2016 Reds

Don’t Count Out Eugenio Suarez Just Yet

The past ten months must be really strange for Eugenio Suarez. He went into the off season as the likely shortstop of the future, even after a rough year defensively in 2015. Then, the Reds started adding middle infielders by the bucket load, and now people are talking about Suarez as being the odd man out when the cavalry arrives.

As Steve Mancuso wrote recently on this very site, the Reds appear to have a logjam in the infield after the trades and signings of the last 24 months. Let’s quickly note all of the pieces.

  • Jose Peraza (2B, SS, OF)
  • Eugenio Suarez (3B, SS, 2B)
  • Dilson Herrera (2B)
  • Nick Senzel (3B)
  • Alfredo Rodrigues (SS)
  • Alex Blandino (3B, 2B, SS)

Yes, I know about Calten Daal and Blake Trahan, but they are pretty far down the list at this point. That doesn’t mean they won’t surprise or end up earning playing time, but for right now, these six look like the competitors for long-term infield spots.

When last year ended, Suarez looked like a key piece for the Reds moving forward. He slashed .280/.315/.446 with a 105 wRC+. That runs created score would have ranked third among all Major League shortstops if he had enough plate appearances to qualify, awfully good for a 24-year-old.

It wasn’t all rosy. His posted a poor walk rate (4.3%), had an elevated BABIP (.341), and played poor defense at shortstop in a short sample. But he had shown enough in the minors and was young enough that we could easily dream on his potential as an above-average, Major League shortstop.

Then, in 2016, Zack Cozart returned, and Suarez shifted to third base to cover the hole left by the Todd Frazier trade. The Reds went on the aforementioned infielder shopping spree, and no one seems to be able to find a place for Suarez in 2018.

Peraza and Rodriguez are now competing for shortstop of the future, Herrera seems like the answer at 2B, and Senzel will eventually knock Suarez off his current perch. Or so the theory goes.

Not so fast, my friends.

Suarez certainly has not earned a long-term starting position in the Reds infield, but there’s a lot to like about the guy. Enough to keep him in the conversation at least. Overall, Suarez’s numbers haven’t lived up to the expectations he set last year. He currently has a .239/.303/.416 slash line with 18 home runs. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Check out this table.

 

table_suarez

Which one of those months doesn’t belong? Besides May, which was a horrific month, 2016 Suarez has played very similarly to 2015 Suarez. His strikeout rate since June 1st is only 17.5%, better than the league average. This season, Suarez is also hitting the ball considerably harder than he did last year, meaning that if his strikeout continues to come down, we should expect his numbers to improve.

If he produces at non May levels for the rest of the season, he finishes as a league average offensive player and maybe higher. He’s only 25! That’s pretty good.

Suarez’s biggest problem in locking down a starting position is defense. We should have expected him to struggle at a position he hasn’t played extensively since 2009, and for a couple months, he did.  Believe it or not though, Fangraphs’ advanced metrics have Suarez providing positive defensive value this season. He gets dinged for the 19 errors he has committed, but his arm and range both grade out well at third base. If you’ve watched him play over the last month and a half, he has improved greatly on defense.

However, that train is coming and by the looks of it, won’t be stopped. That train is Nick Senzel, and his potentially super human bat. Senzel has quite a few levels to conquer on his way to the Redlegs, but the guy has all the tools to move quickly. Poor Midwest League pitchers are facing his wrath on a nightly basis and not enjoying it.

So let’s assume Senzel avoids injuries and hits his way onto the Reds in late 2017 or early 2018, taking up third base. Where does that leave Suarez?

Basically, Suarez needs to be able to play shortstop or second base to give himself a chance. Are there serious question marks as to whether he can play a middle infield spot (especially shortstop)? Yes, definitely. However, the other two shortstop candidates have some serious question marks too, mostly on the offensive end.

Will Jose Peraza develop enough power and/or plate discipline to provide positive value at the big league level? While only 22, his .694 OPS in 500+ AAA plate appearances, poor walk rate, and lack of power create more questions than answers. Also, can he play shortstop defensively at the big league level?

Can Alfredo Rodriguez hit at all? His numbers in the Cuban league two years ago, when he last played full time, are extremely concerning (.265/.301/.284). He’s young too, but scouts fear his bat may never play well enough to reach the Major Leagues.

Both of them have potential and neither are a sure thing. Suarez’s offensive profile looks much, much better than either.

But Suarez’s defense could be a huge issue. He played poor defense at shortstop in 2015. No way around that. He was also average in a slightly smaller but similar sample the year before. It was just last year that scouts thought he could play an average shortstop in the big leagues. Are we sure he can’t play there?

The errors are concerning and yet, Barry Larkin had 29 errors back in 1988 and ended up being a pretty decent all-around player. I’m not suggesting Suarez has Larkin potential by any means, only that errors early in a career are not always indicative of the player’s defensive potential.

If I’m the Reds, Suarez is starting at shortstop once or twice a week the rest of the season just to see how he looks. In fact, I wish they’d done that all year. His bat plays at shortstop right now and will likely get better. Worst case, he can’t play defense there, competes with Herrera for the second base job, and at least becomes a utility player.

However, the best case scenario is an average defensive shortstop who hits for power and provides above average production at shortstop. With question marks all around, what do the Reds have to lose?

 

30 thoughts on “Don’t Count Out Eugenio Suarez Just Yet

    • I like the potential of Suarez. Just wish he could learn to play a better SS. That’s what the Reds need long-term, because Senzel will lock down 3B and Herrera will take 2B in near future. I don’t believe Peraza has the stick to be the everyday guy at SS, he is young, but so far he has been very anemic at the plate. Peraza could play super utility role currently filled by Ivan de Jesus, though. Could also play some OF.

      • A big concern for the Reds has to be that Rodriguez and Peraza can’t hit enough to play SS every day and that Suarez can’t play SS defensively. If that is the case, and I’m not saying it is, they may not have an answer at SS in the organization.

        The optimist would say they have three young, talented players to hope on. We will see what happens.

        • I honestly think the concern should be if Rodriguez/Peraza’s defense will be enough above-average to cover their deficiencies at the plate.

          Peraza will likely, with age and full playing time, be a .270/.300/.330 floor hitter. That’s really bad, of course, but that really seems like his true floor from what we’ve seen. He puts the ball in play and has speed. With a large enough sample for BABIP to even out, I really don’t see a scenario where he hits under .270.

          Also, from the small samples we have, he’s about 90% of the base runner Billy Hamilton is, from a value perspective.

          If he’s a plus defender, however, that probably makes him a 2 WAR player who will make like $1.5M a year in arb1, $2.0M in arb2, and $2.5M in arb3.

          Maybe not what everyone hoped for, but if the defense is there, he can be a contributor regardless of his power and walk numbers.

  1. I can see Suarez being our 2nd baseball. Bats 6th or 7th. Hits around .260 25ish homers a year. Herrera is still a prospect so who knows about him. Sauce Rod is strictly for defense and I’m not wild about Peraza.

    1. Hamilton
    2. Senzel
    3. Votto
    4. Duvall or Aguinio
    5. Winker
    6. Suarez
    7. Okey, Barnhart, or Mez
    8. Sauce Rod
    9. Pitcher

    (Sorry about my spelling)

  2. Thank you for finally writing this article. I have been pointing out for months in comments that Suárez has been quite solid outside of May, and yet everyone still criticizes his “disappointing” season offensively, with some even saying that he has been our worst (!) hitter this season, behind Phillips, Hamilton, and the catcher. Maybe he doesn’t have a long term starting spot locked down, but I don’t think we can jump the gun and say he’s the odd man out. Senzel is as close to a lock as we have to be a long term starter, but second base and shortstop are very much up in the air. Peraza and Herrera may be the favorites, but in the end, I think only one of them claims a starting spot, with the other being a bench bat. Rodriguez needs to prove he can hit at a near-average rate to earn a starting spot, and Blandino has struggled this year as well. When all is said and done, I think 4 of the 6 (Senzel, Suárez, Herrera, Peraza) will be on our long-term roster, with one of the 3 middle infielders being a utility/bench player. Blandino and Rodriguez could be trade bait, or swap either with one of the 3 above, and that player becomes trade bait.

    • Well, the numbers back up your claims. Outside of that inexplicably awful May, Suarez has played well offensively. His defense has improved as well. His DRS is now 2. Pretty astounding considering how bad his defense was for the first 1.5-2 months.

      • Interestingly enough, Suárez, by both UZR and DRS, has been a better fielder than Todd Frazier this season.

        Suárez: 2 DRS, 0.3 UZR
        Frazier: -4 DRS, -5.4 UZR

        • The Dodgers did seem to get the most in this deal, though it remains to be seen if Schebler or Peraza can perform well enough to make this trade worthwhile for the Reds.

        • Dodgers didn’t get much either. They got a platoon OF and a relief pitcher prospect that bought them 2 months of a rental platoon OF.

        • Well, Montas got them a rental OF and rental SP, but the pitcher was arguably the second best pitcher traded at the deadline.

  3. I think Suarez fell in love with the long ball and it threw his swing off by trying to uppercut everything! His swing just got too long!! Last year he sprayed the ball all over but I think he went atleast 6 weeks without an opposite field hit earlier this year! It happens to a lot of young hitters!

    On July 19th, he had 2 hits down the RF line including a double and I thought that might be a date to look back at for him. I think I mentioned on here that if went he went back to a doubles swing that his season would get going again and he’s had 6 doubles in these last 3 weeks (.281 since 7/19) which makes a total of only 12 for the year!

    Bottom line….there is a .280ish w/60 xtra basehits guy in there somewhere and I think he’ll be a good performer with the bat. I make no such claims with the glove though!!

  4. Good article, thanks. Sounds as if best hope is for Suarez to work out as our SS, while the other two fight it out for 2B.

  5. Not sure when it happened, but DRS (2) and UZR (0.2) agree that Suarez is an above-average 3Bman this year, just barely.

    His range and double-play skills outweigh the runs he’s given up due to errors, according to UZR.

  6. Has anyone else also noticed how much Suárez has changed his batting stance throughout the season? It seems like every few weeks, his stance is slightly altered. Haven’t directly compared the videos of his swing, but there is a noticeable difference that I can see when I’m watching on TV. For example, at one point, he completely eliminated his leg kick from his stance, and I have noticed sometimes his stance is more open than other times.

  7. I don’t think we should be so quick to assume how good/bad these young shortstops will be offensively. To prove my point, look no further than the Yankees’ SS Gregorious. We traded him to Arz in the Choo deal and at the time one scout said of him ” ..such a weak batter, coaches are afraid a good fastball will knock his bat out of his hand should he ever make contact”. However now he is hitting pretty well. Whether or not it’s because of PEDs or something, he is hitting better than ever thought. The only thing that helps a young player improve is playing time/ABs.

    • I’m not assuming they will be bad offensively. Just stating that at this point, it is a legitimate concern. Both Peraza and Rodriguez are young, so things could improve quite drastically. Their offensive profiles are just the kind that tend to bust more than others.

      Here’s hoping they both become Barry Larkin.

  8. So Jay Bruce is gone (btw…Bruce is slashing .188/.257/.375 for the Metropolitans). Winker is the heir apparent for LF. Senzel is the heir apparent for 3B. The middle IF has option aplenty with all in the high floor/low ceiling category. Duvall and Schebler may or may not pan out as regular starting RF. Obviously Votto is locked in at 1B. Catcher is wide open right now, but has plenty of candidates to at least fill the role. Hamilton is locked into CF unless the Reds say otherwise.

    With Suarez’ defense showing signs of improvement at 3B and Senzel’s defense at 3B being a question mark from his early defensive performance and his defensive performance in college, could the Reds have another OF option just waiting for a chance? Right now it’s just a what if scenario, but what if both Suarez and Senzel perform offensively and force their bats into the starting lineup? Both have strong arms and both are very athletic. Could one of them be the RF of the future?

  9. There were back to back nights last week where Suarez made a GREAT play behind the bag going away from first to get the runner (that arm he is given credit for). The second night he made back to back big league plays, they should have been made but they weren’t easy. These two games reinforces that he has the tools but I still think a large part of the plays he looks scared to death. I don’t think that it is too much of a stretch to think as he makes plays he will gain confidence and make plays!

  10. He makes some mental errors too, that hopefully will go away in time. Saw one time he put a tag on a runner coming into third (I believe Molina). Ump ruled Molina safe. But Molina slid well beyond the bag and had to scramble back…if Suarez kept the tag on him until time was called, Molina would have been out. Little things.

  11. Good article on Suarez and again the data speaks for itself.The key thing is the data is there and I personally like that he is working the count and taking some walks.Hard to imagine him being the odd man out right now when the others have no major league data to compare to his.Just another reason for me to say lets get these guys up here and throw them into the fire and see what they have got.Maybe by year 2018 if the front office gives the young guys a chance we will have some data but as of right now Suarez plays and starts somewhere.

  12. In the last two years there’s been a generational influx of excellent hitting SS : Bogearts (sp) ,Lindor, Seager, Correa, Diaz(?). Others may improve to join that group (Russell, Baez, Hechaverria (sp) even Didi. who hit cleanup for NYY yesterday.Suarez may have more power than any of them. A shortstop who can hit is an enormous asset to the team’s overall offensive productivity. ( cf. Larkin, Barry)

    The Reds need to find out if h Suarez can field the position. If he can’t, put him at 2nd and forget about him. An infield of Senzel, a good fielding SS X, Suarez and Votto will do the trick with Winker ,Hamilton and some right handed slugger in Right (Duvall? Aquno? ) + any one of 3 or 4 Catching choices (Mez?, Barnhart, Okey, Stevenson).To me the problem for the Reds is outfield power. I don’t see any ex Aquino who is at least two years away. Of course I am fascinated by Shed Long but that’s another story.

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