When third baseman Eugenio Suárez had an incredible season in 2019 (49 home runs and 103 RBI), it was difficult not to look at him as the next superstar of the Cincinnati Reds. And then 2020 happened. In the 60-game season, Suárez didn’t hit terribly–a .781 OPS with 15 home runs in 198 at-bats–but aside from the power, he didn’t seem like the Suárez of 2019. Now, given that the 2020 season was a mess in its own way, let’s forget that season ever happened. 2021 was the chance for a clean slate. Instead, it’s been Suárez’s worst of his career.
He’s hitting .169/.255/.363 with a .623 OPS in 120 games. Strikeouts are what have been hurting Suárez the most. His strikeout rate is at 30.6 percent, the highest of his career. That’s saying something given he has always been prone to strikeouts. The breaking pitches and the off speed pitches he struggles with the most: a 43.4% whiff rate for breaking balls and a 35.7% whiff rate for off speed pitches. If there’s a bright spot to his season, it’s that he has 23 home runs. He’s been able to help the Reds somewhat offensively, even if it is sporadically.
And I know we’ve been saying this all season, but maybe Suárez is turning a corner this time. On Wednesday against the Cardinals, he had back-to-back hits for the first time since July 20 and just the second time since June 22, according to statistician Joel Luckhaupt.
The second option at third base for the Reds in 2021 has been Mike Moustakas, though it didn’t start like that. With Jonathan India playing second and Moustakas dealing with injuries most of the season, Moustakas has found himself back at third in 2021. However, Moustakas hasn’t been much better than Suárez.
Moustakas is currently hitting .214/.307/.414 with an OPS of .707 in just 47 games. If you’re looking for a bright spot, his walk rate sits at 11.0 percent, tied for the highest of his career. When you compare his wRC+ of 91 to Suárez’s 64, it makes it seem like Moustakas is hitting way better. But that’s carryover from April and May before he was injured. Since the All-Star break, Moustakas is hitting .161/.242/.357 with a .599 OPS in 56 at-bats.
What Went Wrong?
Moustakas fell victim to the injury bug, which was not his fault at all. And he hasn’t been able to rebound from that long pause in his season. Two months is a long time, especially when he couldn’t do baseball activities at all. It’s not easy coming back from an injury, and there’s probably also additional pressure on top of that to perform at the highest level in the middle of a playoff race.
I don’t think anyone knows what’s really going on with Suárez this season, except for Suárez, David Bell, and maybe his teammates. (This is where the lack of everyday access to the clubhouse by beat writers hurts. The writers can’t observe everyday situations and clubhouse interactions). I have a theory that his move to shortstop could have thrown off his offensive game in the beginning of the season more than we think it did and it spiraled from there. However, this is pure speculation on my part, so take it lightly.
The Reds don’t have any other real options at third base besides these two for the rest of the season. Neither player hits left-handed pitchers well (nor does almost every other hitter in the Reds lineup, but that’s another post for another day). Moustakas has two hits with 10 strikeouts in 26 at-bats against lefties. Suárez isn’t any better, hitting just .125/.229/.269 with 13 hits in 104 at-bats. The Reds could play newly acquired infielder Asdrúbal Cabrera at third against lefties. Cabrera has been absolutely brutal against right-handed pitchers, but is hitting .284 against left-handers. (Note: this did not happen Wednesday, but it turns out it was not needed).
At this point in the season, either Moustakas or Suárez is going to be in the lineup each night. If the Reds haven’t changed the lineup by now, it’s not going to happen in September. David Bell isn’t one to bench a player for longer than a couple of days. And as long as Kyle Farmer continues to play well, he’s going to be at shortstop. The Reds find themselves with a platoon between two veteran players at third base, and we just have to hope one of the two players gets hot offensively for the playoff chase.