On the whole, Seiya Suzuki’s first season in MLB so far has been fine.
His numbers won’t blow you away (.255/.331/.418; 109 wRC+), but they’re still above average, and Suzuki has taken plenty of walks (9.7%) while getting a hold on his once-ballooning strikeout rate (24.5%). And because this season is proving to be something close to development year for Suzuki — a chance to acclimate himself to Major League Baseball and its uniquely talented pitchers — I’ve been happy to see his multiple bounce-backs throughout the year.
In fact, I don’t think anything illustrates the league’s adjustment(s) — and Seiya’s successful retorts — quite like his rolling strikeout rate chart.
You love to see that rate drop dramatically multiple times throughout the season, of course. But I’m most heartened by the shorter (in both height and duration) peak of his second strikeout spike. That demonstrates not only his baseline ability to adjust back to the league (which is not a given for any player coming from overseas), but a better understanding of how to do it even more quickly/effectively the second time around.
And in case it wasn’t clear, the significance of adjusting more quickly/effectively extends beyond the short-term results. MLB is a game of constant adjustments, even for the best hitters in the league, so demonstrating that skillset is *crucial* to how we project Suzuki moving forward.
Even more encouraging, Suzuki seems to be cutting down on the whiffs primarily on the strength of more contact, particularly with pitches in the zone, which is great for all the obvious reasons (everyone wants to whiff less often), but also because I’m pretty sure Suzuki already has an *excellent* eye. Meaning that if he can shore up the contact rate, I don’t think he’ll have an issue with strikeouts in the future.
Now, with all that said, the Cubs are certainly hoping for greater overall offensive production for Suzuki in Years 2-5 of his contract. But I think the periodic stretches of really solid baseball even after his initial dominance should definitely give you some hope.
He also happens to be in a really great place right now.
Since August 9 (so his last 84 PAs), Seiya Suzuki has been hitting quite well: .288/.381/.438 (131 wRC+). Yes, that’s an arbitrary (and generous) cutoff date, but that’s also the point: I’m just here to tell you – from results to peripherals – Suzuki has been performing well (again) for a few weeks. And the offensive bump is supported by the data.
Check out some of his peripheral statistics during this stretch (with league average in parentheses):
Avg. Exit Velo: 89.9 MPH (88.6 MPH)
Barrel%: 8.2% (7.5%)
Hard%: 42.6% (38.2%)
Launch Angle: 8.6 degrees (12.7)
Suzuki could stand to improve his launch angle (indeed, that’s likely why his slugging percentage is trailing relative to his average and OBP, as Brett discussed earlier in the week), but with a high average exit velocity and a better-than-average barrel rate, he’s doing just fine in terms of contact at the plate. Maybe he won’t hit 25-30 home runs in the big leagues, but these are the sort of numbers that can support a healthy diet of doubles and 15-20 home runs (even absent any improvement from here, which is still possible).
Meanwhile, his .322 BABIP during this stretch is almost exactly equal to his season-long BABIP (.318). In other words, there hasn’t really been any extra “luck” baked into this hot stretch of baseball during which he’s been 31% better than the league average hitter (which is roughly All-Star territory).
O-Swing: 26.8% (32.5%)
Z-Swing: 54.7% (69.0%)
Z-Contact: 93.4% (85.4%)
Contact: 86.0% (76.7%)
SwStr: 5.3% (11.1%)
Suzuki is swinging at fewer pitches in the zone than the league is on average, but he’s also swinging at fewer pitches OUT of the zone, as well. And with a better-than-average zone and overall contact rates, plus a much lower whiff rate and PLENTY of hard contact, that just shows me he’s being selectively aggressive. There’s a balance to strike here, I’m sure, but this is what making adjustments looks like.
There’s a long way to go before the end of the season, but if Seiya Suzuki can finish this final month of baseball the way this most recent stretch has gone, I will enter the offseason with SO MUCH more confidence about a potential All-Star impact next season. Again, not because of the height of his performance, because of the demonstrated ability to adjust to the league.