I’ve been one of the biggest supporters of Reds third baseman Eugenio Suárez. I’ve continually said this season, “He will turn it around. Just wait.” Well, I’m still waiting, and I’m starting to feel a little sad that a player with one of the best attitudes is struggling so hard at his craft.
On Wednesday afternoon, he went 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against the Mets. It’s not just yesterday though. In July, Suárez is hitting .179. On the season, he’s hitting .172/.255/.362 with only a 64 wRC+. He has hit 18 home runs and 52 RBI. When he does make contact, he is barreling the bat to the ball because his Barrel% is in the 86% percentile. Unfortunately, strikeouts are driving his struggles.
Too many Strikeouts
In the first half of 2021, Suárez struck out 107 times. Thus far in the second half, he’s struck out eight times through six games. Suárez has always been a high strikeout hitter. From 2015-2017, his K% was consistently around the 23 percent mark. In the last three years, it has steadily gone up, at 28.5% in 2019, 29% in 2020, and now currently 30.2% in 2021. He was in the bottom 10 percent of the league all three of the previous years. This year, he’s in the bottom 8% of the league.
Suárez has never hit breaking pitches (slider, curve) or off speed pitches (splitter, change up) very well. Even in 2019, when he hit 49 home runs, 34 of those home runs (or 70 percent) came off fastballs. He’s a fastball hitter. In the past, he’s compensated for the lack of offense from the off speed pitches by hitting fastballs better. He hit .314 off fastballs with a .665 slugging percentage in 2019. In 2018, he hit .313 while slugging .530. In 2017, it was .317 with a .514 slugging percentage. However, this season is different. With a .172 batting average and a .370 slugging percentage, Suárez isn’t hitting fastballs very well at all, while hitting the worst he’s ever hit on the off speed pitches (.111 on off speed pitches and .185 on breaking pitches).
Suárez’s whiff rate on breaking pitches this season is 43.6%. While this seems high, it’s only slightly higher than his 2019 season and lower than the shortened 2020 season. The same can be said about his whiff rate for off speed pitches. It is significantly higher this year than 2020 (32.9% vs. 23.9%), but in 2019, his whiff rate for off speed pitches was higher than it is now at 34.4%.
Looking back at the course of his whole career, he has remained pretty steady with a low-to-mid 30s whiff percentage on off speed pitches. What has changed significantly in 2021 is that opposing pitchers have caught on and are throwing him more off speed pitches. He’s seen 188 off speed pitches (or 12.2%, one of the highest of his career) in 2021, compared to 8.7% last year and 10.6% in 2019.
A Reasonable Explanation?
Strikeouts hurt a player because they’re not putting the ball in play to have a chance at a hit. And Suárez isn’t getting on base via walks either. His walk rate is also the lowest since his sophomore season in 2016 at 8.7%. He’s not just swinging and missing at strikes; he’s not seeing baseballs outside of the strike zone very well either.
Add in some bad luck too (Suárez has a .195 BABIP this season, by far the lowest of his career and a batting average of .172 with an xBA of .236) and it makes it even harder to get any kind of momentum going. When he puts the ball in play, it seems like he just hits into a double play, or even when he does get a hit, like Tuesday night, he gets thrown out at third on a good throw from the outfield.
Nothing appears to be working for him this season. We all desperately want to see Suárez improve, because it’s painful to watch him at the plate right now. I really do hope he can turn it around soon. He’s such a fun player and baseball is better when he’s playing well.