Should Ichiro be playing more frequently than Soriano?

Jonathan Daniel

Ichiro has been off to a hot start, while Soriano has struggled, yet Soriano has earned the most playing time between the two of them. Why?

Heading into the season, it seemed like the Yankees had a surplus of outfielders. Since Carlos Beltran has been sidelined with an elbow injury, Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner have been the only outfielders guaranteed to start. Joe Girardi has been able to choose between Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro Suzuki, and more recently, Zoilo Almonte, for the other outfield spot. For some reason, Soriano has earned the most playing time so far (46 games played compared to Ichiro's 37). Would it make more sense to bench him in favor of starting Ichiro?

Last season was Ichiro's career worst in terms of average, on base percentage and wRC+ and I think the vast majority of Yankee fans were worried that he would have a terrible 2014 season. Yet he's somehow managed to turn things around. Ichiro is batting .357/.416/.414 with a wRC+ of 135. He's been worth 0.7 fWAR. Comparatively, Soriano is hitting .240/.266/.413 with a wRC+ of 81, and he's been worth -0.1 fWAR. While it's true that Ichiro did miss several days with a back injury, Girardi has generally favored putting Soriano into the lineup over Ichiro, which was especially true when Beltran was the regular third outfielder. This is probably because Soriano is a power threat, but he hasn't been recently. He's only hit two home runs during the month of May so far, and he's only managed to get two hits over his last 18 plate appearances.

It's also not like Soriano deserves to start over Ichiro because his defense is so spectacular or anything. Ichiro's UZR is currently 1.1 compared to Soriano's UZR of -0.8. Ichiro has played more innings in the outfield, yet Soriano's had 100 more plate appearances because Girardi insists on putting him in the DH role. At this point, it seems like the team would benefit the most from Ichiro being the third outfielder the majority of the time, at least until Beltran comes back, and other people subbing into the DH spot. It's not like there simply isn't anyone besides Soriano who can DH. Derek Jeter probably should be in the DH role more often than he has been. In anticipation of the argument that Ichiro is playing better this year because he was overworked last year (which could certainly be true), Ichiro could also DH. Almonte probably deserves to be the third outfielder over Soriano at this point too.

Putting Soriano in the DH spot, or starting him in right field because he prefers to actually be playing a position, is not doing the team any favors right now. Soriano has mostly just been collecting strikeouts, as his strikeout percentage is up to a dreadful 27.7% (Only 17 other players have a higher strikeout percentage than Soriano). Ichiro, on the other hand, is hitting significantly better than Soriano, and he's been working a lot of walks (his BB% is 9.1 compared to Soriano's 2.8). Until Ichiro cools down, or Soriano heats up, it just doesn't make sense for Soriano to be playing so frequently.

Do you think Soriano should be getting as much playing time as he has been or that it makes sense to bench Ichiro so that Soriano can start?

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