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The Seiyassance Is in Full Swing

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports activities

When the Cubs signed Seiya Suzuki earlier than the 2022 season, it was a part of a daring technique to speed up their return to competition. They weren’t fairly prepared for his or her shut up that 12 months, however the common plan was fairly clear: add just a few items then, tack on extra the next season, and goal for crew sooner somewhat than later.

Excellent news! That plan has labored. The Cubs are in playoff place in mid-September, identical to they drew it up. They supplemented 2022’s free company exploits with a double dip final offseason. Cody Bellinger and Dansby Swanson have been proper on the forefront of the cost, although Swanson has slumped just lately. However for a bit, it seemed like Suzuki may not be part of Chicago’s plans.

He coasted by 2022, a stable righty bat however hardly the most effective hitters within the league. He began off this season in a funk, handled accidents, and eventually obtained benched in early August. It was an extended fall for somebody so heralded, however truthfully, you may see what the Cubs have been considering. By that time within the 12 months, Suzuki was batting .249/.328/.389, good for a 96 wRC+, and putting out a worrisome 25.3% of the time. He’d slumped because the 12 months wore on, as well; he had a wRC+ of 59 within the months of June and July.

To place it mildly, it looks as if he figured one thing out. Suzuki returned to the lineup on a full-time foundation on August 9, and he’s been the most effective hitters in baseball since then. His wRC+ over that span is 197. He’s putting out simply 16.1% of the time. He’s cracked seven homers in 118 plate appearances, and he’s doing slightly little bit of every part moreover that. He’s hitting line drives in all places, and hitting for energy and common. That is the Suzuki everybody hoped to see when he came visiting from NPB final 12 months.

What modified? I feel David Ross recognized it effectively in speaking about his temporary benching (Ross didn’t name it that, for what it’s value, nevertheless it’s fairly clear that he was getting greater than only a few relaxation days). “He’s simply in between. If he’s trying heater, they throw him a slider,” he informed The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma. The message from the Cubs was clear and constant. “Typically these guys get into making an attempt to play cat-and-mouse with the pitcher slightly an excessive amount of,” hitting coach Dustin Kelly recognized, pointing to the identical factor.

That’s a kind of basic baseballisms that I’m at all times slightly bit skeptical of. That’s what hitting is! They may throw you one thing quick, or they could throw you one thing gradual. When you can’t determine them, that feels to me much less like being in between and extra like not hitting effectively. However there’s a time-honored resolution, which Kelly was fast to level out in the identical interview. You simply sit on certainly one of two speeds and regulate in the event you’re improper. Straightforward peasy.

There’s only one downside with that naive resolution: it’s not clear which one Suzuki was having bother with specifically. Irrespective of the way you break pitches down, he wasn’t exhibiting any apparent plate self-discipline holes whilst he slumped. Even at his worst, he wasn’t lacking any class of pitch at a very elevated price in comparison with 2022:

Swing and Miss by Pitch Sort

Sort 2022 SwStr% 2023 SwStr% 2022 Whiff% 2023 Whiff%
Fastball 7.0% 8.3% 17.6% 20.5%
Breaking 11.4% 9.1% 31.8% 23.8%
Offspeed 13.7% 13.0% 28.4% 31.9%

If there’s something to notice, it’s a barely elevated whiff price on fastballs. However that’s fairly marginal, not way more than a rounding error. No, the issue got here when Suzuki made contact. The entire level of hitting is to hit the ball laborious and within the air. You’d additionally favor to drag it; batted ball speeds have a tendency increased on the pull aspect, principally as a result of the bat is transferring at its quickest because it will get out in entrance of the plate, and that’s the place you must meet the ball to drag it. However actually, you need to hit it laborious and within the air first, and every part else is a bonus.

That’s what everybody anticipated Suzuki to do when he got here to the key leagues. He was a persistently wonderful masher in Japan, with a profession .570 slugging share. However within the States (and, tremendous, often Toronto), he merely didn’t recapture that kind. By his benching, he’d been hitting roughly 1 / 4 of his batted balls laborious and within the air, barely lower than the key league common. He’d managed to hit laborious, pulled contact within the air on solely about 7.5% of his batted balls, meaningfully lower than the ten% league common. It wasn’t restricted to only one pitch kind, both.

These issues have been magnified when he was at his worst; he merely wasn’t crushing pitches the way in which you’d anticipate him to. His profile makes numerous sense if he’s bludgeoning the ball. Acceptable strikeout and stroll numbers and middling nook outfield protection aren’t that fascinating with out energy, although.

For some folks, including energy principally means making an attempt to drag the ball extra. In a really perfect world, I feel each hitter would do some model of that; it’s simply simpler to hit for energy to the pull aspect, full cease. However swings and swing selections are advanced issues. Transferring one lever can have an effect on one thing seemingly unrelated, all down the chain. Suzuki was pulling the ball fairly regularly when he hit the ball within the air in 2023, however with out the identical effectivity he displayed final 12 months.

Need that in numbers? Let’s evaluate 2022 to 2023 by August 8, the final day earlier than he rejoined the lineup full-time. His pull price on balls he hit within the air elevated from 16% to twenty-eight%, which sounds wonderful. However his slugging share declined by 150 factors on these balls, his anticipated slugging share declined by 120 factors, his wOBA declined by 120 factors, and his xwOBA declined by practically 100 factors. In different phrases, a decline involved high quality to the pull aspect offset the advantages of getting the ball there extra typically.

In the meantime, his manufacturing on balls within the air that didn’t go to the pull aspect additionally fell. I’m making a sequence of assumptions right here, nevertheless it feels to me like he was simply too early on numerous pitches, so he ended up with extra so-so contact that was nonetheless pulled. Loads of hitters discuss making an attempt to remain up the center with their supposed swing in order that in the event that they search for a fastball and get fooled, they’re pulling offspeed pitches down the road as an alternative of yanking them foul.

If that’s the case with Suzuki, you may think about what an affordable tradeoff appears to be like like. Begin hanging again extra on fastballs, and he’d have a decrease pull price when he places the ball within the air. He’d make up for it in two methods, although. First, he’d hit the ball the opposite approach or up the center with extra authority. Second, when he did pull a ball, it will extra seemingly be scalded because of the truth that what’s left within the pull bucket is a bunch of crushable pitches he obtained out in entrance of.

Fairly frankly, it’s wonderful how true that’s been. When he debuted final 12 months, he hit a ton of fastballs within the air, however solely 10% of these have been pulled. This 12 months, that quantity climbed above 20% whereas his contact high quality cratered. However lo and behold, he’s hit 23 fastballs within the air since returning, and he’s pulled precisely certainly one of them. It was the type of ball you don’t have any alternative however to drag, in on his arms, and he completely blistered it:

As a substitute, he’s peppering these pitches again up the center or to proper area. Just about every part about these balls – manufacturing, anticipated manufacturing, exit velocity, hard-hit price, you identify it – has improved. In different phrases, his swing is extra on time towards fastballs; he’s assembly them and driving them into the right-center hole with authority excess of he did earlier within the 12 months.

In the meantime, he’s pulling the ball extra regularly when he manages to raise a slower pitch, a full 33% of the time. He’s completely walloping these balls; he’s put 9 of them into play, and he’s batting 1.000 with a 2.778 slugging share on these 9 balls. His common – common! – exit velocity on them is 101.4 mph. He’s completely scalding these items, in different phrases.

In actual fact, Suzuki isn’t simply crushing breaking balls on accident. He’s searching them. He’s swung at 70% of the in-zone breaking balls he’s seen throughout his latest scorching streak, up from 60% in each 2022 and the beginning of this 12 months. That’s extra regularly than he swings at in-zone fastballs. He’s chasing breaking balls extra typically, too, however given what occurs when he catches up with one, that seems like a rational tradeoff.

To be truthful, I is perhaps studying an excessive amount of into it. He’s additionally swinging extra regularly at fastballs, significantly within the strike zone. However the breaking ball swing charges are up extra, they usually appear extra intentional, and severely, he’s destroying these breaking balls. It seems like a purposeful technique, and one which’s paying dividends instantly.

How lengthy can he sustain this new plan? I don’t need to say indefinitely, however I don’t see any apparent cause that it must cease. He most likely gained’t hold slugging .915 when he places a breaking ball into play, however the general profile of smashed contact on tender pitches mixed with stable plate self-discipline speaks for itself. There’s no query Suzuki is on a scorching streak in the meanwhile, enjoying above his true expertise degree, however even a back-down-to-earth model of that is a superb hitter.

There’ll, in fact, be extra changes to return. As he’s gotten extra aggressive towards in-zone tender stuff, pitchers haven’t modified what they’re throwing him. They’re difficult him simply as regularly with these pitches. If I have been an opposing pitcher, I’d attempt to reap the benefits of Suzuki’s elevated aggression by throwing him extra pitches exterior of the strike zone. That may undoubtedly occur earlier than lengthy; how he adjusts to the adjustment might be fascinating to look at. However I feel he’ll be capable to deal with it; as I discussed earlier than, he has sense of the strike zone. Tilting his decision-making in the direction of swing aggression doesn’t imply he’ll out of the blue overlook what the zone appears to be like like.

All informed, I’m tremendously inspired by Suzuki’s latest surge. I attempt to not learn an excessive amount of into 100-ish PA samples; just about anybody can have a scorching month. However the way in which he’s doing it feels actual to me. This isn’t some fluke of sentimental line drives falling in in all places or grounders discovering holes within the infield. He’s simply pummeling the ball, and doing it in a approach that fits his sport. Pulling extra fastballs isn’t a cure-all for what ails hitters, and Suzuki’s turnaround is a good instance. For him, the way in which ahead was trickier than that, however that doesn’t make it much less of a terrific plan.

All statistics on this article are present by Saturday, September 9.



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