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September 25, 2012 at 8:07 AM

Ichiro’s two-plus-week hot streak raises interesting questions about his future in majors

We’re now two months removed from the trade that sent Ichiro from the Mariners to the New York Yankees and his bat has finally begun to heat up the way scouts in the Bronx hoped it would when the deal was made.
Ichiro is now riding a 2 1/2-week hot streak in which he’s gone 25-for-53 (.472) with a .491 on-base-percentage (OBP), a .679 slugging percentage (SLG) and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage of 1.170.
Clearly, those have impacted his numbers with New York as well as his overall numbers on the season.
The day Ichiro was traded to the Yankees, he had:
.261 AVG., .288 OBP, .353 SLG, .642 OPS
And the day this hot streak began, just prior to a three-hit showing at Baltimore on Sept. 6, Ichiro entered the day:
.264 AVG., .291 OBP, .364 SLG, .655 OPS
In other words, six weeks after the trade, his numbers had barely budged, especially considering he was playing home games at more hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium.
But today, it’s a much different story. With the hot streak, he is now at:
.282 AVG., .308 OBP, .393 SLG, .701 OPS for the entire season
.328 AVG., .352 OBP, .478 SLG., .838 OPS with the Yankees
Photo Credit: AP

Now, it goes without saying that the Yankees could live with that second line of production — Ichiro’s numbers with New York exclusively — for a long time if it could be sustained. Even numbers 50 points lower than that .838 OPS would be a welcome addition for a versatile outfielder who plays defense well.
But the problem becomes: how sustainable is it?
Is this something Ichiro has found that will last? Or is it the final hurrah for a player energized by a playoff push?
Two weeks ago, the big talk about Ichiro was that his most likely destination next season was Japan.
Now, you hear talk that the San Francisco Giants could represent a likely landing spot. Wherever he goes, you’d imagine Ichiro would be seeking a full-time position given that it would give him the best shot at reaching 3,000 career hits. Being a part-timer would require him to play into his mid-forties to reach that milestone.
But can this be sustained?
The Mariners know all about hot streaks from players nearing the end of their careers.
Back in 2007, Jose Vidro — a player who’d had a very productive hitting career — posted a second-half OPS of .867 over a much longer hot streak than Ichiro. One year later, his career was done by early-August.
That same 2007 season, Raul Ibanez posted a .913 OPS in the second-half, which many people thought was a hot streak as well, coming on the heels of a .750 first half.
Not so. While he never scaled .900 over a full season, Ibanez did post an .837 with Seattle in 2008, then an .899 with the Phillies in 2009. He then went .793 in 2010 for the Phils and .707 in 2011, his last full-time season.
In a more part-time role with the Yankees this year, he’s at .755.
Still, that’s now 2,881 additional plate appearances for Ibanez since his alleged hot streak in 2007 at a point when some analysts were ready to declare him done as a full-time hitter. His park-factored OPS+ was above average in every season except for last year, which is something the Mariners have lacked in left field since he left.
So, despite the age projection systems we have out there, based on statistical models and probabilities, nobody really can predict the future. For every Vidro, there’s an older Ibanez turning the prognosticators on their ear.
Red flags for Ichiro? There are several, including his .353 average and .941 OPS at Yankee Stadium.
Ichiro has hit five homers and seven doubles there this season already. That’s one more homer than he hit in nearly four months with the Mariners. His five doubles during this hot streak match the number he posted with the Mariners in the entire month of June and most of July combined.
So, we’ll see. One thing’s for sure. His recent uptick at the plate could not have come at a better time for the Yankees, who have won 10 of 12 to stay ahead of the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East. With the playoffs looming, a continued strong finish by Ichiro could indeed be enough to sustain his full-time act in MLB beyond this year. How much longer it would continue into 2013 would be up to him and how he sustains his production.
But he’s in better shape than he was three weeks ago.



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