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:
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!