Did Cincinnati third baseman Eugenio Suárez’s final month of the season give us a sign of things to come, or was it merely a mirage? Bobby Nightengale of The Cincinnati Enquirer asked that very question in his most recent article.
In the 2021 season the Reds third baseman hit .198/.286/.428. In no month other than September (and October) did he post an OPS higher than .691, and that .691 OPS came back in May and was the only other month he topped the .650 mark.
But in September/October, Eugenio Suárez hit .370 with a .460 on-base percentage, and he slugged .808. His OPS on the month was 1.268 and he was one of the best hitters in baseball during that stretch.
There are a lot of reasons that the struggles for Suárez has gone through. Perhaps his shoulder injury before the 2020 season had lasting effects on his swing. And his strikeout rate jumped up to career highs.
But what seems quite obvious is that there’s been a massive shift in what’s happening when he makes contact. From 2014-2019, every single season saw Suárez post a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) between .304 and .341. The league average in that time was .299. In the last two years that’s dropped to .292 – so we are seeing the pitching and defensive combination get better results everywhere when contact is being made and the fielders have an opportunity to make a play (basically when the ball doesn’t land in the seats).
While the league has watched the BABIP fall 7 points, Suárez has watched his BABIP fall to .214 in 2020 and .224 in 2021. He’s lost nearly 90 points from his career average in BABIP in that time by comparison.
When we look back at the 2021 season for Suárez his BABIP tells the story. It was .163 in April, .169 in March, .241 in June, .207 in July, .147 in August, and .432 in September. June seems to be the only month of the entire season with anything remotely close to a BABIP that could be expected in the long term from an actual big league caliber player.
Now, obviously when a player posts an OPS of 1.268 you are going to expect an outlier BABIP. Players simply aren’t THAT good over a long period of time unless they are Barry Bonds and there’s plenty of reason to believe he had some additional help to get there on top of being one of the best hitters ever.
So the answer to the question of was his September what we can expect moving forward is a resounding no. He’s not going to do that over the course of a season. That was simply a different level of baseball. But the next question is was there something in that month that we could see positives from that could lead to something a bit better than the guy who has struggled to hit at all for much of the past two years?
That answer seems to be a resounding yes. The power was there. In just 87 plate appearances we saw Suárez hit 8 doubles and 8 home runs. He also walked 11 times – the most he had in any month during the year. His strikeout rate was also the lowest he had in any month during the season.
The changes in output all combined for an incredible month at the plate. The question is can it carry forward? A higher walk rate, a lowered (but still high strikeout rate), and a lot of power goes a long way if your BABIP is closer to .300 than to .200. There were signs that real steps were taken in September at the plate for Suárez, but sometimes you’re simply seeing a hot streak as opposed to true changes. After nearly two years of not hitting, though, at least there’s some hope that maybe he figured something out and better days at the plate are ahead once again.
MLB Clubs to pay for some minor league housing
One of the big stories that most haven’t paid as much attention to over the last few years is what’s happening at the minor league level. Teams were eliminated – in the Reds case, two teams no longer exist in the chain up to the big leagues. That happened for a lot of reasons, but the one that MLB wants you to believe is that it will allow them to take better care of the players that remain. They increased pay when that happened, though even the guys in Triple-A are still making less than $15,000 a year (unless they’ve reached free agency or have been placed on the 40-man roster), and the guys below them make even less.
But what some organizations had already been doing – supplying housing or a housing stipend – is going to happen with every organization. The plan is not yet finalized, but it’s another step in the right direction. Well, sort of. An official statement to Evan Drellich of The Athletic noted “the owners discussed the issue of player housing and unanimously agreed to begin providing housing to certain minor league players”. Without any further detail as to what “certain minor league players” means, we shouldn’t be throwing a party in celebration just yet.
The Automated Strikezone
Ever since 2007 we’ve had the ability to track pitches in Major League Baseball. First it was with a triangulation of cameras in ballparks that gave us the Pitch F/X system that eventually we started seeing used in the Gameday portion of MLB.com and the Gameday App, as well as the stuff you would see on television. Then MLB transitioned to Trackman, a radar based ball tracking system that also tracked balls once they were hit. That happened in 2015 and lasted until the 2019 season. Over the last two seasons MLB has gone with Hawkeye, which like the Pitch F/X system, is based on cameras positioned around the ballpark. Hawkeye tracks nearly everything that moves on the field – the ball, the players, the umpires, the on-field coaches.
Fans have grown accustom to seeing the strikezone on TV in real time, and on their phones/computers as they follow the game and as such, complain when a pitch is/isn’t a strike but is called one/isn’t called one. The belief is that the zone they see is perfect, and that the system itself is, too.
in Ben and I's tour of the rules changes in the minors today, one of the things that stuck out most to me is that the robo-umps in the minors are occassionally making huge mistake calls–often balls on pitches right down the middle. https://t.co/NcWGmrhDeg pic.twitter.com/zAOzn37dwI
— Rob Arthur (@No_Little_Plans) October 21, 2021
Without getting into a lot of the stuff that needs to be discussed to have a truly good conversation about this all…. let’s just say that right now where the system has been tested out, it’s not exactly perfect, either. There are still mistakes, and some are painfully obvious mistakes.
Moving to full-time robo-strikezones may not be the best solution just yet. Of course, neither is running out known poor home plate umpires in the playoffs, but that isn’t stopping MLB from doing it, either.