Like a novelist nearing his deadline, the writers behind Major League Baseball’s offseason must tie up many loose ends in a short amount of time once the owner-imposed lockdown is lifted. It was at this point that the major unsolved storylines would come to an end: the free agencies of Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, and Clayton Kershaw; the dismantling of the Oakland Athletics; and the arrival of Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who CBS Sports ranks as the 15th-best free agent this winter.
Suzuki, 27, is in limbo. His 30-day trial window (which began when Nippon Professional Baseball’s Hiroshima Toyo Carp “posted” him on the MLB consideration) will remain paused while the suspension lasts. Suzuki and his agent decided against signing before the break, and he didn’t move in a recent TV appearance alongside former big league relive Koji Uehara — even when Uehara urged him to sign with the Boston Red Sox.
To most American fans, Suzuki is a mysterious man beyond what is chronicled on his baseball reference page. He’s a career .309/.402/.541 hitter who has hit 189 home runs and stole 102 bases. He first appeared on these pages in June 2020 when CBS Sports highlighted him as one of the top NPB players worth watching:
Suzuki has a well-rounded game. He has one of the keenest eyesight in the league and has hit 25 home runs in each of the last four seasons. Defensively, he has a strong arm that is reminiscent of serving as a youth. As of 2017, he has 24 assists; For comparison, Bryce Harper led major league right fielders in this category last season, and he has 22 assists over the same period.
Soon, Suzuki will be tasked with ending a recent drought that has resulted in Japanese positioners failing to make it to the majors. With the exception of Shohei Ohtani (the ultimate outlier in many ways), MLB teams have played and lost to Yoshi Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama in recent years to create a smooth transition. Reviewers believe Suzuki’s momentum and overall game translates more readily to the MLB game.
How reasonable is that belief and how good could Suzuki be? In an attempt to answer both sides, CBS Sports received Suzuki’s ball tracking data from an industry source and used it to create similarity scores by dividing its results into several key categories (dismount speed, launch angle, etc.) of league hitters competing in the recorded at least 300 record appearances last season.
Before we get to the conclusions, we must state a few caveats. First of all, as good as the NPB is — and it’s the second best baseball league in the world — there’s a difference between releasing those numbers there and releasing them in the MLB. That much should be understood. Additionally, using one season of data for all players involved is less accurate than using multiple seasons and weighted by recency. For our purposes, we’re willing to make that trade.
Now for the good stuff: Suzuki averaged a 91-mph exit speed and 13.6-degree launch angle on his batted balls last season. About 45 percent of those were traveling at 95 mph or faster, and 26.5 percent of those were starting between 10 and 30 degrees. We didn’t include the pursuit or puff rates in our similarity scores, but while we’re putting out data: He extended his zone to just 17 percent of the courts he saw, and he was flailing on 21 percent of his swings. (The average values for these metrics in our MLB player pool were 27.3 percent and 25 percent.)
Let’s unveil the 10 hitters statistically most similar to Suzuki:
It’s an interesting group. They have the reigning winner of the National League Most Valuable Player Award in Bryce Harper; an all-world slugger, in Pete Alonso; a World Series champion coming off a breakout season at Austin Riley; some one-time All-Stars, in Teoscar Hernández and Adolis García; and some otherwise unexpected names, including the bookend duo of Ji-Man Choi and Trevor Larnach.
It is often easier to analyze the group as a whole than to select individuals. In this case, Suzuki’s similar hitters had a median OPS+ of 109 last season, suggesting he’s in the company of mostly above-average bats.
That shouldn’t come as a surprise based on what we found out about Suzuki: He hits the ball hard; he makes a good amount of contact; he rarely swings on balls; and it has an optimized launch angle. When building the ideal hitter from scratch, you would be sure to include all of these qualities before sending them to the bowl.
All of this seems to bode well for Suzuki as he looks to become a prolific hitter in the big league. Consider his powerful arm, and his presence in right field should make him a significant contributor on either side of the ball. (He’s not much of a threat for base stealing, suggesting his posts will end there.)
As we recently explained, we expect Suzuki’s contract to be lower than his talent requirements as a tax on the failures of the youngest NPB players. Still, there’s enough reason to think it could become one of the biggest bargains of the offseason – especially when most teams are more concerned with risk than reward.