Cubs News

Seiya Suzuki showing Cubs he is ‘that guy’

1 month agoTony Andracki

Throughout his first 2 years in the big leagues, Seiya Suzuki has had plenty of stretches where he teased his immense potential.

Like the last 2 months of 2023, when he was one of the best hitters in the game, slashing .350/.406/.667 (1.073 OPS) with 12 homers and 39 RBI in 50 games.

But in the 4 months prior to August, Suzuki had put up an underwhelming .249/.330/.383 line (.713 OPS). He had more homers and RBI (12, 39) in the 50-game stretch in August and September than he had in the first 4 months of the season (8, 35).

Or there was 2022, when he started his MLB career off with a .333/.458/.632 slash line (1.090 OPS) in his first 18 games. He hit .250 with a .713 OPS the rest of the way that year (93 games).

That has prompted the question: What type of player could Suzuki be if he put it all together for a full year?

He might be on the path toward answering that question. Entering play Friday, Suzuki is slashing .298/.375/.489 and his 12 RBI lead the Cubs and rank 9th in MLB.

And the peripheral numbers underscore his hot start with stellar hard-hit metrics: He sits in the 94th percentile among all MLB hitters with 95.2 mph average exit velocity, which ranks 15th among all qualified hitters. 

His Statcast page is a veritable cornucopia of red as he also ranks in the 98th percentile in MLB in Batting Run Value after finishing in the 65th percentile last season.

2024 represents Suzuki’s 3rd year in the majors and it brings a lot more comfort and familiarity with big-league pitching and how opposing teams are trying to attack him.

“I think a big part of it, that’s the reason — a comfort level,” Craig Counsell said. “Seiya was a big producer in Japan and he got that stretch of time here in the big leagues where he was producing big last year.

“And I think it just gives him confidence that, ‘that’s who I am. I am that guy.’ And he has started out the season showing us he was that guy.”

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While it’s only a small sample size this season, the encouraging sign for Suzuki is that it’s a carryover effect.

Between the final stretch of 2023 and a red-hot turn in Cactus League play this spring, Suzuki has consistently been a top-tier hitter for his last 4 months on a baseball field.

“I think just the comfort level went way up last year,” Counsell said. “And I think it bore out in the numbers that he produced over the second half of last season and that’s the player we saw in Spring Training. I think that’s the player we’ve seen the first [stretch] of the year so that’s a great sign for us.

“But really, to me, it’s a player that’s just felt comfortable with the league, what he’s going to see in the batter’s box, gaining confidence and his ability to do something with that.”

One factor working against Suzuki in the past has been his health, as he missed more than a month in 2022 with a finger injury and began last season on the IL with an oblique injury.

This was his also first normal Spring Training, as the oblique injury cut his time short last year and 2022 was a weird spring after the lockout ended in early March.

So he entered 2024 in the best spot he has ever been coming into a season. Despite the hot start, he understands the need to keep it going all season.

“I don’t really try to overthink too much about where I’m at in terms of how I feel,” Suzuki said via interpreter Toy Matsushita. “It’s just about taking it one game at a time, one at-bat at a time and focusing and just try to contribute to the team’s win.”

As manager of the Brewers during Suzuki’s first 2 big-league seasons, Counsell saw a lot of the Cubs right fielder.

But now being around him every day, Counsell has been struck by Suzuki’s strength. However, he is not surprised that Suzuki is off to such a great start.

“It’s just a good hitter,” Counsell said. “It’s a good baseball swing. It’s good pitch recognition. It’s the ability to hit the ball super hard.

“Those are the traits of the best hitters. That’s what you’ve seen about Seiya — it’s just kind of ticked up a little bit in each category.”

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