The 2017 season was certainly one good enough to be considered a breakout for Eugenio Suarez. Purely from a numbers perspective, he set career highs in PA, R, HR, RBI, BB, BB%, OBP, SLG, OPS, OPS+, and bWAR, and - more importantly - showed the Cincinnati Reds enough for them to want to ink him to the 7 year, $66 million contract extension he ultimately signed last winter. Heck, even his defense was finally good after switching from his lifelong shortstop spot to the team’s hot corner.
Even still, there was a bit beneath the surface that made at least some of us question whether that was as good as the then 26 year old was going to get, and whether the Reds had bitten off a bit more than they’d like in expecting him to continue to improve. Namely, there were some very large splits that at least drew into question whether he was emerging as a star, or simply a bit of a one trick pony.
Overall, his .260/.367/.461 line was well above average, and the kind of production you’d gladly accept from each and every player in a lineup. Against lefties it was even better - a .276/.392/.504 mark in 153 PA, which was exactly what you’d hope to see from a righty-swinger sandwiched in a lineup with the likes of Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett, Scott Schebler, and Jesse Winker surrounding him as lefties. What stood out in a glaring way, though, were his home/road splits, and while they were exactly what you’d dream about from a player who called GABP home, they were downright bad on the road - much less from a player on whom the Reds were counting for middle-of-the-order power production going forward.
.274/.383/.595 (.978 OPS) in GABP.
.248/.353/.340 (.694 OPS) on the road.
Yep, that’s a .340 slugging percentage in all non-GABP games. For reference, Billy Hamilton’s career slugging percentage is .332.
Now, it’s far from the only case in history where a player might well be simply a product of his home park and still put up good enough overall marks to continue playing every single day, and if anything, Suarez’s .353 road on-base percentage meant he was still plenty worthy of a spot in the lineup outside of his home park. But if the Reds were truly investing in him to be their 3B of the present and foreseeable future, that’s the kind of chasm in production numbers that could make juggling the lineup on the road 81 times a year more of a pain on the roster than they’d like.
Fast-forward to 2018, where Suarez has seen his overall numbers make an even more impressive jump, as he’s already cranked out 31 dingers and an NL-best 100 ribbies despite missing nearly three weeks in April due to a busted thumb. While those, the .921 OPS, and 145 OPS+ are obviously All-Star caliber numbers that will earn him some down-ballot MVP votes, it’s how he’s managed to produce those numbers that is particularly impressive to me, especially given the frame of how his 2017 numbers shook out.
Specifically, he’s eschewed the notion that he’s merely a product of his dinger-happy home park, and has actually found a way to hit better, and for more power, away from GABP so far this season.
The .273/.361/.545 line he’s boasted in GABP is still elite-level production, and in line with the numbers he put up in his ‘breakout’ 2017, but those away numbers - .306/.385/.550, with 15 of his 31 overall homers - suggest to me that the Reds now legitimately have a threat in the middle of their lineup against any team, in any ballpark, and now have him under team control through the 2025 season should they so choose.
In a year when the Reds are again in the NL Central cellar, when Joey Votto’s production has fallen off, when the starting pitching has continued to frustrate, and when the next wave of team cogs have almost all fallen by the wayside due to injury, what Suarez has managed to do on the field has been one of the very few highlights. What looks to be especially good for the Reds going forward, though, is how he’s managed to produce that way.