“We wanted to add some leadership to help the pitching staff,” Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony said in March. “We went out and got some starting pitching, but we also wanted somebody to help them on defense. With Joe [Mauer] moving to first, we were willing to sacrifice some offense for defense.”
So far this year, the leadership with the staff has not manifested into success in the rotation but, more surprising, is the fact that Suzuki has outhit the catcher emeritus.
Coming into the season Suzuki had a .253/.309/.375 (average/on-base/slugging) career line. While the 74 plate appearances this season are nothing to base any accurate assessment on, it should be noted that he is hitting an unexpectedly robust .305/.397/.407 and his performance has been largely overshadowed by the production of players like Chris Colabello, Trevor Plouffe, Jason Kubel and Josmil Pinto. But with nearly a month in the books, this is starting to deserve attention.
Under most circumstances this sort of spike would scream small sample size success ripe for regression -- after all, Suzuki’s career rates do not point to sustainability at this level. While there is likely regression in the future, Suzuki has made some adjustments at the plate that may stave off the decline.
Below are two clips of Suzuki’s mechanics from 2013 with the Washington Nationals and this year with the Twins:
The thing that should jump out is the stride and front-foot landing. With the Nationals Suzuki’s front foot would land almost straight at the pitcher. This year’s version has Suzuki landing with a closed front-side, having his front side aiming towards the second baseman and his foot strike closer to the plate.
For Suzuki, an already above-average contact machine with good strike zone comprehension, this approach has greatly improved his coverage. According to ESPN/TruMedia’s data, from the beginning of 2012 until his trade to Oakland, Suzuki hit just .220/.270/.270 with a 17% swing-and-miss rate when being pitched away. Since then, he has posted a solid .308/.373/.423 with a 10% swing-and-miss rate on those same type of pitches. He also jumped from an 18% line drive rate to 27% line drive rate suggesting that the contact was superior as well.
In addition to the success when being pitched away, Suzuki is seeing strong production on pitches up in the zone, another area he has struggled with in the past. Again, from 2012 until his trade to the Athletics, he hit .153/.279/.193 with a 16% swing-and-miss rate. Post-A’s trade, Suzuki has been hitting .414/.500/.483 with a 4% swing-and-miss rate on pitches up in the zone.
These are both positive signs that Suzuki’s adjustment has been the source of his unexpected offensive numbers and not just a small sample size fluke. That being said, it is a small sample size and that fact cannot be ignored. Whatever the Twins can get out of Suzuki offensively that goes above and beyond the previous expectations is gravy.
Now about that leadership for the starting rotation...