Against the Odds: Jump on Seiya Suzuki bandwagon while you still can

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Seiya Suzuki’s transition to MLB has gone swimmingly, as the Chicago Cubs rookie has hits in each of his team’s first six games.

Suzuki was not the most popular choice for NL Rookie of the Year prior to the season, but that’s changing quickly. Despite slashing .317/.443/.639 with 38 homers and just a 16.3 percent strikeout rate for Hiroshima of the NPB last year, most pundits doubted that his transition to MLB would go this smoothly.

Not every former NPB great can be Shohei Ohtani, but Suzuki has proven that perhaps we ought to have more faith in the league as a whole. FanGraphs and ZiPS projected Suzuki to lose some power at Wrigley Field, in part due to field dimensions and tougher pitching in MLB, but thus far he’s cast doubt on those predictions.

Suzuki — through a small sample size, mind you — is a top-20 hitter in baseball as things currently stand. At 28 years old and very little tape for opposing MLB managers to strategize against, there’s a reason his NL Rookie of the Year odds are skyrocketing.

NL Rookie of the Year: Seiya Suzuki the favorite

Suzuki started out the season at +500 on WynnBet for NL Rookie of the Year. In just six games, he’s cemented himself as the favorite at +300 odds.

This is one of those truly rare scenarios where I can yell “I told you so” from the top of my high horse, but I won’t get down anytime soon. Per our MLB season preview, I’ve been on the Suzuki bandwagon. I now urge you to join me:

“Seiya Suzuki, for good or bad reasons, will be the most exciting rookie in 2022. We have no idea how his NPB numbers will project to MLB, or if there will be a learning curve. ZiPS projects his slash-line at .287/.351/.480 with moderate power. In one of the best baseball markets in the world, the uncertainty alone is enough to fuel the news cycle for months.”

I’ll be retiring a little earlier than my colleagues.

Seiya Suzuki projections: What should we expect?

Suzuki was forced to prove himself right away against a capable Brewers’ pitching staff. He did so with ease against Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff.

A six-game sample size isn’t nearly enough to project over the course of entire season, but Suzuki has been as advertised from a power perspective, and perhaps better than expected in terms of getting on base against MLB-caliber pitching. The 28-year-old routinely works the count, waiting for his pitch rather than over-extending himself early in at-bats.

Through Thursday, he had a chase rate of just 10.9 percent, per FanGraphs. Analyst Jay Jaffe compared Suzuki’s eye and patience at the plate to some of the greats in today’s game:

“Among MLB qualifiers, only Juan Soto (15.1%), Max Muncy (19.1%), Robbie Grossman (19.2%) and Tommy Pham (19.3%) swung at less than 20% of pitches outside the zone; Ohtani, the only one of the above players to qualify last year, had a chase rate of 30.1% in 2021 and is at 31.1% for his career, so perhaps we can expect Suzuki’s line to wind up in a range comparable to what he did in Japan.”

Should Suzuki put up those kinds of numbers — say .317/.443/.639 with 38 homers — NL Rookie of the Year will be the first of many awards he should make room for on his mantle.

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