Nationals Baseball: Kurt Suzuki - Past and Future Nat

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Kurt Suzuki - Past and Future Nat

Kurt Suzuki was signed yesterday to play catcher. This comes as a mild surprise because Rizzo had been adamant before that he wanted a frontline catcher who could start 120 games.  Suzuki is not that. He hasn't played over 100 games at catcher since 2015 and that year the effort seemed to tire out his usual decent bat.

What is Suzuki? He's a guy who will play about a half-season at catcher. A platooner. You can be very negative about the guy. His defense is fair. His arm is poor. His framing is among the worst regulars in the league. He's very slow. He turned 35 a month or so ago.

So why sign him? Because even with all that - he's got value. He can hit and most catchers can't (see: Nats C - all). He is a contact hitter who, while he rarely walks, doesn't strike out much either. He gets good contact - and has revamped his hitting in the "launch angle" era to hit more fly balls. This has led to an increase in power (fluky in 2017, more reasonable last year) and almost as important fewer GIDP. He'll lean into a pitch to get on base mitigating some of the low walk rate. If we just look at last year (to skip the fluky 2017) he was one of only 7 or so catchers with any real offensive value.*  When he plays he's one of the better catchers in baseball overall.

This is still a curious move because of the above comments. The Nats didn't sign Suzuki to sit. He will play. But he'll almost certainly only play 100-110 games behind the plate. So what happens in the other ~60 games? Severino CAN NOT HIT. Kieboom is not much better. Do they sign someone to platoon with Suzuki? Well that would mean a LHB and that seemingly would mean McCann. But McCann is barely a catcher anymore and didn't have a year last year that would inspire any confidence in him. Could they trade for a good catching prospect and start him? I'm not sure who'd this be? One of the Dodgers guys? In my head I'm working out some sort of Strasburg/Kieboom/.Hedges/Tatis Padres deal but that's nonsense.

If you twist my arm I'll say I suppose Raudy Read is ready for his turn. They like his defense** and unlike Pedro Severino and Lesser Kieboom he has a bit of pop. But he could easily fail and you are handing him 40% of a season. That's not the move a contender makes unless they are pretty confident across the board. Are you confident right now?

This isn't a bad signing but it's a perplexing one that will hopefully make sense as the rest of the puzzle pieces fill in. The Nats expressed that they needed a good full-time starting catcher. Even though they are rare - two are available right now. Yet instead they rush to sign a good part-time catcher. Let's hope whatever else they do makes this make sense.


*This is why the Marlins won't budge on Realmuto's asking price. He is the best catcher. Age, cost, and offense.  His defense is fine.   He's the surest thing out there and if you don't have him or one of these other half dozen you have crap you are hoping won't hurt you too much.  

**Honestly - outsider of a catcher who is an offensive monster have you ever heard anyone say they didn't like a minor league catcher's defense? 

23 comments:

PotomacFan said...

The Suzuki signing might be a "safety net" move, while the Nats keep the door open to trying to sign a better catcher. If the Nats can sign a better catcher at a reasonable price, they could almost certainly "trade" Suzuki -- basically, send him to another team at the same salary for a PTBNL or a bag of (used) baseballs. In the meantime, the Nats have lots of moving parts as they look to sign a starting pitcher, and Rendon and/or Harper. After they make the big moves, they will be better able to assess their 2019 budget.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, all I read here was: "he doesn't strike out a lot." As a hitter, its the worst thing you can do regardless of the situation. So he doesn't do that bad thing very often? Fine by me, put the ball in play and things happen. Good signing.

DezoPenguin said...

Interesting article by Jeff Sullivan at Fangraphs about Suzuki. ( https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/instagraphs/the-nationals-are-signing-a-new-kurt-suzuki/ ) This signing is looking less and less like "settling for a fill-in" and "hey, this guy is actually pretty good!" Durability--whether age-related or otherwise--seems to be the big issue, as expecting him to catch 120 games seems very unlikely, but two of him basically add up to one Realmuto, bad framing included. Now we just need the Tyler Flowers to pair him with (though I wonder if there's something to Kieboom's splits that might make a straight platoon worthwhile? Catching platoons seem to split along the lines of "Pitchers X and Y prefer this one guy; pitcher Z prefers the other guy; Pitchers A and B don't care" more often than just which hand the opposing pitcher throws with.

Ole PBN said...

I see this as a potential flip for something else. Perhaps they inquired about Grandal and the price was too steep, but still willing to negotiate as the offseason unfolds. Might as well get Suzuki now while he's available (and at a fair price). If they had waited out on Grandal, didn't get him, and then look at what's left, we'd be standing there with our pants around our ankles. I'm not upset by this one bit. It's the same logic I don't want them chasing Bryce into February.

G Cracka X said...

@Dezo yes, that was a good Suzuki article. Also, one of the commenters mentioned that 'Zuk uses an 'axe bat'. That was interesting to learn about.

Also, doesn't it seem like McCann IS the perfect platoon partner here? He's coming off a down year, and is almost 35, so you ought to be able to sign him for cheap. He's projected by Depth Charts and Steamer for 1.2 WAR in about half a season's worth of games. So he could catch a 1/2 season, and Suzuki the other half. Save money for pitching!

Jay said...

I think what they do at other spots of need is the key. I don't think they are going to sign or trade for a big name at catcher with Suzuki. I think they either sign another part time catcher or just platoon with what they have. If they then use some of that saved money to get another starting pitcher or relief arm, then it's a great move. It already sounds like they aren't going to get a big name 2b, though they might sign someone for one year if still available later in the offseason. Sounds like they are figuring Carter Kieboom or Luis Garcia (I think that is his name) are going to be at 2b sooner than later.

SuburbanSteve said...

What Jay said...and I think with budget restraints on Rizzo, they just platoon with whoever wins that spot in Spring Training of the C they have (my bet is on them giving Read a go), and save that $$ for a good starting pitcher (my guess is Keuchel)!

blovy8 said...

Best case scenario is getting a legit future starting player or else, who cares? A modicum of better. It solves nothing. My sense is that this is a precursor to another deal. KS playe half the time, and less going forward.

SM said...

Read. Raudy Read. I like my PEDs shaken, not stirred.

Like Suzuki, he bats right, so he's not a true platoon hitter. He's small (6 feet tall, 170 pounds); doesn't get on base much (.310 OBP in 8 minor league seasons); and whatever pop he's displayed is distorted by that "magical" season in Harrisburg (almost 31% of his career HRs)that led to his suspension.

Either Raudy needs better masking drugs or he needs to improve in a hurry this winter if he expects to make the Nats' 25-man roster in 2019.

blovy8 said...

Also, I'm not so cure that there's a tight budget for the Nats anymore. No one had mad more roster moves this offseason. Very subtly aggressive.

blovy8 said...

SOB. as long as I don't have an edit, I must accept being dumber.

Jay said...

I agree with blovy on the fact that they should have more room to spend this offseason. However, Mark Lerner is running the team now and not good old Ted. They did not bring Bob Miller back as assistant GM. That may have been done as a warning shot to Rizzo to do better. However, it may have been a cost cutting move. Also, they traded away a bunch of people in September but did not get under the luxury tax limit. That makes zero sense to me. If you are not below the luxury tax limit then why trade those players away for virtually nothing?

Anyway, I am hopeful that they will spend up to the luxury tax limit. I expect that they will. Honestly, hopefully they sign either Rendon or Harper long term and even go over the luxury tax limit. It'll be an interesting offseason.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps they traded those players away because they had no intention of re-signing them in the offseason? Better to get something than nothing, even if that "nothing" is some random minor league players.

DezoPenguin said...

@ Anon: Yeah, I don't think the purging last year was about trying to get under the luxury tax limit so much as it was trying to get some value out of people that we weren't going to have back (Gio, Adams, Murphy, Madson), or were being booted off the team for other reasons (Kelley, probably Kintzler). While the timing on some of those decisions was kind of shaky (probably owing to the FO and ownership not being sure whether the season was lost or not), I don't really think any of them were about money except as a peripheral "we save a million here, a million there as a side benefit" way.

Another nice benefit of Suzuki is that he basically has no platoon splits, so regardless of his own handedness he could platoon with anybody else. (Kieboom, for example, had pretty strong splits last year; against lefties he was adequate--heck, even good for a catcher, though with .321 BABIP--though a small sample size warning applies as it was only 36 PA, while against righties he stank on ice. So a Suzuki/Kieboom platoon with Suzuki the strong side might work as a not-awful Plan B.)

Froggy said...

Catcher: Suzuki and Kieboom. Check.

Next, and more important topic: How about the absolutely terrible beer selection at the park. And who the F needs a 23 oz can of beer anyway?

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper: you’re sort of ignoring two possibilities, which are....
1. maybe Rizzo plans on asking Suzuki to be a 120 game catcher and believes he is good enough to do so. Here’s the thing: the evidence suggests he IS good enough to do so and be solid enough. It’s not like he hasn’t played 120 games due to performing poorly or getting hurt in the last few years. He didn’t play 120 games the last two years because the Braves simply had the luxury of having not one but TWO starter-level catchers. (And before that he simply wasn’t the same offensive player.) Suzuki put up a wRC+ of 108 last year in 105 games. Are you saying somebody who does that can’t be a (roughly) average bat over 115-120 games? Like a wRC+ of 95 over that many games, I.e. great value at the C position?
2. Maybe Suzuki ISNT the frontline catcher Rizzo was referring to. Maybe Suzuki, now 35, is intended to be the best backup in the majors at C and Rizzo is sick to stomach of seeing zero depth at C kill the Nats and is thinking of signing a Ramos as the starter, knowing that Ramos gets hurt a lot. You might suggest that’s too much money to invest at C, but why? Signing Ramos at say 15 a year and Suzuki at 5 a year will end up being the same as signing Grandal....right? But would cover 162 games. I wouldn’t object to a “I don’t want Keiboom catching a single game...I want Wilson Ramos or Kurt Suzuki catching every game for the next couple years for the equivalent of Grandal money and less of a long term commitment” approach. (Just to be clear....this approach does NOT leave space for a Bryce signing....but perhaps they’ve moved on mentally.)

BxJaycobb said...

And in some ways the Suzuki signing is the ultimate “this move works whether or not Bryce comes to us in a month” move. If he does, Suzuki is your starting catcher, you sign a Happ type, and that’s it. If he doesn’t, maybe you can afford a Keuchel/Corbin and a Ramos.

BxJaycobb said...

@Harper. But more than anything, my point is this....your post is underrating how good Suzuki has become. Over the last two years, this guy has a better wRC+ than Gary Sanchez, J.T. Realmuto, or Wilson Contreras. It’s like 4 points away from being best among catchers. The most likely explanation/way to reconcile this move with Rizzo’s statement is simply that Rizzo thinks he is good enough to play 120 games and IS a frontline catcher. No?

ssln said...

Harper

You need to get better posters on this site. I explained to everyone that Rizzo's purpose in trading those Nats was to infect the NL contenders with the disease that afflicts the Nats in every post season. That was not some joke. I was dead serious. Ryan Madson to LA. You want more proof? Call any Dodger fan and ask why they lost the series.
Every one is over analyzing the situation. Suz is fine. Bryce is gone and we are lucky to be in that position. Soto will put up Bryce numbers on a rookie contract. I heard we have a guy named Robles who is considered a pretty good prospect. We shall see.
Here is a prediction. Rizzo signs a number 3 & a 5 to shore up the rotation and a utility guy who can play second and the outfield. Oh, we already have Kendrick to fill that role giving us money to sign Tony two bags or a surprise move if Tony wants to leave the money on the table.
long off season folks, just relax and let it play out.

NotBobby said...

Just hoping Beltre's retirement means Rangers find long term 3b this offseason this taking both Texas teams from Rendon!

blovy8 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
blovy8 said...

ssln, so you get to predict things but we have to "let it play out". Bah!

Suzuki's got an .890 ops against the Nats, but despite that home park, hes been much better for Oakland, Minnesota and Atlanta. I'm predicting return of Livo levels of disappointment, while admittedly somehow being kinda ok watching a guy do what he so clearly enjoys.

Unknown said...

You better hope he doesn't get caught for Steroids or PED's. Just looking at his stats its clear this guy is on something. You don't have the 2 best offensive years of your career hat 33 and 34. Nearly statistically impossible