Going Deep: Will The Real Eugenio Suarez Please Stand Up

Dan Richards discusses Eugenio Suarez's breakout 2018 campaign.

(Photo by Jay Anderson/Icon Sportswire)

Every year, there are a few older players who seemingly come out of nowhere and take the league by storm. Last year, Tommy Pham, Justin Smoak, and Whit Merrifield set the world on fire and consequently shot up 2018 draft boards. But with these guys, I always get a nagging feeling that it’s a fluke, as it so often is with late breakouts. So I wanted to take a look at one of this year’s late breakouts to see if what he was doing was sustainable. Let’s dive into Eugenio Suarez to see if he’s the real deal.

If you’re not an owner of the 27-year-old Suarez, you may have missed the fact that he’s quietly been putting together a fantastic season. Of course, because he plays in Cincinnati, he can do amazing things – like hit a home run every day for five straight days – to little fanfare. Even though he missed over two weeks in April due to a fractured thumb (note that hand injuries often sap power), Suarez has 29 homers and is sporting a .297/.378/.560 slash line to boot, far and away besting his career slash line and surpassing the career-high 26 homers he hit all of last season.

Suarez is hitting 7.6% fewer popups this year, which is sustaining a relatively high .335 BABIP, but his batted ball profile is otherwise similar to last year. One thing that stands out is that he’s hitting the ball really hard. Last year, he had pedestrian 20.7% soft and 33.8% hard contact rates, while this year he’s making 50.8% hard and 8.4% soft contact, good for the second-best marks in the league. And xStats supports what he’s doing, with an xSlash that’s nearly identical to his actual slash line, and excellent 12.7% value hit and 18.6% poor hit rates. His average exit velocity is 91.3 mph (28th overall) and he’s barreling the ball almost twice as frequently as last year. It’s all looking pretty damn good so far.

But, you say, Justin Smoak hit the ball really hard last year and xStats loved him too, and now look at him, he’s turned back into a pumpkin. What makes Suarez any different, and why should we believe that he’ll maintain his new power and contact abilities?

Well, Suarez made two real changes to his approach at the plate that might explain why he’ll be good beyond 2018. I know what you’re probably thinking, but he’s not just a fly ball revolution guy: his launch angle is the exact same as it was last season.


Explaining His Improved Power

First, watching him bat, what jumps out immediately is the changed batting stance. See if you can spot it between 2018 (left) and 2017 (right):

This year, Suarez is standing taller in the batter’s box, which is significant to his newfound power. When you’re leaning over, you fall into your swing, forcing your body to slow itself down in order to regain balance, and diminishing your bat speed. Don’t believe me? Watch Suarez strikeout in 2017 on a Jimmy Nelson slider, where he’s falling toward the plate as he lands on his front foot and is forced to take a second step to maintain his balance:

[gfycat data_id=”MarvelousSkinnyCoati”]

He did the same thing after whiffing against Patrick Corbin too:

[gfycat data_id=”RealIllCapybara”]

But a 2018 Suarez strikeout? No extra step to regain his balance:

[gfycat data_id=”RashRemorsefulCoral”]

When asked about his newfound power, Suarez replied, “I don’t think anything has really changed, I just play baseball like I did before. I’ve always been able to hit, just not for power like last year and this year.” But I think there’s a reason for everything, and the noticeable change in his batting stance could explain why he’s making harder contact and barreling up the ball more frequently.


Explaining His Improved Average

The other change Suarez made is that he has improved significantly against secondary stuff. Last year, he was bad against breaking pitches. He saw 697, but hit only 7 home runs and batted .179 against them. This year, despite seeing 483 thus far, he has 9 homers and is hitting .231. He was bad against off-speed pitches last year too, seeing 274 and hitting just .189. This year? He’s already hit one more homer than last year and increased his average a whopping 90 points.

On curves, his chase rate is down 11.7% and his Z-Swing% is up 13.4%. On sliders, his chase rate is the same as last season, but his Z-Swing% is up 13.5%. And on changeups, his Z-Swing% is up 7% while his chase rate is up a point. This shows that for the three most common secondary offerings, Suarez is doing a better job of laying off when they’re out of the zone (for curves, at least) while also significantly improving his ability to recognize when they’re thrown for strikes and swinging accordingly.

Unsurprisingly, Suarez’s overall Z-Swing% is up 5.6% this year, and look how nicely it tracks his improved batting average and wOBA! His ability to discern secondary pitches thrown for strikes from those thrown for balls is driving his improved Z-Swing%. In turn, making more contact in the zone could explain why he’s hitting fewer popups, which yields a sustainably higher BABIP because lowering one’s infield fly ball rate is the best way to improve BABIP. Finally, increased contact in the zone and fewer popups has resulted in a higher wOBA as well.

A change in approach would make sense at this point in Suarez’s career, too, because sliders, curves, and changeups are thrown less in the minors, and Suarez now has over 2000 major league PAs under his belt. He always took his walks, so improving his ability to swing at strikes was the final piece of the puzzle. And with an improved batting stance that’s turned him into a prodigious power hitter, I’m bullish on Suarez down the stretch and beyond, and I think you should be too.

Dan Richards

Dan is a lifelong New York Yankees and Giants fan. A practicing attorney, Dan is better known for aggressively bothering his leaguemates about trades. You can follow him on Twitter @Fantasy_Esquire or by clicking the button above.

One response to “Going Deep: Will The Real Eugenio Suarez Please Stand Up”

  1. Big League S.Choo says:

    I think the Reds might have won the Alfredo Simon trade

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