is that the Japanese star is simply going through the same age-driven decline that all of the game’s players, including its greatest, have all went through. The Yankees are getting the pre-trade Suzuki this season because well, that’s the guy he traded for.
And that’s should be the final point for Suzuki, really: though he is signed through his age-40 season at another $6.5 million, it would be unreasonable to assume that he’ll be of much help at the plate.
Yes, he is still a contributor even if he only plays defense; and yes, he’s one of the best players to ever play the game. But even the best have to ride off into the sunset at some point, and if 2013 is any indication, not even the change-of-scenery to the most veteran-y franchise of all will stave that off for too much longer.