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The Eugenio Suarez Trade

After my initial negative reaction, I looked deeper.

Eugenio Suarez celebrates!
Eugenio Suarez celebrates!
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Introduction.

For years, third base has been an issue for the Diamondbacks. Last offseason, I wrote five articles about the Diamondbacks’ need for a better player at third base. Last season, the Diamondbacks platooned at third base. Whether the team improved at third base depends on the perspective.

Although Wins-Above-Average (WAA) at third base fell from positive 0.6 to negative 1.9 per Baseball Reference, team Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) at third base improved from negative 4 to positive 1 per The Fielding Bible. After their improvement the Diamondbacks DRS ranked 15th in the Majors (average).

For the season, innings at third base for each player follows:

  • 470 innings, Emmanuel Rivera
  • 359 innings, Josh Rojas
  • 300 innings, Evan Longoria
  • 212 innings, Jace Peterson
  • 43 innings, Buddy Kennedy
  • 42 innings, Geraldo Perdomo

My initial reaction to acquiring Eugenio Suarez was very negative for four reasons.

  • His defense at third base was below average per my preferred metric (negative 2 Defensive Runs Saved per The Fielding Bible).
  • His 214 strikeouts led the Majors, albeit that high strikeouts can be expected for a home run hitter.
  • Although the Diamondbacks could benefit from a home run hitter, last season his homers fell from 31 to 22. Because he is 32 years old, I worried that, instead of a slump, the drop could be a permanent drop (thinking of the aging curve).
  • The Diamondbacks traded away Seby Zavala. Writing his season review led me to believe that he would have been by far the best backup catcher option for the Diamondbacks. That review, with updates, will be posted on 30 November.

Let’s see how my opinion changed when I looked deeper.

Deeper Looks.

Defense. Although The Fielding Bible’s DRS was negative 2 in each of the last two seasons, two components showed reasons for optimism. His throwing improved from negative 3 to positive 8. His double play percentage increased from 50% to 57%.

Another measure of defense is Outs Above Average (OAA). Last season, Eugenio Suarez improved his OAA at third base from zero (ranking 19th in the Majors) to 11 (ranking 5th in the Majors). And further improvement is possible because the Diamondbacks emphasize defense and Mike Hazen said Eugenio Suarez is committed to improving his defense.

Home Runs. Last season, during his slump, his 52 barrels was only one less than the best on the team (Christian Walker)! Given his high exit velocity (EV) (90.3 MPH), his optimal launch angle is 20% per this FanGraphs article. Last season, although his average launch angle fell from 19.9 degrees to 18.9 degrees, his launch angle is close to optimal. One benefit of the slight fall in launch angle was an increase in line drive percent (20.7% to 25.1%). Because Chase Field has a less favorable home run park factor (84 vs 99), the increased line drives is a big positive.

Strikeouts.

Two negative perspectives follow:

  • Last season, Eugenio Suarez’s .238 whiffs per strike was the highest of the Diamondbacks except Carson Kelly and Kyle Lewis.
  • Last season, Eugenio Suarez’s contact % per strike (BIP and foul ball are contact) was the lowest of the Diamondbacks except Carson Kelly, Kyle Lewis, and Jordan Lawlar.

Two positive perspective changers follow:

  • Last season, Eugenio Suarez’s .327 ratio of walks-to-strikeouts was better than Lourdes Gurriel Jr’s .311 ratio. Last season, Lourdes Gurriel Jr’s batting made a tremendously positive impact.
  • Although strikeouts are negative, more important is On-Base-Percent (OBP). If OBP is high, there is less urgency to reduce strikeouts (although improvement is always good). If Eugenio Suarez had reached base 17 more times, then his OBP would be the best on the team. 17 more times is equivalent to 8% of his strikeouts being replaced by base hits or walks. Wow – what a perspective changer! A relatively small improvement in strikeouts would give Suarez, a power hitter, the highest OBP on the Diamondbacks.

Batting against Left-Handed Pitchers.

The Diamondbacks needed to acquire a great batter against left-handed pitching to replace Lourdes Gurriel Jr., who is now a free agent. Last season, when Eugenio Suarez’s batting slumped, Gurriel Jr. was better. On the optimistic side, looking at the average of the last two seasons, Eugenio Suarez was better against left-handed pitching. Averages against left-handed pitchers follow:

  • OPS, Suarez .827, Gurriel .743, league average vs LHP .726
  • SLG, Suarez .460, Gurriel .410, league average vs LHP .409

Batting with Runners-In-Scoring-Position (RISP).

His batting results were better with runners in scoring position per Baseball Savant. That is very positive:

  • BA was better, .277 vs .232
  • OBP was better, .376 vs .322
  • SLG was better, .405 vs .391
  • wOBA was better, .341 vs .313

His average launch angle with RISP was 15.9 degrees, which was lower than his season average of 18.9 degrees. Perhaps a lower launch angle was the reason that his line drive percent was higher (28.8% vs 25.1%).

He knows and owns his mental approach.

Eugenio Suarez has a consistent mental approach, no matter whether he is struggling or experiencing success. He knows his mental approach and he owns it. His approach reminded me of this book review.

“And one of my more important to me [tenets] is that I enjoy the game, you know, have good vibes and good energy. Show everybody who I am and yeah, that’s it. That’s pretty much myself.” — Eugenio Suarez, March 2023

Nevertheless, he has moments of exception, which may be a good thing.

“In the quiet of a mostly empty clubhouse, the normally ebullient Eugenio Suarez, who lives by the motto of ‘Good Vibes Only,’ could be heard angrily venting to his longtime teammate Jesse Winker, ‘I’m sick of (expletive) striking out.’” — Ryan Divish, August 2022

Summary.

My initial reaction was negative. A deeper look lessened three of my concerns (defense, home runs, and strikeouts). Nevertheless, I’m hopeful that Eugenio Suarez will improve his batting and defense during spring training. My only remaining concern is replacing Seby Zavala, the backup catcher who was traded away.

It is very positive that his batting results were better with RISP. I’m confident that he will continue his excellent hitting with RISP. And I very much appreciate his mental approach to baseball.