Seiya Suzuki has been a hit so far


© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

If there are any concerns about how well Seiya Suzuki will make the transition to Major League Baseball, it’s possible that his hot start with the Cubs has suppressed them. The 27-year-old right-hander has amassed a number of hits in each of his first six matches, three of them homeowners. He’s made it to base safely at least twice in each of those games (the last only with the benefit of a throwing foul) while showing the discipline of the other plates to go along with his impressive strength. Admittedly, we’re in a small theater, but the show so far deserves solid reviews.

It’s not like Suzuki is expected to flop since the Cubs invested nearly $100 million in getting it — $85 million over five years plus another $14.625 million in publishing fees for the Hiroshima carp. As Kevin Goldstein described when he signed with Chicago in mid-March, “At 27 years old, Suzuki is a player in his prime, with a track record of performing at the highest level in Japan since his teens. That’s not a possibility. This is an established talent who hasn’t played in Major League Baseball.” Until now “.

The Suzuki .317/.443/.639 with 38 players and a strike rate of 16.3% for Hiroshima last year while winning his second batting title—a triple slash crown this time—and taking home nine top honors for the sixth consecutive time in Nippon Professional Baseball. While both visitors and percentage sluggishness are career highs, his season hasn’t been too far behind his NPB career numbers (.315/.414/.570). Between ZiPS and Steamer, our show systems thought he’d lose some steam in the move to MLB, but his depth charts predict the .287/.369/.508 line and .371 wOBA still cast him as one of the top 20 hitters in the game.

At least until Thursday, so far, pretty good. I wouldn’t pretend that half a dozen games are proof of anything to any player, and none of the stats on this piece come close to settling down, but the Suzuki proved to be very interesting while more than just holding it against good shooters from day one.

In fact, on opening day against the brewers, Suzuki made it to base in each of his first three boards. He worked out a six-court run and got NL Cy Young winner Corbin Burns – no matter, he was an instant hit against the lowest-performing WOBA World Championship qualifier allowed in 2021 – and followed it up with eight paces. I walk against the diluted Aaron Ashby. In the second game for Chicago two days later, he drove in three runs, the first two against Brandon Woodruff through a fly-by and one step into the center, and the third across four base-laden courts in front of Jose Urreña. He capped the series against The Brewers by crushing Homer three runs in the first inning off Freddy Peralta, volley at 110.9 mph, 412 feet left of center, then working a seven-step stroll out of Peralta on his next appearance.

Two days later, Suzuki went twice, representing both Cubs in a 2-1 win over the Buccaneers. His first hit was 397 feet to the right center field off former cub Jose Quintana, and his second was 398 feet to the left off Anthony Banda. On Wednesday against the Buccaneers, he went 1 for 3 with Zach Thompson’s RBI song and walked off Wil Crowe. On Thursday against the Rockies, he scored a first-half RBI double from Kyle Freeland, and made it to base again in the third inning on a throwback by José Iglesias.

Here’s the “Greatest Songs” clip:

Through Thursday, Suzuki hit .368/.480/.895 for 262 wRC+ — ridiculous numbers straight out of a video game, unsustainable by definition, yet utterly compelling; He entered Thursday with a score of 322 wRC+, which ranked third behind the Guardians’ Owen Miller and Jose Ramírez, but dropped to eighth with a 1-for-4 night in Colorado. He averaged 91.0 mph exit speed on his bats, and his 28.6% barrel rate tied Aaron Judge in fourth in the majors, trailing only Byron Buxton, Joey Gallo and Giancarlo Stanton—the big boys, so to speak.

While Suzuki hits the ball hard, what he does when he doesn’t hit the ball at all stands out even more. His swing hit rate is just 3.8% – that’s four swings and misses out of 104 throws, one against Woodruff, one against Panda, one against David Bednar of the Buccaneers, one against Justin Lawrence of the Rockies, and the last two of them have hit his swing. That 3.8% rate is still behind the evil 0.7% rate of Stephen Kwan, as well as those of four other players, but it’s amazing nonetheless. I won’t pretend to know where it will end, but in the pitch-tracking era (since 2008), 54 hitters have qualified for the batting title with swing hit rates of 3.8% or less. However, only two of them have done so while slowing down at least 0.500, both in 2014: Victor Martinez (.565 SLG, 3.5% SwStr%) and Michael Brantley (.506 SLG, 3.6% SwStr%). Brantley hardly missed out in 2019 (.503 SLG, 4.0% SwStr%), as did Albert Pujols in 2008 (.653 SLG, 4.0% SwStr%). This will be a company to end up in.

Also impressive is Suzuki’s 10.9% chase rate, which is a hypothetical tie with Christian Yelich for the lowest in the majors between qualifying. Thursday’s Suzuki came in with 8.3%, the only single-digit qualifier — even Kwan with a relatively normal rate of 23.7% — but fell chasing a good diver by Lawrence:

That was the fifth move Suzuki chased out of the area; He missed two of them, picked Woodruff, and doubled Freeland.

Again, Suzuki won’t be keeping those numbers, but it’s worth noting how far ahead of him is in dominating the area relative to the other Japanese hitters that have come in recently. In mid-March, right after his signing, Hiroshi Miyashita posted an article on the FanGraphs Community Research blog comparing Suzuki’s NPB’s final season to that of Shohei Ohtani (2016 and 17), Yoshi Tsutsugo (2019), and Shogo Akiyama (2019) via data from the 1.02 website. – Essence of Baseball, with tables covering slash stats, war components, hit stats, sheet discipline stats and more. The palette system has stood out in particular for these eyes:

Comparison of the latest discipline of the Japanese center players

player year oh swing % Z-swing % O-Contact % Z-Contact%
Shuhei Ohtani 2016 31.1 66.4 61.5 82.2
Shuhei Ohtani 2017 31.0 63.5 56.4 74.1
Yoshi Tsutsugu 2019 21.9 66.8 60.4 83.0
Shoujo Akiyama 209 24.8 66.8 68.8 87.0
Seiya Suzuki 2021 19.8 57.7 57.9 89.3

Source: 1.02 – The Essence of Baseball

Among the MLB playoffs, Juan Soto (15.1%), Max Muncie (19.1%), Robbie Grossman (19.2%) and Tommy Pham (19.3%) swung less than 20% from outside the area; Otani, the only player among the above players who qualified last year, had a chase average of 30.1% in 2021 and a 31.1% of his career, so perhaps we can expect Suzuki’s streak to end up in a similar range to what he did. in Japan.

Speaking of Ohtani, he and Keith MacDonald (the son of an American soldier who was stationed in Japan during the Vietnam War) of the 2000 Cardinals are the only other two Japan-born players to have made it three times in their first six MLB games, with Kenji Gohjima the only other person even for Homer twice ; No other Japanese player played multiplayer so early in his major league career. (Ohtani hit .364/.417/.773 (221 wRC+) in his first six non-shooters of 2018, in case you were wondering.) Meanwhile, Suzuki’s six-game strike streak is the third longest of any A Japanese player starting his career, following his career with Akinori Iwamura in 2007 (nine matches) and Hideki Matsui in 2003 (seven matches). His RBI 10 is the highest number of Japanese players in his first six games and in fact only two players born anywhere have more RBI in this opening period, Tigers ‘Dale Alexander in 1929 (13) and The Rockies’ Trevor storyline in 2016 (12), while four other players had 10, including Reds’ Jonathan India last year.

Admittedly, these are trivial and fleeting, and we’ll have to wait and see how Suzuki maintains his power and discipline as shooters adjust to what they’ve seen. However, it is very clear that he belongs in the big business, and it seems very likely that the Cubs will have a legitimate star in the middle of the lineup.


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