Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-4 yesterday after striking out three times Saturday for the just the third time in his career, leaving him with the lowest OPS (.743) and second-lowest batting average (.307) in 10 seasons with Seattle.
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu suggested that the lack of capable of hitters following him in what is the league’s worst lineup has motivated opposing pitchers to work around Suzuki more than ever before.
Maybe they’re pitching him a little bit tougher than normal. He’s the one .300 hitter in your lineup. He’s a guy that doesn’t normally walk. I think they’re forcing him to swing at pitches maybe a little bit further out of the zone than normal. I see him fouling off a lot of pitches a lot more than I did last year. Not because he’s missing, but I think they’re not as good as pitches he was afforded last year. That’s just my opinion.
Studies have more or less shown that the general notion of “lineup protection” is somewhere between massively overblown and a flat-out myth, but a deeper look at Suzuki’s numbers this season shows that Wakamatsu may be right.
Pitches thrown to Suzuki have been in the strike zone just 45.5 percent of the time this season, which is his lowest single-season mark by a relatively wide margin and well below his career total of 52.0 percent. Suzuki is also swinging at pitches outside the strike zone far more than usual, taking a hack 36.1 percent of the time compared to 26.0 percent for his career.
Most of Suzuki’s other numbers–stuff like contact rate, swinging strike percentage, and other data found on Fan Graphs–are pretty much in line for his norms, so Wakamatsu’s explanation seems to be make a lot of sense. Of course, at age 36 you’d also expect Suzuki’s performance to decline regardless of whether he’s getting as many hittable pitches as usual, so it also may not be as cut and dried as the manager thinks.