Why We Missed: Kurt Suzuki

The Hot Stove Season has not really begun in earnest yet, but with the Nationals reaching an agreement with Kurt Suzuki on a two-year deal on Monday morning, we have our first fantasy-relevant player movement since the five-player swap between the Mariners and Rays back on Nov. 8. The move could bode well for Suzuki’s value in 2019, as he currently has less competition for playing time in Washington than he did in Atlanta. Reportedly, his deal will pay him $10 million over the two years, so it is conceivable that the Nationals could have the resources to dip back into the catcher market for more help.

The presence of Tyler Flowers in Atlanta probably has much to do with why we fantasy owners didn’t pay Suzuki much mind in drafts this past year. He was coming off a 2017 campaign in which he smashed a career-high 19 home runs, and his .283 batting average marked only the second time in his eight most recent seasons that he hit above .260. Even though Suzuki started only 71 games for the Braves that year, he finished ninth in Roto value among catchers, according to ESPN’s Player Rater. Despite all of that, Suzuki was typically selected outside of the top 250 players overall in NFBC and ESPN leagues. With he and Flowers slated to work as a tandem again in 2018, it seemed like a long shot that Suzuki would perform like a No. 1 fantasy catcher for a second straight season.

Yet he did. Suzuki matched his ninth-place ranking in Roto value, even though he experienced some regression, just as many owners were surely expecting. Despite receiving 79 more plate appearances in 2018 than he did in 2017, Suzuki hit only 12 home runs, and he merely tied his previous season’s total of 50 RBIs. Even as weak as the catcher position was this season, there were 11 other catchers who met or exceeded Suzuki’s total of a dozen homers, and 21 players at the position reached double digits in home runs. However, of those 21 catchers, only four — J.T. Realmuto, Wilson Ramos, Suzuki and Elias Diaz — batted at least .270.

Even if Suzuki plateaus in terms of power and run production, if he can come close to this season’s .271 batting average, he has a good chance to repeat as a top-10 catcher. That would appear to be a safe assumption, given that he has been consistent as a .270-plus hitter since switching to an Axe Bat in June 2016, when he was still with the Twins. In terms of power, his 2017 season was an outlier, but for more than two-and-a-half seasons, his HR/FB ratio has been far better than the sub-5.0 percent marks that he established as a norm beginning in 2012. Suzuki has also hewed closely to his career strikeout rate of 11.7 percent.

Kurt Suzuki Stats, June 2016-Sept. 2018
Time Period Avg K% Iso HR/FB
June-Sept. 2016 0.276 11.8% 0.171 8.0%
2017 0.283 12.6% 0.254 17.1%
2018 0.271 11.1% 0.173 9.4%

If we undervalued Suzuki going into 2018 due to concerns about playing time and his ability to hit for power, we should have more confidence in him as we approach 2019. Unless the Nationals make another move to address their catching situation, Suzuki has little to fear from Pedro Severino, Spencer Kieboom and Raudy Read as threats to his playing time. If he continues to be as durable as he has been over the years, he could exceed 400 plate appearances for the first time since 2015.

While Suzuki could see some slight erosion to his power numbers, as he is firmly in the decline phase of his career chronologically, there is no reason to think he can’t hit at least 10 homers. He is moving to a new home park (Nationals Park) that has been more amenable to home runs for right-handed hitters than SunTrust Park has been. Also, Suzuki may have been robbed of a couple of homers in 2018. According to xStats, his xHR for this season was 14.2, and his high drive and flyball rates were nearly identical to the ones he put up in 2017. It is still probably best to project Suzuki for 10-to-12 home runs, but in considering the range of possible outcomes, it is not unreasonable to think he just might rebound to the 14-to-16 range.

Steamer projects Suzuki to lose playing (304 plate appearances) and to strike out at his highest rate in seven years (13.6 percent). That leaves him with a projection of a .256 batting average and nine home runs. Given his new situation with the Nationals, expectations could be a little higher than those reflected in that projection. If they aren’t, Suzuki could be one of the biggest catching bargains for a third season in a row.

Al Melchior has been writing about Fantasy baseball and sim games since 2000, and his work has appeared at CBSSports.com, BaseballHQ, Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster and FanRagSports. He has also participated in Tout Wars' mixed auction league since 2013. You can follow Al on Twitter @almelchiorbb and find more of his work at almelchior.com.

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