This isn’t what we hoped for.
Back on Opening Day, I figured I’d be blogging about Ichiro cruising to his 11th straight 200-hit season — surpassing Pete Rose’s record of ten such seasons — as well as his 11th-straight .300 season, All-Star Game, and Gold Glove award. As usual, the expectations of him going into this year were quite high, and why not? He was coming off an unparalleled, Hall-of-Fame-worthy decade.
Instead, 2011 turned out to be a huge disappointment — as I said in my mid-season report, “yikes.” Let’s look at the numbers, noting that the “Career Averages” only include his stats prior to 2011…
Career Average: 159
Career Average: 105
Career Average: 224
Career Average: 26
Career Average: 7
Career Average: 9
Runs Batted In
Career Average: 56
Career Average: 68
Career Average: 38
Career Average: .331
Career Average: .376
Career Average: .430
On-Base Plus Slugging
Career Average: .806
So Ichiro had a couple more stolen bases this year than his career average, but otherwise, he experienced painfully sharp drops in most every category. Apart from failing to reach 200 hits, his .310 OBP and .645 OPS were among the worst numbers for all leadoff hitters, as well as all regulars with his amount of plate appearances, and the very worst of any right fielder in the majors. On defense, he committed four errors for the third consecutive season. His career-worst was five errors in 2008, yet he still won the ’08 Gold Glove for the eighth time in ten seasons. Still, this year he occasionally looked shaky in right, so I’d be surprised if he’d be rewarded with yet another Gold Glove.
Following Wednesday’s season finale, Ichiro spoke through interpreter Antony Suzuki about his subpar season. According to Seattle Times Mariner blogger Geoff Baker (source of much of this info, and more), “Ichiro seemed to bristle when asked by reporters whether he’d thought often about extending his own major league record and reaching 200 hits for an 11th year in a row”…
This year, I’ve never mentioned about 200 — ever — during the season, nor in spring training. Nor did I mention that last year, too… I feel the communication is very tough because I’ve never mentioned it, nor have I thought about it. So, the psychology is very interesting from my standpoint. Because you never know what people think about you when you don’t show them. So, this year I felt I learned a lot as a human being. Not just as a player. Because that’s a part of being who I am. Knowing how people around me think psychologically.
Not sure what exactly he meant about that psychological stuff, and apparently he didn’t offer any explanation about the rest of his season’s shortcomings, but the “nor have I thought about it” line is hard to swallow. In previous seasons, though he might not have admitted it beforehand, once he reached the 200-hit milestone, he would then confess to it weighing heavily on his mind all along. After reaching the mark for the ninth consecutive season in 2009, he said of the pressure he felt from Japan: “For me, it’s not allowed for me to not accomplish this.”
So, what does this all mean? Was this just an off year, or are his abilities finally diminishing with his age? Has he lost a step? Has he lost his swing? Or was he distracted by something outside of baseball?
In any case, it seems that Ichiro’s career has come to a fork in the road. I’ll address what might lay ahead for him in my next post.