Is it Legit? 6/20: Yennier Cano, Thairo Estrada, Ryan Noda, Jack Suwinski

Have these four players made real changes to drive their hot starts?

We are somehow nearly halfway through the 2023 season. The days are about to start getting shorter, which of course means winter is coming. Most unexpected hot starts have been picked up and the stragglers dropped. Now we’re switching gears to buy low/buy high guys in trades. In order to make the best possible trade decisions we need to know what’s real and what isn’t. Sample sizes are even large enough to not just look at 2023 stats as a whole.

Yennier Cano, RP, Baltimore Orioles

Yennier Cano is a 29-year-old reliever who has seemingly come out of nowhere to be one of the most dominant relievers so far in 2023. The duo of Félix Bautista and Cano have contributed significantly to the Orioles’ success this year. Cano’s only prior MLB experience came in 2022 when he split 18.0 IP between the Twins and Orioles. He had a 21.6% K%, 16.5% BB%, 11.50 ERA, 5.78 FIP, and 2.33 WHIP. His MiLB numbers vary wildly, but average an upper 20s K%, and about a 12% BB%. It seems like he’s struggled with inconsistency throughout his career. During his time in MLB  in 2022 Stuff+ gave him a 66 overall and PLV a 4.93, both very poor for a reliever. So why is he suddenly so good?

Baltimore acquired him on August 2, 2022, in a deal that sent Jorge López to the Twins. In 36.1 IP in 2023 he has a 0.99 ERA, 1.98 FIP, 0.77 WHIP, 26.0% K%, and a minute 3.8% BB%. His Stuff+ has improved modestly to 87, but his PLV has jumped to 5.63, the 99th percentile for RP. He relies primarily on his sinker (61% usage), changeup (31% usage), and sprinkles in a slider (8% usage).

PLV likes the sinker far more than Stuff+. It’s in the 90th percentile for PLV, but a below-average 87 from Stuff+. He gets a lot of strikes with it and it generates a lot of groundballs. It moves far more horizontally than vertically. According to the background metrics, it looks like a good, but not great pitch.

The changeup grades out in the 99th percentile for PLV, but again just an 87 from Stuff+. Stuff+ is known to struggle a bit when it comes to changeups, likely due to their deceptive nature. He throws it hard at 90.5 mph. It generates a strong O-Swing%, Swinging Strike%, Hard Contact%, and wOBA. It also moves more, both horizontally and vertically, than most changeups.

He’s only thrown the slider 40 times in 2023, but it looks like an OK surprise pitch. Last year it had a 27% usage rate and it seems like his decision to throw it less is a good idea.

Verdict: Legit. Thinking of older Oriole RP pitchers who suddenly become good makes me think of César Valdez, but Cano appears to be more than just a flash in the pan. Most relievers do have short peaks, but it seems like Cano has a dominant changeup and decent sinker. He will be stuck behind Bautista, so he can’t expect many saves, but he should get a lot of holds and put up good ratios.

Thairo Estrada, 2B, San Francisco Giants

Thairo Estrada came up with the Yankees in 2019. He always seemed like a solid hitter, but there wasn’t adequate playing time for him so in early 2021 they sent him to the Giants for cash considerations. Since then he’s posted good, but not special numbers while playing good defense according to OAA. He’s hitting the ball a bit harder and in the air more often. This has contributed to his career-best wOBA. However, most of his underlying metrics are in line with career norms, and his improved results are mostly based on batted ball luck. At the plate, not much has changed.

Thairo Estrada

His aggression on the base paths is what really stands out. Prior to last year, he had 6 career SBs in 6 attempts. In 2022 he stole 21 bases in 27 attempts. Through 59 games this year he has 17 SBs in 20 attempts. His Sprint Speed is in the 78th percentile, right in line with his career.

Verdict: Mixed. Don’t expect his results at the plate to continue, but he has a chance to steal 40 bases this year. He has simply become more aggressive. His success last year and the bigger bases this year boosted his confidence. While he’s still the same decent, but not great hitter, he has become an excellent source of SBs and there is no reason to expect that to stop, barring injury. He’s also still just 27 years old.

Ryan Noda, 1B, Oakland Athletics

Ryan Noda is one of the few bright spots on what has been a dark 2023 for the Oakland Athletics. He was a 15th-round draft pick in 2017 by Toronto and also spent a couple of seasons in the Dodgers’ minor leagues before joining Oakland in 2023. He’s hit across every level, displaying strong ISOs, good walk rates, and even double-digit SBs. He hits the ball hard. His Max Exit Velocity in 2023 is 92nd percentile and his Barrel% is 85th percentile.

It looks like this might be a classic case of a good hitter without a position. He has played a little bit of OF, but with average speed and 1st percentile arm strength, he is really only a DH and 1B. Blocked by Vlad in Toronto and Freeman in LA that means he would’ve been primarily a DH, and most organizations don’t like to have that position to be so inflexible. Oakland doesn’t have as many…roadblocks in their lineup, so he’s been given the chance to thrive in MLB.

Verdict: Legit. Noda reminds me of a lesser version of Jason Giambi. I haven’t watched enough A’s games to know about Noda’s accuracy, but I do remember that Giambi had a lot of trouble throwing the ball. 1st percentile arm strength for Noda might indicate something similar. He walks a lot, strikes out a lot, and hits the ball hard a lot. With as many Barrels as he’s had, I’m surprised he only has 7 HR so far. 15 more with an OBP of close to .400 will be very useful in many leagues.

Jack Suwinski, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

At first, I thought I had forgotten to change the Savant page from Noda to Jack Suwinski. Their sliders are nearly identical. Suwinski was a 15th-round draft pick in 2016 and is just 24 years old. FanGraphs gave him just a 30 Speed grade and a 20 Fielding grade. He was in the Padres’ organization before moving to the Pirates in 2021. Though he consistently had a K% close to 30%, he was a good hitter throughout the minors. He made his MLB debut in 2022, and performed fairly well in 372 PAs as a 23-year-old, posting a 100 wRC+. He’s walked and struck out a lot throughout his professional career.

He simply does not swing much, in any count. And when he does swing, he doesn’t make contact much. But when he does, he hits it hard.

Suwinski 2023 (percentile in parentheses)

Verdict: Not Legit. I have a hard time believing that pitchers will not start to pour strikes into the zone more often once word gets around that he swings so infrequently. His low F-Strike% tells me that hasn’t happened yet. Continuing to maximize the outcomes of his limited contact to the extent that he currently does seems unrealistic. You can continue to hold on to him, but be prepared to jump ship quickly. His drop may come abruptly.

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@bdougals on Twitter)

Andrew Krutz

Andrew writes for Pitcher List and is a lifelong New York Yankees fan. During the warmer months he can be found playing vintage baseball in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York.

2 responses to “Is it Legit? 6/20: Yennier Cano, Thairo Estrada, Ryan Noda, Jack Suwinski”

  1. Cole says:

    Cano had an absurd first month and a half, but since early-mid May he’s been remarkably ordinary. Very surprised there was no mention of that split, but I guess the indication here is you believe in the early season numbers.

    • Andrew Krutz says:

      Sorry that I am just seeing this. I just didn’t dive deep enough to notice the splits. It looks like you were on to something by spotting this as he has continued to struggle. A quick look shows that guys have been hitting the ball harder and fewer grounders. PLV still likes him but maybe he will turn out to be more like César Valdez. Thanks for the comment and have a good weekend!

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