Fridays Above Replacement

Projecting Eugenio Suarez

While mired in this rebuild reboot of unknown length, I like trying to identify the places where the Reds need improvement, and the places where the Reds can likely say “we’re good.”  In my estimation, only first base and one or two starting pitchers are guarantees to be around for the next competitive Reds squad; every other position is in flux and could remain so for the near future.

It dawned on me while perusing some 2015 statistics, however, that the Reds might have another talent that locks up a position with no need for upgrade; that talent being Eugenio Suarez.  Suarez already has a track record of doing extraordinary things.  Before we talk about these extraordinary things, let’s look at the 2016 projections for Suarez from some of the popular projection systems, as well as his 2015 stats for reference:

chart1

Anything with a “600” appended to it denotes the numbers are prorated to 600 plate appearances.  Both Depth Charts and Steamer are projecting Suarez for much less than a full-season because he didn’t play a full season in either 2014 or 2015.  I’m calling that a sim-ism.  Those projection algorithms clearly do not know Suarez will be the full-time third baseman for the Reds in 2016.  Barring injury, which he doesn’t have a history of, Suarez will be playing a full season.

So what should we take away from these projections?  All three projections have Suarez continuing to show most of the home run power he showed last year.  He was on an almost 20 HR pace in 2015, and projecting him for 17 or 18 seems very reasonable, if a bit conservative.  All three systems also think Suarez will walk a bit more and two of three think he will strike out a bit less.  I would say this is a fair guess given the fact that he now has more experience and coaching under his belt.

Let us quickly discuss defense. Suarez was bad last year at shortstop. All three of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS), Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR/150), and FanGraphs Def rated Suarez as the worst regular shortstop in the majors last year.  Many of his shortcomings, at least to my eyes, seemed mental in nature.  Perhaps he didn’t look the ball into his glove, or didn’t set his feet before throwing.  That kind of stuff can be fixed with repetition and coaching.  Physically, there is nothing stopping him from being an average-or-better infielder and I expect just that this year from Suarez at the hot corner.

Moving back to the projections above, the idea of Suarez being better at third base in 2016 than he was at shortstop in 2015 shows up in the WAR column. Even though the projections expect his hitting to decline, his WAR figures are higher. Without an explicit defense vs base running breakdown, I think it is a safe assumption that defense is where most of these gains will be made.  Playing average defense at third base while being close to a league-average hitter will put you in the 2.0 WAR range, which is average.

The most notable takeaway from the projections, I think, is the regression of his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) to be much closer to league average. This is a common and well-founded adjustment to make when projecting young hitters.  From 2010 to 2015, league-wide BABIP has been no lower than .295 and no higher than .299.  For a large majority of players, BABIP should fall very close to that range.  Some players (see Votto, Joseph), over a statistically-relevant sample size, have proven to be able to maintain a much higher BABIP than league-average.  In small sample sizes, we call it luck; in large sample sizes, we call it skill.  So, does Suarez have this skill?

In 2015, Suarez maintained a BABIP of .341 in almost 400 PA.  The mathematical method of split-half reliability tells us BABIP will be mostly reliable (essentially, signal-to-noise ratio of 1) when the sample reaches nearly 900 balls in play.  That amount of balls in play, of course, takes multiple seasons.  Until that point, it’s usually good to be skeptical about high BABIPs.

Some other skills can serves as a sort of leading indicator for sustained higher BABIPs, though. The things that influence high BABIPs are hitting the ball hard, hitting line drives, avoiding too many fly balls, having speed, hitting the ball the other way, and not popping up.  If you can master those skills, you will likely be a high BABIP player.

Suarez, while unlikely to maintain a .341 BABIP, should be one of those players that can outperform league average on a regular basis.  Why?  He hits the ball hard.  More specifically, he doesn’t hit the ball softly.  Those may seem synonymous, but I assure you they are merely analogous, at best.  Below is a chart showing the top 10 hard-hit percentages (Hard%) for all MLB shortstops in 2015 with a minimum of 350 PA:

chart2

There is nothing shameful about being behind Tulowitzki, Kang, Correa, Crawford, or Peralta.  They are all very accomplished hitting shortstops.  Being behind Miller, Flores, Escobar, and Semien, however, is not something to strive for.  “Wait a minute,” you might be saying.  “I thought you said Suarez hits the ball hard!”  Sort of.  I more accurately said “he doesn’t hit the ball softly.”  Behold:

chart3

Suarez avoids soft contact. Over 89% of his 2015 balls-in-play were classified as “hard’ or “medium.”  That is good. The next closest player hit the ball softly 22% more often than Suarez.  Common knowledge may want you to believe hitting the ball hard is more important than not hitting the ball softly.  I disagree.  Pulling every player with 350+ PA from 2015 and running a simple single-variable regression, Soft%-to-BABIP had a stronger relationship than did Hard%-to-BABIP.  We’re talking very low adjusted R-squared values here, given the random nature of balls in play, but the relationship exists.  Before we move on, it is important to note that Suarez’s 10.9% Soft% was also 8th best in all of MLB for players of any position.  In 2015, Suarez avoided soft contact almost as well as any other player in the league. Check out this company:

chart4

His name almost seems out of place, doesn’t it? Maybe not.

How does Suarez fare in regards to the other “high BABIP skills?”  In 2015, Suarez was above average in hitting the ball the other way, avoiding pop-ups, and hitting the ball hard.  He was actually slightly below average in his line drive rate and fly ball rate. Line drive rates take almost as long to stabilize as BABIP itself, so we can’t really glean anything from Suarez’s numbers in this category.  Regarding fly balls; higher fly ball rates are good for increased home runs, but not for sustained elevated BABIPs.

I said all that to say this: based on what I see in the stats and in his swing, Suarez is likely a player that can maintain an above-average BABIP.  Thus, I feel his 2015 computer-based projections are a bit too conservative.  I feel his BABIP will come down a bit, but that will be offset by an increase in walk rate and a similar HR/FB%, which the projections above are regressing a bit.  Most likely outcome, in my view, is something very similar to last year; around 5% better than league average (105 wRC+).

What about pie-in-the-sky dreaminess, though? Most-likely projections aren’t all that fun.  Earlier I mentioned Suarez has already done something extraordinary.  Try this on for size: since 1901, here is the list of shortstops that hit at least 12 HR, batted .275+, and slugged .440+ in their first or second season in the bigs:

Glenn Wright (1925)
Tom Tresh (1962)
Nomar Garciaparra (1997)
Hanley Ramirez (2006)
Troy Tulowitzki (2007)
Carlos Correa (2015)
Jung Ho Kang (2015)
Francisco Lindor (2015)
Eugenio Suarez (2015)

I’ll forgive you if you haven’t heard of Glenn Wright or Tom Tresh.  After all, forgiveness is one of the most important virtues.  Also, your author had never heard of Glenn Wright or Tom Tresh.

The other names on the list, however, are like a Who’s Who of great hitting shortstops from the last 18 seasons.  You may have noticed that Correa, Kang, Lindor, and Suarez all accomplished this feat in 2015.  That might be strange enough to warrant its own article.  In 114 years of available data, this feat has been accomplished 9 times and 4 of them occurred in 1 season.

So, how did these players fair in their next few seasons?  With the exception of Tulowitzki getting hurt the following season, the answer is “very well.”   Here are the averages of those players in the next 3 seasons (Correa, Kang, Lindor obviously excluded):

chart5

Every player on the list maintained well above-average BABIPs across their next three seasons except Tom Tresh, who was merely league-average.

If I’m going to be fair, Tulowitzki, Ramirez, and Garciaparra has some amazing seasons clumped in here.  Perhaps it is foolish to think Suarez is capable of matching these players. Although, even being on a list with Garciaparra, Tulowitzki, Ramirez, budding superstars Correa and Lindor, and the former best hitter in Korea, is an honor itself.  Perhaps the best note of all is that none of these players regressed during any of their three subsequent seasons (Tulowitzki injury notwithstanding).

And who knows?  Maybe the Reds struck gold in the Alfredo Simon trade! Maybe Suarez is the next great hitting infielder! Even if he isn’t, I think the answer to the question “Will his bat play at third?” should be answered definitively and vociferously; “Yes!”

[Spring Training Update: Through the first two games, Suarez seems very quick to the ball, showing good perceived exit velocity on his way to 3 doubles in the first 2 games. While watching a replay of his 3rd double, his swing reminded me greatly of a young Manny Ramirez through the load and release. The finish, however, is decidedly not very Manny-esque. Due to copyright issues, I can’t put certain photos here, but go look at some stills of Manny vs Eugenio during the load and release part of their swings; very, very similar.]

53 thoughts on “Projecting Eugenio Suarez

  1. A WRC+ of 95, or even using your projection of 105, is pretty low for a third baseman. At some point, if the rebuild is successful or looks like it is headed that way, we will point out third as being a weak point of the team as you would expect more offense from that position.

    However at short, either of these projections would put him near the top. I think his defense can improve a great deal because so much of his mistakes seemed to come on routine plays and a lapse of concentration. If he could improve his defense to league average at short I think he would be mush more valuable there.

    • I agree 95 wRC+ is pretty low for a 3rd baseman. 105 isn’t world-breaking, I understand, but you don’t project guys for huge gains, since that rarely happens in the real world. Given everything we have about him, it seems like he’ll be about as good as he was last year. This time, however, it’s over a full season, which is better. Also, if his BABIP regresses a bit, but he stays the same overall, that means his repeatable, projectable skills are actually getting better.

      The way I see it, most-likely is that he’s slightly above average hitter. He DOES have a chance to be something special, though. Lots of guys don’t have any chance of being special.

      • I agree with the idea that he will improve offensively. However I also think he will improve defensively making him a very prized shortstop. That being said, I’m excited about his chances at third as well.

        • Yep. I sure hope he still gets some reps at SS. No telling if Cozart will remain healthy/productive all year.

    • I would agree. I sincerely hope that the Reds haven’t given up on him at SS.

  2. Votto, Suarez, and Mesoraco 2-3-4 and let it rip! BABIP is pretty stupid imo…..for example when Cozart and Bruce are running bad you’ll see a ton of popups from Cozart and the rollover 4-3 grounders from Bruce….and that isn’t bad luck!

    • You’re confusing BABIP from the pitcher’s perspective with BABIP from the hitter’s perspective. Pitchers face a wide variety of batters, and generally the same composition. So they should have similar BABIP, other things (luck, ground ball%, pitch velocity) equal. The pitcher side is where the “only variation is based on luck” comes from. The vast majority of pitchers cluster around .295-.300 BABIP over time, with variation from year to year.

      Hitters are more “deserving” of their variable BABIP. Some are ground ball hitters, some hit more line drives. As you point out, some are streaky and some hit pop ups. That’s not bad luck. But even accounting for those differences, there are still huge elements of luck with any hitter – ground balls that get between infielders, line drives to the outfield that are caught instead of going for doubles. Does the bad luck “even out” with the good luck over time? Sure. But “over time” is a long time, not a game, or a week or a month or even a season. That’s a big reason we see variation in BABIP for the same hitter from one year to the next.

      • I guess so? All I know is that I was a Rangers season ticket holder in the 90s and guys like Pudge and Julio Franco were quick and compact to the ball and hit the ball consistently hard to all fields. I see some of that with Suarez! I think the Reds offense will sink or swim in the next few years with Mesoraco, Suarez, and maybe WInkler?

        • You just mentioned two things that are positively correlated with high BABIP… hitting the ball hard and using all fields. Your eye test in regards to Pudge and Julio is confirmed by maths.

      • Well-stated, Steve.

        Building on this a bit: each player’s performance will yield an “expected BABIP” based on empirical data. So, guys with lots of line drives that avoid popping up, for example, will have a higher xBABIP. Once that is established, there are pretty large bounds on where that player’s actual BABIP could fall. That’s where the variance (luck) comes in. Hitting line drives is great; they turn into hits around 70% of the time. But what if you got unlucky and yours only fell in 65% of the time? Lower BABIP based on “luck.”

        Also, my standard response here applies when using the word “luck.” Luck means “variance,” not the Webster’s definition of “luck.”

        • Patrick: I really appreciate your thorough explanations of new evaluation tools. I’m starting to get interested–a considerable step.

  3. Wait a minute! Tom Tresh was actually a rather good Yankee for a number of years. Not quite the Mick, of course, and just not good enough to carry a failin gteam on his shoulders. Still, he was a serviceable major leaguer who batted .245 over 9 years in MLB, almost all with the Yanks.

    Rookie of the Year in 1962 and twice on the All-Star team. I’d be happy if one of our Reds new arrivals reaches these same milestones!

    You are forgiven for your slight.

  4. I like Cozart, but I wish we could see Suarez at SS this season. At least we could find out if he’s a long-term solution for that position. We know that Cozart isn’t (in the long-term).

    Then again, if Cozart’s knee doesn’t respond well — the jury is still out on that — we may see Suarez at SS after all.

    • I agree 100%. I’m not even sure why Cozart is still on this team. If they were serious about rebuilding, he’d be gone and Suarez would be getting valuable experience at SS.

      • The only reasoning that makes sense to me is that they’re hoping he’ll repeat his numbers from last year and continue to have great defense. At that point they’ll flip him to a contender that needs a SS and hopefully return a solid piece back. But even at his best, I’m not sure what kind of return Cozart would garner. Similar to what we got back by trading Byrd?

        • That’s pretty much exactly what the season ticket rep told me. “Cozart was really raking before the injury!” Well, bottom line is that Cozart ISN’T that hitter and we all know it. I’m hoping the front-office does as well. And that’s a healthy Cozart!

      • Maybe they don’t believe that Suarez can play an acceptable short? And there’s always the problem of who plays 3rd if you move him over. The Reds need offense, certainly, but those young pitchers need a capable defense, too.

    • Another guy to factor in is Jose Peraza. Peraza will likely start the season in Louisville as a shortstop, and would be the guy after Cozart on the depth chart. Only if Peraza can’t handle shortstop offensively or defensively would Suarez be a candidate to move back. Peraza has better range for playing up the middle.

      Also, Suarez had lots of defensive problems in 2015, as the article addresses, mostly dropping balls hit right at him. Improvements he made on that front, in my opinion, at 3b, would likely carry over to SS. I don’t think he’s too old to move back in the future, if that starts to look like a good choice.

  5. Great article. I think the future infield is Suarez, Peraza, and Blandino, barring any new prospects come on or Jagielo starts crushing. Whats the optimal placement of those guys? Hard to say, having not seen much of Peraza. I would think he plays best at short however, with blandino/suarez to fend over 2B/3B.

    • Jagielo will push his way into the conversation if he proves he can stick at 3B. Most scouts and analysts believe he’ll end up at 1B. He rates pretty well below average on speed (meaning corner OF is out of the question) and below average on defense with an average arm. If he can get the defense up to near-average his bat likely will play, but from what I’ve read he has a ways to go before that happens.

      What’s interesting to me though, is that Blandino played 3B in the game yesterday but has yet to play 3B in the minors. He was a 3B coming out of college, so maybe he’ll move back if the Reds believe Peraza and Suarez will handle up the middle.

  6. Very nice write up. I am not a Jocketty fan by any stretch, but you have to give him credit for picking up Suarez in the Simon trade. I am sure it was more the scouting department who gave Jocketty the name of Suarez, but he still had to pull the trigger on it. Simon gave Detroit one season, 13-12, and 31 starts. High price for Suarez, although Suarez was/is blocked in Detroit by Jose Iglesias and Ian Kinsler at middle INF spots.
    I still like Suarez better at 2B, and Peraza at SS. But BP threw a monkey wrench into any such plans. The 18-20 HR’s will be nice, but if he can club 50+ doubles, that will be even better.
    I have heard Bryan Price refer to Suarez as “Geno” on several ocassions. That is better that A-you-hey-knee-oh. Geno it is.

    • Excellent point. If Suarez follows even remotely closely to the guys listed above, he’ll have a fantastic career and you’re right, that’ll be Jocketty’s best move. That is, unless DeSclafani turns into a solid, front-line starter.

      • I was high on the Simon trade but not so much on the Latos trade. So far the returns look excellent on the Latos trade and Latos really, really struggled. I’m hoping that Desclafani makes me look like an idiot for poo-pooing that trade 🙂

  7. Good article Patrick. Being an “old” guy understanding all the relevance of the modern statistical analysis is difficult. You make sense of it for me. One other notes as an aside Tom Tresh played for the Yankees in the 1960’s after 1962 he was moved to Left field to get Tony Kubak a better defensive SS into the lineup.

    • I’m glad we have some folks who can give us all some first-hand info on Tom Tresh. Thanks for reading!

  8. So, carrying over from the other article, where should Saurez hit?

    My vote is 3rd.

    • You have third today.
      Today’s revised lineup after BHam is scratched vs. SF.
      Holt DH
      Peraza SS
      Suarez 3B
      Duvall 1B
      Schebler CF
      YorRod RF
      Allen LF
      Blandino 2B
      Cabrera C
      Lorenzen P

      • Nice to see, but I don’t put too much stock into it when he’s the only projected regular playing.

        • I know what you mean. It looks like a Louisville lineup. But these guys need to play some. Excited to see what the Blandino-Peraza-Suarez INF looks like today. This may be a glimpse into the not so distant future.

      • Four of the five OF candidates playing today. Interesting that Schebler is playing CF…again. I would have preferred to see Duvall in LF rather than Allen, but having Duvall’s bat in the lineup is a positive. Holt & Peraza at the top of the lineup also looks good spring training.

      • Anyone know why Allen is getting so much PT? Does he have a chance to make the club?

        • This is Jocketty we are talking about. Based on past roster decisions, both 40-man and 25-man rosters, Allen has a very good chance of making the club.

    • Third is probably the best spot for him, yes.

      Assuming someone like Hamilton/Holt/Cave is leading off, Votto at 2, Suarez at 3, Bruce at 4 against RHP, Meso at 4 against LHP, then some combination of every else later is probably going to be the most-likely lineup that Price will trot out there.

      He also may see Suarez as a #2, which would likely carry with it the inevitable Votto 3rd and Phillips 4th worst case scenario.

  9. Personally I would give Schebler some leadoff atbats? He had .360+ obp in 2013-14 and he has a little speed. Its always nice to start off a game 1-0 as well! That’s if they can’t move BP and he starts? BP could bat leadoff vs lefties with Duvall in the 5 hole. Votto/Suarez/Meso 2-3-4 til Meso needs a day off!

    • Certainly not the worst idea. I think anyone who shows they can get on-base at an above average rate should be considered for leadoff. At least in the world where Votto can’t bat leadoff. 😉

    • Couple that with 20 homers and decent defense at third and I’ll take that projection! 😉

      Are your projections open to the public (i.e. – me)? I’d love to take a look!

      • They aren’t all done. That said, it’s a pretty simple/mundane process. I start with an average of ZiPS and Steamer projections and drop them all into Diamond Mind (a baseball sim). From there I simulate a season 50 times, taking the avg/obp/slg average over those 50 sims for each Reds’ player.

        • For everyone else in the league, I could probably do the same thing but for the sim purposes, just that ZiPS/Steamer average is what it’s all based on.

        • That’s pretty cool, LW. Do you ever tweak things to see what would happen if, say for example, Suarez swung at fewer balls out of the zone?

          Seems like something I could spend a lot of time tinkering with!

          • The simulator isn’t that complex. It’s mostly for just having fun with. It is like a more advanced version of the old Strat-O-Matic Baseball games. Here is their website: http://diamond-mind.com/

  10. IMO his “pop” is a little light for what is normal from a corner infielder. He is young and the HR numbers will probably raise as he gets a little older. He could probably be that 23 to 26 guy but would have to “load up” and would be detrimental to his overall offense. Defensively he scares me to death everywhere, that may be a touch over dramatic. IMO he is physically capable of playing 3rd, SS and 2nd but he looks uncomfortable anytime the ball is put in play on the infield. This is probably me just being a cantankerous old man because regardless of how it sounds I am impressed with him and am glad he is a Redleg. I expect he will be one of very few bright spots this year.

  11. The one point I should have made above is multiple layered. Thanks for the great article it does help this dumb old hillbilly understand the advanced metrics better when it is placed before in a simple to eat form. The reason I like Saurez even when I am picking nits about him is what you showed me in equation form, I would have tried explaining in “eye test” form. His hitting how did you put it the “not soft hits” your numbers and my eyes tell me his value isn’t getting to that mythical HR number for middle infielders it is and will be his solid line drive doubles. He has that “flat” straight to the ball swing as opposed to the big looping hole as big as a trash can swing. I like 4 or 5 less HR’s and 12 to 15 more doubles and 40 points on the BA.

    • I think I would trade 5 HR for 12 more doubles and a few singles to get the BA up 40 points!

      Thanks for the read, Carl.

    • I like to explain that the “Hard%” is essentially a measurement of what scouts generally mean when they say “The ball just sounds different coming off his bat”

      • I’m hoping one day soon we’ll be able to use Statcast to stratify the soft/med/hard categories. Maybe like 97.5mph exit velocity and up is “hard” and between 88 and 97.4 is “med” and below 88 is “soft.” No idea what the numbers should really be, though!

        • Statcast is amazing. The data and possibilities are nearly limitless. The trick for teams is going to be knowing what data is the most important and being able to separate the message from the static.

  12. Thank you, Mr. Jeter…already liked Suarez; now, I’m downright optimistic !! Come on Opening Day !!!…w/ a healthy Mesoraco of course.

    • I’m quite optimistic as well, and his ST performance is fanning the fire!

      It’s rare to find a guy that has a chance to be special. Most guys simply have the chance to be “pretty good.”

      I’ll be honest, my biggest wish is that in 2 years we have something like Peraza-Votto-Winker-Suarez-Ervin batting in order and killing it. That’s our Medium Red Machine right there…

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