It's Pretty Difficult to Know How Good (or Bad) Seiya Suzuki is on Defense Right Now

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It’s Pretty Difficult to Know How Good (or Bad) Seiya Suzuki is on Defense Right Now

Chicago Cubs

When Jed Hoyer hopped on Joel Sherman and Jon Heyman’s podcast at the end of January, he had a TON of interesting stuff to say on (1) the Cubs dynasty that wasn’t, (2) the reason he went after Cody Bellinger this offseason, (3) Eric Hosmer’s playing time, (4) when he likes to get extensions negotiated, and so on. If you haven’t checked it out already, I highly encourage you to do so. It felt like the one of the rare occurrences of Hoyer actually providing substantive comments publicly. He usually just plays it so close to the vest.

But among the comments that really piqued my interest was his belief that Seiya Suzuki really underperformed defensively during his first MLB season, at least compared to his performance in Japan, where he won FIVE Central League Golden Glove awards (2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, and 2021).

Obviously, we know – just intuitively – that Suzuki didn’t quite provide Gold Glove caliber defense in right field last season. But I do remember thinking he was fine out there, with a particularly strong arm, at a minimum. But does that track with the defensive metrics out there from 2022? Eh. Not so much! By most measures, he was a borderline butcher in right field (which I don’t think is quite so fair, but we’ll get to that).

FanGraphs (min. 500 Innings in RF)

  • -3.6 DEF rating, 14th in MLB (of 26)
  • -4 Defensive Runs Saved, 22nd
  • -1.8 RngR (range), 20th

Statcast (Min. 100 attempts)

  • -4 Outs Above Average, 31st in MLB (of 38)
  • -3 Runs Prevented, 31st
  • -1.9 Outfield jump, 93rd among 105 qualified OFs

Putting those Statcast numbers a different way, Suzuki was in the 16th percentile in all of baseball for OAA and 10th percentile in outfielder jump. That is BAD-bad. And if you want to go really basic with it, he had a .981 fielding percentage, which was 20th out of 26 right fielders and 90th among the 106 qualified outfielders.

Advanced defensive metrics take a particularly long time to stabilize, so I don’t want to put TOO much stock into one (partial) season’s worth of data. But that’s what the data says.

His only saving grace, defensively, last season was his arm. Statcast has his arm strength in the 82nd percentile and FanGraphs slapped a 3.3 ARM score (17th among all OFs, 5th among RFs). Again, that part tracks with what I remember thinking while watching him play.

Curiously, however, Suzuki fared FAR better in the newly developed advanced defensive metric at Baseball Prospectus.

Among the right fielders with at least 500 innings played last season, Suzuki actually had a 5.4 DRP (which is sorta like BP’s version of DRS and OAA). BP also had Suzuki with above average range (9th among those same outfielders) with the second best arm rating among ALL outfielders.

Obviously, those are some pretty enormous discrepancies. I’m hesitant to put too much stock into a newly updated defensive metric (BP); newly reworked statistics sometimes require more time/larger samples to be fully ironed out. But it’s also tough to ignore, especially given all the Gold Gloves in Japan.

So sadly, I don’t have a definitive place to land here BEYOND the obvious: Suzuki seemed mostly fine in right field. It’s a new league and a new stadium, so he might have some natural improvement/comfort. That’s one thing Hoyer said. Also, Suzuki’s arm rates out well across the board, so he’s at least got that going for him. And we’ll want to keep a close eye on how he looks out there this season, because right now, it’s pretty difficult to decide just how good/bad of a right fielder we think he is.

Funny enough, being difficult to project is kinda Seiya Suzuki’s calling card this offseason. On both sides of the ball.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami