2017 Reds / Modern Baseball

Evidence of Early Eugenio Excellence

As we have all observed, Eugenio Suarez is having a nice start to the 2017 season.  As of this writing Suarez is carrying a 200 wRC+ (good for 6th in the NL) and has accumulated 0.8 fWAR/0.9 bWAR in only 46 plate appearances.

Stat Geek Note: The difference between FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference WAR usually exists because B-R uses Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) for the defensive part of its WAR, and FG uses Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) for the defensive part of its WAR.  Due to the inherent volatility of defensive stats, FG has decided not to include the UZR part of WAR until later in the season when the numbers have had a chance to stabilize a little bit, so FG’s “Def” measure is merely a positional WAR adjustment this early in the season.  B-R goes ahead and includes DRS from the beginning.  Since Suarez has been a wizard in the field, thus far, his bWAR is higher than his fWAR.  Even though the difference seems small at 0.1 WAR, that represents a 12.5% difference right now.

I briefly thought about titling this article “Evidence of Early Cozart Excellence,” but a .556 BABIP doesn’t lead to compelling analysis. And, let’s face it, Eugenio is a darn cool name. Sure, Suarez is rocking a .433 BABIP, but that’s a little easier to wrap one’s head around. In addition, many of us at Redleg Nation are pretty high on Suarez.  Here’s what I wrote about him before last season, if you have time to kill.  Here’s something Jason Linden wrote about him if you have even more time to kill. If you have so much time to kill, it begs the question, where did you get so much time; and what did time do to you to deserve being killed?  Hm. Good. We’ve made progress today.

Even with the small sample sizes inherent in April baseball, we can sometimes notice if a player has made improvements in a few important peripheral statistics, such as how often he swings at balls out of the strike zone (oSwing%), and how often he makes contact with pitches in the strike zone (zContact%).  Decreasing your oSwing% while increasing or maintaining your zContact% is a solid method (not the only method, of course) for increasing productivity.

Let’s check out Eugenio’s plate discipline stats:

chart1

What we see is a player who was very consistent in his plate discipline approach from 2014 to 2016, although he was a bit more passive in 2014.

The biggest takeaway from this chart is the oSwing% this season.  Suarez has cut the rate at which he swings at non-strikes from the mid-26s to right around 20%; also known as Votto territory.  League average oSwing% last year was 30.3%.

While cutting his oSwing%, he’s also slightly increased his zSwing%.  We can all agree that if you are going to swing, it’s better to swing at a strike than at a ball!  The difference between these two numbers gives a decent indication of a player’s overall “eye;” how well they differentiate strikes from balls.  Suarez, for whatever reason, has had a slightly better eye this season.

His overall swing rate is basically identical to last year’s, but he’s now swinging at more strikes than balls, which should lead to better contact if the approach continues.

How is Suarez doing in the contact department, then?  Pretty good, I’d say.

So far in 2017, Suarez has hit 12 balls with an Exit Velocity (EV) of 100mph or greater. No other Red has more than 7 of those (Duvall and Schebler).  In all of 2016, he hit 67 such balls.  Another way of stating this; he’s hitting the ball over 100mph 2.44 times more often in 2017 than he did in 2016 on a per-PA basis.  This is a good thing. It’s also early, so we can expect things to even out a bit, most likely.

Stat Geek Note: While 100mph is an arbitrary velocity to choose when doing analysis, it’s sort of turned into a de facto velocity for the perception of being hit hard.  If he’s simply turned a few 99mph balls into 100mph balls, there’s really no difference, but this early in the season it is nice to see an improvement anywhere you can find it.

Since both EV and oSwing% begin to stabilize fairly quickly, I’d say there is a good chance Suarez has done something to his approach, either physically or mentally, that is letting him ignore more pitches out of the zone, leading to better contact on pitches in the zone.

Personally, I’ve been high on Suarez for a while.  I’d enjoy little else than seeing him put it all together this year.  A .280/.350/.500 line with well above-average defense could certainly be in the cards.  At third base, that is something like a 3.5 WAR season. I think we’d all take that from Eugenio!

37 thoughts on “Evidence of Early Eugenio Excellence

  1. Thanks, Patrick. Love these pieces of info and your analysis (and Eugenio’s performance, too). If we promise to send you fabulous prizes, can we get you to write often?

    • You’ll need to fly out to Colorado Springs and do some babysitting for me! 🙂

      Also, make my boss give me some more time off! Certain world actors are stirring the pot a bit more than we’d like and cutting into my stat-line surfing!

  2. Props to the Reds scouting department with Suarez! He wasn’t a can’t miss prospect and only had a .652 ops in about half a season with the Tigers in 2014. They saw something and he’s really progressing! He definitely got pull happy last year and it hurt him! At one point I think he went over a month without a opposite field hit and that’s not going to cut it! He’s back spraying the ball all over and he can definitely hit 25+ HRs with the same approach! Plus he’s suddenly a wiz at 3rd as well!!

  3. This would certainly be an interesting stat to see for the rest of the players. What are the league averages for these kind of stats, so I know how to interpret these numbers if I look them up?

  4. If he puts up those numbers with the bat and is good defensively, 3.5 WAR will be well in his rear view mirror when the season ends.

    • Yeah, I think you’re right. 2016 Evan Longoria was a 4.5 win player at .273/.318/.521 with slightly above average defense.

  5. I honestly think that a 3.5 win season is maybe his 60th percentile result. I could definitely see him pushing past 5 wins if even some of the early trends continue. Of all the moves done for the rebuild, Suarez looked the best on day 1 and is looking better every day. The question is what are the Reds going to do about it?

    Hot start aside, the Reds probably aren’t really ready to compete this year, and next year may even be pushing it given that some of they key pieces to the next good Reds team aren’t even in the big leagues yet (Winker, Senezel, maybe Herrera).

    Suarez hits arb for the first time next year, which means he will really start to get paid a bunch in 2019 and 2020. So far the Reds front office has shown that the aren’t really that creative when it comes to contracts. They have mostly chosen to let homegrown players go through arbitration, potentially buying out two years at a time, and then trading them when they get to the end of those contracts. (See Leake, Frazier, probably Cozart this year).

    So they could go the same way with Suarez, which seems like a bad idea because that would have him leaving right when the young core is (hopefully) ready to be really good, or the Reds could take one of two other options: 1) Trade him this year or next for a big haul of top tier prospects to be part of the new young core; of 2) Sign him to an extension sooner than later.

    Either of those options comes with more risk than the Reds general MO with their homegrown players, but I think either would work out better in the long run. I would be happy if the Reds could sign him this year to a 5 or 6 year extension in the $10M -$12M per year range (a big raise now and a huge discount later).

    But I also think the Reds could probably get several really good prospects for him if they traded him soon. 3 years of cost-controlled, young, proven, major league talent is incredibly valuable. He is exactly the type of player that GMs are willing to give up big prospect packages for because he isn’t a rental. Bringing in 2 or 3 more high-level prospects would really make the Reds farm system scary.

    It will be interesting to see what they do.

    • I like your 5-6 yr extension for $10-$12 per year. If he goes crazy, he becomes a very valuable trade chip. If he is only decent, then he’s still signed to a good deal.

      I don’t see Suarez as a bust candidate, so I hope this happens!

        • If Suarez is putting up 4-5 WAR (and I really think he may), he plays whereever he is best suited. That may be 3B or 2B or RF, but they don’t move him just to accomodate someone who is not proven at the major league level. After seeing his defensive improvement at 3B during the 2nd half of last season and his defensive excellence at 3B this season, I don’t see any reason to consider moving Suarez to another position right now. That’s a change in the Old Cossack’s perspective, but there hasn’t been anyone playing better 3B defense this season than Suarez.

          • I agree completely. If Suarez continues to play as he has so far both offensively and defensively, then Senzel is the one who will need to find a new position in order to crack the major league lineup.

  6. Awesome piece Patrick! I, too, am on the Eugenio bandwagon. I think he’s probably tops on my list for current Reds I hope they can (and should) sign long term.

  7. I’m pretty happy with my fantasy sleepers so far….Suarez, Mitch Haniger, Ender Inciarte, and Dylan Bundy!

    • Inciarte already has more homers than he did all of last year. That’s pretty insane.

  8. Summary, Suarez is doing the thing that a Votto does (but that is the same thing that Marty wants him to change) and he is not doing the same thing that all other reds hitters do. You might as well start writing the next article “why we are screwed with BHam and Peraza batting 1-2”.

    • It does beg the question of how the Reds might fare with either Billy or Peraza at leadoff, and then Votto or Suarez second, followed by the other of those two third, and then pick up with Duvall, Schebler, etc. …

  9. This is an excellent piece. I’d like to see Eugenio moved up in the order to either #2 or 3 (with Votto going to 2). I think 35 doubles and 30 HR is a possibility for him this season, and most importantly, an OBP above .350.

    The Reds video board posted an image today of Cuban phenom Luis Robert photoshopped into a Reds uniform. Very interesting.

  10. The players who are working Votto are making progress. Billy Hamilton is getting in base above .300. Suarez is certainly more disciplined. I think a strong Suarez give the Reds a load of options. Senzel will be ready in a year. Herrera might be ready. Peraza will hopefully continue to improve. At some point, they have one strong infielder too many and that’s a great thing – same in the outfield with Winker, Duvall, and Schebler.

    I really like the way Dick Williams has structured this change process. And I like the way Price is managing this team – especially the bullpen.

  11. I just happened to be looking at Reds hitting stats earlier today, and was looking at Eugenio’s career stats and noticed that in his entire minor league career he never had a wRC+ less than 102 (which was in his first year of AA ball). His second year of AA ball it was 135, AAA ball with the Tigers it was 159 (only 12 games), and AAA ball with the Reds it was 129. And his walk percentage was generally around 10% throughout. He finally has his walk rate up to 10% this year, which makes sense given his improved plate discipline. I don’t expect him to put up numbers as good as those last two years in the minors, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic for him to put up a wRC+ over 110, which last year would have been higher than every regular player except Votto and Bruce. He did manage a 106 in 2015, despite a terrible 4.3% BB%, so, he’s already been close to that. The defensive stats seem to give him positive ratings at 3B as well, so I’d guess 3.5 WAR is well within reach. Not that I have any idea how to translate wRC+ to WAR, but Duvall was 2.8 WAR with a 104 wRC+ and good defense, so I’m just guessing.

    Patrick – I think you’ve pulled this number before, and I can’t find it, but what would be Eugenio’s xBABIP given his current profile? I’d be curious to know how far off his actual BABIP is from the expected value.

    • His xBABIP right now is an astounding .386. He’s hitting way more line drives than is thought to be sustainable, and he’s also hitting the ball the other way and hitting the ball hard.

      Basically, he’s got a near-to-perfect batted ball profile at the moment.

  12. Suarez is rapidly becoming my favorite Red. Love to watch the dude field and hit, love how he’s so quiet and unassuming, even moreso than Votto (that we’ve seen so far).

    I really hope they trade Cozart and give Suarez another shot at SS to make room for Senzel at 3B.

    • I agree with the moving of Suarez back to SS. 1B Votto, 2B Herrera, SS Suarez, and 3B Senzel would the the optimum offensive infield the Reds could field upon Senzel’s arrival. Also, I’d consider a Winker callup when Cozart is dealt, with Suarez moving over to SS, and Duvall moving back to his original defensive postion of 3B to serve as the stopgap until Senzel arrives.

      • Except that Herrera and Senzel haven’t proven themselves to be MLB hitters yet. And there’s defense to consider: I’ve heard conflicting things about Herrera, but the argument is between below average and adequate. Senzel is supposed to be decent, but (and I never thought I’d say this), he’s probably no Suarez. And Suarez would have to make the same improvement at SS as he did at Third. It all might work out, of course.

  13. Down the road 18 or 19 might we see Suarez in RF?
    Senzel at 3b Peraza SS Herrera 2B Winker LF. Assuming all guys pan out. I could see one or both Duvall and Schebler gone.
    Could Reds get by on Defense with a Winker/Hamilton/Suarez or even Senzel OF?
    Of course we could also see Suarez move back to SS and Peraza take over for Billy in CF.

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