Seiya Suzuki: The Next Big Thing in MLB?
Recently, news has been circulating all around the Internet that Hiroshima Toyo Carp outfielder Seiya Suzuki is preparing to leave Japan to start the next chapter of his career in Major League Baseball. The 27-year-old has been one of Nippon Professional Baseball's best position players for several years, as we'll soon get into, with some scouts comparing him to guys like Ryan Braun, Ronald Acuña Jr., and Hideki Matsui. So, as you can imagine, if he does decide to make the massive leap over the Pacific Ocean, Suzuki will be one of the most coveted free agents this offseason.
Suzuki started his ascent up the Japanese baseball ladder in 2012, when he was drafted in the 2nd round of the NPB Draft, just a little while after the Nippon Ham Fighters selected Shohei Ohtani with the first overall pick. After being selected, Suzuki would spend the next few years developing from a young infield prospect into a more experienced outfielder.
Fast forward a few years to 2016, and Suzuki was in the midst of his breakout season. The then 22-year-old posted a phenomenal .335/.404/.612 slash line (batting average/on base/slugging %), 29 home runs, 34 other extra base hits, 285 total bases, and 16 stolen bases. He was rewarded for his strong play by the league as he was voted onto his first All Star team and later received both a Central League Golden Glove as well as a Best Nine Award. (Side Note: The Best Nine Award is the NPB's equivalent to the MLB's Silver Slugger, which is awarded to the best hitter at each position.) He capped off the season by leading his team to their first Pennant win since 1991, and their first of three in a row.
Over the next several years, Suzuki continued his strong play and developed into one of the league's most dynamic all-around five tool players. From 2016 on, he would win a plethora of different awards including:
5 NPB All Star team selections (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021)
4 Best Nine Awards (Outfielder)* (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)
3 Central League Golden Gloves (Outfielder)* (2016, 2017, 2019)
3 Central League Pennants w/ Hiroshima Toyo Carp (2016, 2017, 2018)
1 Central League Batting Title
1 Central League On Base Percentage Title
(Note: * means that the NPB hasn't awarded these in 2021 as of writing)
If that wasn't impressive enough, Suzuki was also a part of two title winning clubs for his native Japan. He was the crown jewel for the team that defeated South Korea in the finals of the 2019 WBSC Premier12 tournament. Not only did his team win the gold medal, but Suzuki was listed on the "All-World Team" and won the competition's MVP after hitting .478 over eight games. Additionally, Suzuki was also a member of the Japanese National Team that won the Gold Medal in the 2020 Summer Olympics, defeating the United States in the final. Another guy who was on that team was former Long Story Sport blog post recipient Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
All of this brings us to this season, which could potentially be Suzuki's final campaign in the NPB. Over 132 games played, he finished with a .317/.433/.639 slash line, 38 home runs, 26 additional extra base hits (all doubles), 278 total bases, and only one more strikeout (88) than walk (87). All of this added with his play in the field combined to give him a league leading 8.7 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) for the season. To put that into perspective, if Suzuki had finished the 2021 season in MLB with a 8.7 bWAR (WAR as calculated by Baseball Reference), he would have had the second highest in the league behind, as fate would have it, Shohei Ohtani. So if he played in the National League in 2021 and finished with the same WAR he did in the NPB this season, he would have probably won the MVP.
Now here's the million dollar question I'm sure all of you are asking right now: Is Seiya Suzuki going to be a success when he finalizes a move to the Majors? In a word, I'd say that YES he will. And for proof, here are a few things that I most like about his game.
First of all, Suzuki has shown excellent plate discipline over the brunt of his career. In 2021, he finished the year with a 16.3% walk rate, which would have placed him fourth in the Majors behind only Bryce Harper, Joey Gallo, and Juan Soto. Additionally, his strikeout rate (16.5%) isn't too much higher than his walk rate and is perfectly fine for a major league hitter. The point is that Suzuki has a good eye, and a good eye doesn't just disappear depending on what league you play in.
Another aspect to Suzuki's game that impresses me is his power hitting ability. One metric that is used to adequately quantify how powerful a player's hitting is is called Isolated Power, or ISO. To find a player's ISO, you simply take their slugging percentage and subtract their batting average. If we do this to Suzuki's slugging in 2021 (.639) and his average (.317), we'll find that his ISO is an astonishing .322, which would put him third in the league behind only Fernando Tatis Jr. and that Shohei Ohtani guy.
One final stat I like to use is one I previously explained in my Johan Santana blog post from over a year ago, Batting Average on Balls in Play or BABIP. This stat finds a player's batting average from only balls that are left in play, meaning we take a player's original batting average and take out any result that isn't dictated by an opposing defense. To find someone's BABIP, use the following formula:
(Hits - Home Runs)/(At Bats - Strikeouts - Home Runs + Sacrifice Flies)
MLB.com posits that an average player's BABIP will fall somewhere around .300. So if we plug in all the useful information from Suzuki's 2021 season, we'll calculate that his BABIP was .318, which would place him 46th in the league and above players like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Whit Merrifield, Rafael Devers, and once again... Shohei Ohtani.
I could go on forever comparing his numbers with those of players in the MLB all day, but I think those three statistical impressions are solid enough to illustrate that Seiya Suzuki is one to watch out for in 2022. It's safe to say that with the Japan Series almost upon us and the NPB season almost wrapped up, we will soon receive word that Suzuki will be posted as a free agent. And while the price could be steep for the 27-year-old, I feel that the reward could be well worth the risk. This player has the bones to be a solid addition to any lineup in the MLB come next season, and so I'm looking forward to the fun bidding war to commence this winter.
If there are more players in the Japanese NPB or the Korean KBO who you want to see spotlighted on this blog, please let me know on any of my socials or at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I'll give him a look!
I'll leave you with some highlights. Enjoy!
Special thanks to WhoScored, Transfermarkt, Baseball Reference, Baseball Savant, and Fangraphs for helping make me a more well informed fan. I also want to thank everyone who helped make my Yoshinobu Yamamoto article my most read by far, as that's a key reason as to why I decided to write about Seiya Suzuki!
For more information on Suzuki, check out these deep dives from Prospects Live and Border Fuel Sports. Featured Image Credit - KYODO via The Japan Times
Video Credit - @mikemayer22 on Twitter
Contact me at AndrewSoS@protonmail.com if you'd like to write for Long Story Sport or if you have any general requests, questions, or comments.
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