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The Red Report 2019 — Eugenio Suarez

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Breakout seasons have become routine for this third baseman. Might we see another in 2019?

Cincinnati Reds Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

Fast Facts

  • Third baseman
  • 27 years old
  • Native of Puerto Ordaz, Venezuela
  • Objectively handsome
  • Made his first All-Star appearance in 2018, and finished 18th in MVP voting
  • Better at baseball than you or any of your friends

Organizational history

  • Signed by the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent in 2008
  • Made MLB debut on June 4, 2014
  • Traded by the Tigers to the Cincinnati Reds for Alfredo Simon following 2014 season
  • No, seriously, go look it up. That trade really happened.
  • Signed a 7-year, $66 million extension with the Reds before the 2018 season. He is under control through at least 2024, with a team option for 2025.

Career stats

Scouting report


Source: FanGraphs

Ken Gif-y Jr.

Projections

Outlook

It’s easy to forget who Eugenio Suarez was when he first arrived in Cincinnati. He was not a top prospect, nor was he a former top prospect, nor was he an under-the-radar prospect who suddenly looked like a great major leaguer as soon as he got the call up. He was sort of just a Guy, having debuted for the Tigers at the impressively young age of 22, but still known as a glove-first shortstop who might hit some or might not. Think of, I don’t know, the other former Tigers shortstop the Reds just picked up. That’s about what people expected out of Suarez.

Then, in his first year in Cincinnati, he broke out a bit. He put together an above-average offensive season, though he did so while showing a worse glove than he was expected to have. Then, in 2017, he broke out for real, threatening 4 WAR thanks to suddenly exceptional third base defense and an even more suddenly dangerous power bat and plate discipline. He was given a contract extension that seemed plenty fair for both sides, and then, somehow, in 2018, he broke out again.

According to Statcast data, between 2017 and 2018, Suarez jumped from the 25th percentile among all major league hitters in exit velocity to the 89th percentile, the 30th percentile to the 88th percentile in hard-hit percentage, the 76th percentile to the 92nd percentile in xwOBA, and the 56th percentile to the 92nd percentile in xSLG.

Those are all different ways of saying Suarez began crushing the baseball in 2018. You can also tell that from his isolated power jump from .200 to .243, or just good old fashioned dingers, which jumped from 26 to 34. Suarez hit for the same isolated power average as Giancarlo Stanton. He slugged three points higher than Matt Carpenter, who was nearly an MVP. He hit as many home runs as Bryce Harper.

This is my favorite Fangraphs search from the 2018 season:

Baseball, in its modern iteration, is largely about maximizing contact. It’s no surprise to see Joey Votto at the top of this list, given that his entire approach has been built around only putting the pitch he wants in play, and hitting that pitch as squarely as possible. What might be a surprise to some is that the one player in all of baseball who did a better job than Votto of maximizing contact in 2018 was Suarez.

Many hitters who experience such a significant change in exit velocity can thank some kind of swing change or launch angle buy-in for the effects. But for Suarez, that isn’t the case. Here’s how the ball has left Suarez’s bat over each season of his career, though I’d like to pay specific attention to 2017 and 2018:

Suarez hit the ball in the air and pulled it at identical rates between 2017 and 2018, had the most marginal of increase in his line drive rate, and switched some of his opposite field trajectories for up-the-middle trajectories. By and large, the ball left Suarez’s bat in 2018 almost exactly the same way it did in 2017. It isn’t until you glance all the way to the right side of the table that you see Suarez managed to cut his soft contact by more than 12 percent, and added nearly 15 percent to his hard contact.

All of this makes 2019 an absolutely fascinating year for Suarez, because after five big league seasons, we have still never seen him do the same thing twice. We’ve watched him look very bad and very good defensively, watched him walk very little and a whole lot, and watched him hit for below-average power until he became one of the very best power hitters in baseball. He has changed so very drastically at times, and in so many different areas, yet somehow he has always emerged a better player than he was before.

There is still room, unbelievably, for Suarez to grow in 2019. His defensive numbers could pick back up, as could his walk rate, either of which would make him a very serious MVP candidate if combined with the quality of contact he made a year ago. He’s still only 27, which means he ought to be just now entering the best years of his career. That is very good news for the Reds, and extremely bad news for everyone else.