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Updating the Top 100: Eugenio Suarez

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Syndication: Cincinnati Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

At first glance, the Eugenio Suarez story for 2020 is a disappointing one. He had a .202 batting average and while he hit a fairly decent number of home runs, his 781 OPS represented a nearly 150 point drop from the prior season.

I think some slack is due.

You may remember the news, from January 2020, that Suarez had surgery to clean up some cartilage in his shoulder from a diving accident(!). It’s entirely possible, in my opinion, that there was some adjustment period included in Suarez’s 2020 season that relates to that shoulder injury and surgery. Perhaps his strength or bat speed or timing or something wasn’t quite right early on. And if that was the case, we might look at Suarez’s numbers like so:

Suarez 2020 in two chunks

Dates G PA H 2B HR Avg OBP SLG OPS
Dates G PA H 2B HR Avg OBP SLG OPS
Jul 24 � Aug 21 23 95 12 2 3 0.152 0.295 0.291 0.586
Aug 22 � Sep 27 34 136 28 6 12 0.235 0.324 0.588 0.912

This is cherry picking, but it’s cherry picking with a narrative. That early season sluggling percentage is downright Janishian. And the 2nd half numbers are roughly in line with 2019’s superb run (.271/.358/.572). If you really want to get optimistic, extrapolate Suarez’s 2nd half home run totals across the 662 PA he had in 2019 to get a 58 HR pace.

I think there’s more. In the first inning of the first game of the Reds’ first postseason game in 7 years, Suarez stepped to the plate with one out and runners on 2nd and 3rd. He jumped on the first pitch and hit a looping line drive to center.

I’ve never quoted statcast numbers before and I don’t intend to make a habit of it. However, I think it’s crucial here. Suarez’s line drive was caught 162 feet from the plate, which is typically a perfectly placed single. Give credit to the defense for being in the right spot, but the launch angle and exit velocity and location of the hit results in a base hit 85% of the time. Not on September 30, however.

The next time Suarez came up, he hit a ball 377 feet. To the deepest part of left-center field at whatever they call Turner Field now. A ball that would have been gone at GABP 100 times out of 100. Expected batting average of .560 on that one.

And then, fast forwarding to the 13th inning, Suarez hit a groundball to left with a runner on 2nd that I don’t have the heart to re-watch but had me knowing upon contact that it was an RBI. It wasn’t. The runner (Votto) had to check to make sure the grounder wasn’t fielded by the third baseman before advancing. Ironically, Suarez hit the groundball single nearly as hard as he hit the 377 foot fly ball.

The point is this: In a game where Bauer pitched his heart out and the Reds needed a clutch performer at the plate, Suarez was that guy. In a stretch run where the Reds were chasing a playoff berth from behind and needed an offensive leader to set the pace, Suarez was that guy. In a season dominated by discussion of BABIP, in a heart-wrenching breath-taking soul-crushing loss against Max Fried and the Braves, Eugenio Suarez showed us what true bad luck looks like. When the 2021 projections come out, bet the over on Suarez.

Suarez has now played with the Reds for six seasons, compiling a .263/.345/.485 batting line (116 OPS+), with 158 HR and 445 RBI across 771 games played. He rises from #64 to #58 on the all-time Reds list and he climbs one spot on the best 3rd baseman in franchise history list, to #2.

Top 15 Third Basemen in Reds history

1 Heinie Groh
1 Heinie Groh
2 Eugenio Suarez
3 Arlie Latham
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