Our offseason player review series continues today with Kurt Suzuki, who continued to hit for average, but struggled to hit for power while continuing to struggle throwing out runners.
PLAYER REVIEW: KURT SUZUKI
Age on opening day 2021: 37
How acquired: Signed as free agent, November 2018
MLB service time: 13 years, 113 days
2020 salary: $6 million (prorated $2,222,222)
Contract status: Free agent
2020 stats: 33 G, 129 PA, 111 AB, 15 R, 30 H, 8 2B, 0 3B, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 1 SB, 0 CS, 11 BB, 19 SO, .270 AVG, .349 OBP, .396 SLG, .745 OPS, 99 OPS+, -4 DRS, 0.0 fWAR, 0.1 bWAR
Quotable: “He’s really a hot mess right now. He goes in the training room and he has ice everywhere. But he loves to play the game. He loves to be out there. It takes a lot for him to come out of the game.” – Manager Davey Martinez on Sept. 7 after a string of foul balls struck Suzuki
2020 analysis: The Nationals had every reason to expect a similar performance from Suzuki this year that they saw last year: solid power when he got a chance to pull a fastball, some clutch hits and a lot of stolen bases off his arm. And in many ways, the veteran catcher’s season was pretty typical by his standards – with one notable exception: He didn’t hit for power.
After clubbing 17 homers in 309 plate appearances in 2019, Suzuki hit only two in 129 plate appearances in 2020. What changed? Pitchers threw a few less fastballs and a few more breaking balls to him, but that wasn’t the difference. The difference was that he simply didn’t hit many fastballs hard, possibly because he was late on them. His slugging percentage on heaters went down from .530 to .431, his pull percentage went down from 50.2 percent to 43.2 percent. Of the 95 balls Suzuki put in play, only three met the standard to be considered “barreled up.”
Behind the plate, Suzuki looked like his usual self. He worked mostly with Max Scherzer and Aníbal Sánchez, with only a few starts alongside Erick Fedde, Austin Voth and others. And his throwing woes again were considerable. He threw out only five of 33 basestealers, and two of those five came in one late September start by Sánchez.
2021 outlook: The Nationals signed Suzuki for two years and $10 million, and they got exactly what they wanted to get from the veteran catcher. Now they have to decide if they want to try to get more from him, or if they’re ready to move on.
Though he just turned 37, Suzuki’s actually in good physical shape for a catcher. He takes a beating behind the plate, but he rarely has to come out of a game. He’s not a gross liability on the bases. And he still hits pretty well.
The drop in power production this season could be a concern, or it could just be a weird one-off during a weird, 60-game season. The greater concern is the same thing that’s been the biggest concern about Suzuki since he came to D.C.: his arm. It definitely cost the Nationals games over the last two years.
Given Martinez’s stated desire to improve the majors’ worst defense in 2021, and given Suzuki’s advanced age, it feels like the Nats will be ready to part ways and look for a new catcher. But if they can’t land their primary targets, and if Suzuki is still available as the winter plays out, it’s not 100 percent out of the question he could find his way back here next season.