Seiya Suzuki Playing Like Cheat-Code Version of Rock Paper Scissors

Seiya Suzuki’s performance in the early going has been so incredible that writing about it is such low-hanging fruit I’m actually just picking up apples that have already fallen to the ground. I have inspected them for bruises and worms, though, so they should still be perfectly fine to eat. In any case, I want to go just a little deeper than simply marveling at the surface stats.

What is really impressive to me is how he’s putting up the numbers, namely by utilizing his incredible patience and athleticism to force MLB pitchers to adjust to him rather than the other way around. Even better, Suzuki is doing this without the use of scouting reports.

“I haven’t looked at it,” Suzuki told reporters on Monday when asked about how he uses all the advanced data the Cubs provide on opposing pitchers.

That said, it might still be possible to chalk what Suzuki has done in the early going up to little more than luck or those same opposing pitchers lacking a book on him. I tend to think the historic start that included a nine-game hit streak can’t possibly be a product of luck alone, though a little good fortune is necessary for just about any short-term success.

The trick is whether we’re talking about dumb luck or the more controllable confluence of preparation and opportunity.

It’s most definitely the latter in Suzuki’s case due to the huge helping of elite skill he brings to the party. After all, a higher talent level is going to produce far more opportunities and will allow a player to better take advantage of them. Suzuki has top-line power and speed to go along with his patience, which speaks to his ability to sustain a high output over a prolonged period. While some of the production will have to drop off, it should be a natural grade rather than a cliff.

Suzuki is putting up a .414/.581/.897 slash because he is among the league leaders when it comes to quality of contact. He squares the ball up as well as anyone, with Statcast placing his 14% barrel-per-plate appearance rate third in MLB behind only Aaron Judge (15.2%) and Giancarlo Stanton (17.8%). When you look at barrels per batted-ball event, Suzuki’s 28.6% tops those aforementioned sluggers for best in baseball.

In a fun coincidence, Suzuki’s average sprint speed of 28.6 feet per second ranks 12th in MLB and first among right fielders. Those fleet feet help him on the bases and in the field, even if they do lead to him over-sliding the bag at second.

Image via Baseball Savant

Put it all together and the man is a walking game of Rock Paper Scissors, except that he has the ability to see what someone else throws first and then react to it accordingly. People worried that he couldn’t handle MLB velocity, but he quickly adjusted to that. Different strike zone and/or not getting calls as a rookie? No problem. Bigger fields? Funky weather conditions? Language barrier? Check, check, check.

It’s not just a matter of what Suzuki is doing, though leading MLB with 1.1 fWAR is pretty cool. The best part is that how he’s doing it is indicative of his ability to continue growing and adjusting over time. Not only is he still right in the heart of his athletic prime — he’ll turn 28 in August — but his complementary skills mean that struggling in one area won’t deflate his entire game.

“He’s the best player that I’ve ever played with, to be honest,” Willson Contreras told reporters after Tuesday’s loss. “His plate discipline is insane. “Everything that he does on the field, the way he takes care of himself on and off the field is amazing.”

Even as someone who was campaigning to be the president of his fan club from the time it was first reported that he might be posted, I have to say I’m blown away by just how good Suzuki has been. Then I start to think about how he could very possibly get better over the next five years and it’s almost enough to get me to pay face value for a Cubs ticket.

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