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Updating the Top 100: Eugenio Suarez

MLB: New York Mets at Cincinnati Reds Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The headline number for Eugenio Suarez in 2019 is, without question, his 49 home runs, narrowly missing becoming the 2nd player in franchise history to hang half a hundred on the board. Not only was the home run total impressive in isolation, but it also represented a significant increase (+15) over Suarez’s previous career high.

And yet.

Baseball statistics are always in need of two elements of understanding: context and trade-offs.

First, the context. Comparing Suarez’s 2018 and 2019 seasons, we see that he exactly matched his doubles and triples total year over year (22 and 2, respectively), we see that he exactly matched his walk rate year over year (10.6% of all plate appearances), and his batting average was pretty close to matching (.283 in 2018, .271 in 2019). His slash rate went from .283/.366/.526 to .271/.358/.572. For the purposes of this point, the only thing that changed in Suarez’s number were his number of home runs, which we can see illustrated in his increased slugging percentage.

More home runs is a good thing! When we add in contextual markers, however, we can see that Suarez’s value didn’t increase at all. His OPS+ dropped in 2019 (from 136 to 134). His bWAR numbers increased a little bit, but that’s almost entirely a function of having 10% more plate appearances in 2019. Again, relative to his competitors, Suarez was essentially the same player in 2019 as he was in 2018.

Which is where the trade-offs come in. We can build a story about Suarez’s approach in 2019, based on three numbers:

Suarez, 18-19

Metric 2018 2019
Metric 2018 2019
Strikeout rate 23.40% 28.60%
Ground ball to fly ball ratio 0.65 0.56
HR to fly ball ratio 15.00% 22.40%

Suarez is swinging harder and swinging in a way that gets the ball in the air more. This has not been an ongoing trend; his strikeout and GB/FB rates have been remarkably consistent prior to 2019.

And so: what is to be concluded about a guy who dramatically changes his approach to hit more dingers without adding any incremental value? Unsatisfying as it is to say, I don’t think we really know yet. In my mind, I associate the storyline of a hitter becoming more of a free swinger with older players looking to squeeze every last drop of value out of a bat that’s struggling to match the speed of its younger years. Suarez is only 28, with plenty of power and bat speed to continue his run as a very good hitter for a number of years. The push towards more of an all-or-nothing approach didn’t produce a value spike, which means we’ve already experienced the true peak of Suarez’s career. And when the fly balls begin to not leave the yard at the same pace…will he be capable of readjusting to more of a line drive approach?

In five full seasons with the Reds, Suarez has 714 games and 2,925 plate appearances, racking up a hitting line of .267/.347/.486 (117 OPS+), with 143 home runs (already 19th best on the Reds HR ranking) and 407 RBI. Based on his strong 2019 season, Suarez leaps from #105 to #64 on the all-time Reds player list, and he climbs from #12 to #3 on the franchise’s 3rd basemen ranking. Grabbing the #2 position on that list next season is a virtual lock.

Top 15 3rd Basemen in Reds history

1 Heinie Groh

2 Arlie Latham

3 Eugenio Suarez

4 Grady Hatton

5 Chris Sabo

6 Hans Lobert

7 Harry Steinfeldt

8 Bobby Adams

9 Billy Werber

10 Todd Frazier

11 Aaron Boone

12 Chuck Dressen

13 Charlie Irwin

14 Babe Pinelli

15 Lew Riggs