Going Deep: Is Kurt Suzuki This Good?

Alex Fast explains how Kurt Suzuki is still worth owning even with Tyler Flowers imminent return

(Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire)

I made a poor choice during drafts this year: I got far too many shares of Evan Gattis. I usually wait on catcher and I thought Gattis was due for a nice bounce-back so I snagged him in three of the four leagues I’m in. Needless to say, thus far, I’ve been wrong. I was looking for replacements on the waiver wire last week and I noticed a similarity in all of my leagues: Kurt Suzuki was on the top of every list, and for good reason too. As of April 20th, here are Suzuki’s numbers compared to every offensive player with a minimum of 50 PA:

Statistic Kurt Suzuki League Average (All) Ranking
AVG .317 .241 28th
OBP .420 .318 21st
SLG .610 .392 15th
wOBA .439 .314 11th
K% 2% 23% 1st

And here are Suzuki’s numbers compared to every catcher with a minimum of 50 PA:

Statistic Kurt Suzuki League Average (C) Ranking
AVG .317 .227 2nd
OBP .420 .307 2nd
SLG .610 .358 2nd
wOBA .439 .298 2nd
K% 2% 24% 1st

Suzuki is exactly one Yasmani Grandal from leading catchers in almost all hitting categories. The one stat he does lead – K% – is by a heavy margin as Suzuki has only struck out once in 50 PA. This also isn’t an issue of BABIP as Suzuki’s .263 is lower than his career .273 mark meaning he could theoretically have gotten even luckier here and there.  Much like any other Going Deep piece that is written in the month of April this should be taken with a grain of salt, however, there are a few caveats that prevent me from really writing this off as just a small sample size: his xStats and his 2017 performance.

Let’s start with Suzuki’s xStats.

xStat Kurt Suzuki Yasmani Grandal League Average
xAVG .323 .310 .241
xOBP .425 .399 .318
xSLG .585 .530 .392
xBACON .323 .389 .320
xBABIP .279 .358 .291
xOBA .434 .406 .315
HD% 14.6% 16.3% 11.4%

Not only is Suzuki clearly far above the league average in his xStats, he’s actually outperforming Grandal. Let me be clear here: you shouldn’t be trading Yasmani Grandal for Kurt Suzuki, this is merely to show that Suzuki’s 2018 numbers aren’t just luck. More importantly they’re not out of the blue. Let’s expand our search from catchers back to every offensive player and from 2018 to both 2017 and 2018 combined with a minimum of 300 PA (this was brought to my attention courtesy of a post by redditor /r/TomahawkChop). Just for reference, I’m also going to include the players who finished just ahead and behind Suzuki.

Statistic Kurt Suzuki League Average Ahead Behind
wRC+ 136 97 Cody Bellinger  George Springer
wOBA .381 .318 Daniel Murphy Nelson Cruz
ISO .259 .161 Justin Upton Jose Ramirez
SLG .546 .409 Josh Donaldson Joey Votto

Once again: Kurt Suzuki is not Springer, Cruz or Votto; every single player was able to sustain those statistics over a longer period of time than Suzuki, but when you look at Suzuki’s xStats, once again, they support the claim that what he did in 300 plate appearances could’ve been sustained if given more opportunities.

Generally, when a player begins to show a lot of offensive prowess, we look to see if he made any changes to his swing or his approach to the plate but that isn’t the case with Suzuki. Suzuki is hitting 8% more line drives than he was last year (currently at 26.8%), and is making 3% more hard contact at 33.6%. He’s also chasing fewer pitches out of the zone as his O-Swing has gone from 39.3% to 30.4% and is swinging at more pitches in the zone as his Z-Swing has gone from 71.1% to 77.6%.  You also may’ve noticed that his BABIP is considerably lower than his average (.263 to .327 is a wide margin). Even if those numbers regress back to their 2017 levels with some more plate appearances, they would return back to the numbers that gave him a .283 AVG and 19 HR in 81 games played (keep in mind that his average exceed his BABIP in 2017, too). It appears that Suzuki is being very patient and waiting for fastballs which he’s hitting at a .388 clip. He’s missing on sliders and other off-speed pitches a bit but the number seem to indicate he’s more than willing to wait for his pitch and work his way into hitters/fastball counts, then crush the fastball. See, it’s not that Suzuki has made changes, it’s that his inconsistent playing time allowed him to fall under the radar. His consistent playing time in 2018 thus far has been as a result of Tyler Flowers injury but with Flowers likely due to return from the DL next week, that may very well change.

If catching was all about offense, Suzuki would be an everyday starter and Caleb Joseph would never play baseball again, but it’s not. When Tyler Flowers returns from the DL the sport will get back arguably its best pitch framer. Lets take a look at how the two catchers compare defensively.

Statistic Kurt Suzuki Tyler Flowers
RszC 0 20
rSB 1 -3
CS% 31% 30%
DEF 6.5 3.3

This past March, Baseball-Reference added the metric Strike Zone Runs saved (RszC) to their website. The metric “represents the runs saved by catcher framing”. Flowers’ 20 led the league. Suzuki’s 0 finished 71st. Suzuki however had a higher defensive WAR, a slightly higher caught-stealing percentage (13 for 42 compared to 16 for 55), and a higher rSB (a metric that “measures, in runs, how a catcher compares to the average catcher in terms of preventing stolen bases”). A catchers defense is a notoriously difficult skillset to measure that features a lot of moving pieces, the most important of which to the Braves is likely pitch framing. Atlanta is in dire need of some better pitching framing as they’re currently 2nd in baseball with a 5.00 BB/9. Flowers returning to the lineup won’t miraculously lower Julio Teheran’s 5.85 BB/9  or Sean Newcomb’s 4.60 BB/9 but it certainly won’t make it worse. Pair that with the fact that aside Brandon McCarthy (about to turn 35) and maybe Teheran (27 years old) the Braves are made up of young arms especially with Luiz Gohara set to join the rotation in a few weeks. With that in mind, its hard to leave the leagues best pitch framer on the bench even if Suzuki might be superior to Flowers in some ways.

So where does that leave us? I’ve seen enough statistical evidence to prove that Kurt Suzuki is indeed a legit offensive performer. I would even go out on a limb and say that if Suzuki got a full years worth of PA he could be a top 5 or 6 catcher. The issue, as it was in 2017, is playing time. Flowers will take a decent chunk of time from Suzuki and though he should get more than 81 games behind the plate this year I certainly doubt he cracks the top 20 in games. When it comes to fantasy though, aren’t owners looking for productivity? I think it’s important to ask: would you as an owner rather have 120 games of Jonathan Lucroy (currently owned in 43% of leagues) 110 games of Mike Zunino (currently owned in 52% of leagues), 100 games of Evan Gattis (currently owned in 84.5% of ESPN leagues) or 90 games of Kurt Suzuki (currently owned in 12% of leagues)? If you’re curious to know how I’d answer that question, go back to the beginning of the article.


Alex Fast

An FSWA award winner for Research Article of the Year, Alex is the co-host of On The Corner and host of the weekend edition of First Pitch. He received his masters in interactive telecommunications from NYU's ITP. All opinions are Alex's and Alex's alone. A die-hard Orioles fan, Alex is well versed in futility and broken pitching prospects.

5 responses to “Going Deep: Is Kurt Suzuki This Good?”

  1. Sticki says:

    Would you drop McCann for him?

  2. Scott says:

    What about combining suzuki and flowers into one player, i.e. roster both in leagues with daily lineup settings? Flowers has improved his bat as well and is good for obp. Atlanta’s offense looks good and the park seems to play well for hitters.

  3. maris says:

    Recently traded for Gattis. Did I make a mistake? He was benched two straight games and they seem to have a lot of options. My other catcher is Barnes of LA. Ugh!

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