Seiya Suzuki Could Be One of the Hardest Hitters to Project This Season
Over at The Athletic, Sahadev Sharma and Eno Sarris took a crack at breaking down the best and worst-case scenarios for the anticipated Chicago Cubs lineup in 2023. I think we know by now there’s a relatively wide range of possibilities there, thanks to the combination of unproven types, platoon optimizations, and guys with potential to be great – or to flop – for a variety of idiosyncratic reasons.
What stood out to me in the discussion, though, was just how wide the variance could be for one Cubs player in particular: Seiya Suzuki.
To be sure, the data discussed has been out for a good long while, because it’s based on Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections at FanGraphs, but it wasn’t until The Athletic piece really drilled down that I realized just how good Seiya Suzuki COULD be in 2023.
To start, let’s mention the narrative reasons for a big improvement over what was already a decent rookie season (.262/.336/.433/116 wRC+) for Suzuki, who was a monster in Japan before coming over (let’s not forget that part!).
For one thing, there is going to be a full Spring Training ahead with a team he already knows he’s on, unlike last year’s free-agent-and-lockout-shortened process. For another thing, Suzuki will have lived and played in the States for a season, so little life acclimations will be easier. For another thing, Suzuki will have faced MLB pitching for a season, and will have then had an offseason to work on whatever he needs to in order to put himself in a better position to succeed in 2023. For another more specific thing, Suzuki will have faced some of the pitchers he’ll be seeing this year, and some of that familiarity will help. Lastly, I’ve gotta believe there’s something to the idea that Suzuki has generally shown he’s a quality MLB-caliber player, and having that confidence going into this season – he doesn’t have to “prove” it – may help, as well.
On the data side, as Sharma and Sarris note, Suzuki has the largest range of any Cub between his 80th percentile projection (i.e., if things go really well for him) and 20th percentile projection (i.e., if things go really poorly for him). The 80th percentile ZiPS projection for Suzuki would have him hitting a whopping .297/.378/.554/148 OPS+ (pretty close to wRC+), whereas the 20th percentile projection would be just .243/.326/.431/105 OPS+. The good news is that even that 20th percentile projection is not terrible.
That 43-point spread in OPS+ is the biggest on the Cubs, a point ahead of Nelson Velazquez and a few ahead of Patrick Wisdom (I can see why those two would have huge variances, too!).
It is most likely that Suzuki’s 2023 season will fall somewhere in between his 80/20 projections, but it’s fun to dream about what happens if he does explode into a near 150 wRC+ guy. It’s *conceivable,* which is exciting as it is. Among qualifiers, just seven hitters topped a 150 wRC+ in 2022 (Judge, Alvarez, Goldschmidt, Altuve, Freeman, Machado, Arenado), and if the Cubs had a guy in that group it would go a long way toward having an offense that surprised to the upside.
Hey, while we’re here, why not enjoy one of the best moments from Seiya Suzuki’s rookie campaign. The time he hit a 9th inning, go-ahead, inside-the-park homer in Milwaukee off of Josh Hader: