There isn’t another Cubs player who draws nearly as much undeserved criticism as Seiya Suzuki, and I don’t think the gap between him and whoever’s second is even close. To be fair, hitting four homers in the last four days has elevated his wRC+ from 104 to 134 in just 17 plate appearances. Even if hindsight makes a lot of the early rabble seem even sillier than it was at the time, however, the peripherals suggested all along that Suzuki would be just fine.
Let’s start with offense, which is the most obvious aspect of the right fielder’s overall production. Also obvious is the recent power surge that was highlighted by hitting homers in three consecutive plate appearances, making him the first Japanese-born player ever to accomplish that feat. He’s been hitting the ball hard since he came back from the oblique injury that cost him all of spring training, it was just a matter of finding his rhythm.
That injury wasn’t the genesis of the critical comments, though it did give detractors a new rock to throw. Suzuki shouldn’t have bulked up, they said, too much muscle mass just leads to problems. I won’t get into explaining here that correlation and causation are not the same thing because it probably won’t convince any stubborn horses to drink and the results don’t change either way.
Suzuki had a very limited period to prepare for big league pitching and, despite homering in his first game back, it was clear that he wasn’t where he needed to be in April. That debut homer was his only one in 66 PAs that month as he grinded out a 97 wRC+ and .315 wOBA. Things started to tick up in May, when he posted a 115 wRC+ with a .343 wOBA over his first 46 PAs despite not hitting another homer.
Then came the last four games, which are less aberration and more a matter of putting things together to get the ball in the air a bit more.
“I’m feeling pretty well in terms of how I am at the plate right now,” Suzuki told reporters through interpreter Toy Matsushita. “Timing-wise, it’s kind of more of, when I feel good. There’s times I don’t feel good, but I feel like I’m seeing the ball pretty well right now.”
This isn’t to suggest Suzuki will average one dinger per game moving forward, only that his underlying metrics indicate he’s made serious improvements across the board. Not only is he hitting the ball much harder, he’s also striking out less while drawing more walks. And his timing isn’t just confined to what he’s doing at the plate, as we see from the absurd increases in his outs above average and outfield jumps (per Statcast).
Interestingly enough, Suzuki credits increased familiarity with MLB velocity for his defensive adjustments. Makes sense when you think about it in terms of the game’s overall speed being greater at this level than it was over in Japan, where he captured several Gold Gloves. It’s almost like he’s a really good player who just needed a little more runway to get off the ground.
None of this will stop the foolish takes about how Suzuki is actually bad or how he’s simply a Kosuke Fukudome redux, but my sincere hope is that continued big production will turn the volume down on the peanut gallery.