As we enter the final series before the All-Star break, Eugenio Suarez still has not found his 2019 form that every Reds fan has been seeking for the last 138 games.
After posting a career high 49 home runs and 129 OPS+ in 2019, Suarez’s numbers took a sharp downturn in 2020. But the Statcast numbers showed his decline was salvageable. This year, the counting and underlying numbers have not been kind to him.
The power still flashes for Suarez, as indicated by his .434 xSLG and 13.4% barrel rate, which is actually quite similar to his 2019 rate (13.8%). But his xBA and wOBA are in the bottom five and eight percentiles among all Major Leaguers. That leaves much to be desired from someone the Reds are relying on to be a key run producer.
David Bell has not had much choice but to plug and play Suarez at third base nearly every day. With Jonathan India entrenched at second base and Kyle Farmer’s glove needed at shortstop, Suarez’s power offers more value than Mike Freeman’s .458 OPS. If someone is going to remove Suarez from his spot in the lineup, recent call-up Alejo Lopez, who has logged over 900 professional innings at third base, has the best opportunity.
The next few weeks will present a conundrum for the Reds. Yesterday was the beginning of the most important series of the season. The three games against Milwaukee starting next Friday could prove to be even more important. At the end of this month, when the Reds hope to be in the thick of the race for the NL Central, their roster is going to get a lot more crowded. It could prove unkind to Eugenio Suarez.
The injury list cavalry has a chance to impact Suarez’s playing time. By the end of July, we could see Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel back in the Reds lineup. Both have seen time at third base this season, and their profiles at the plate are interesting in comparison to Suarez.
If Senzel is back before Moustakas, he could receive starts at third. That would allow Tyler Naquin’s bat to stay in the lineup against RHP. When there’s a LHP starting, Suarez could get a start at third and Senzel could roam center field, where he’s an above-average defender.
If Senzel and Moustakas return at the same time, there’s an opportunity for Senzel to play center field against LHP, then assume a utility role spelling Naquin, India, and Moustakas or Suarez at third against RHP.
When everyone is healthy, however, how are starts divided between Suarez and Moustakas?
Against RHP, Moustakas should receive the bulk of the playing time. He had an .834 OPS vs RHP in 2021 before his injuries, piling on the .860 clip he was at last year. That, paired with his upgrade on defense, makes it a no-brainer.
In this instance, Suarez should be on the bench, not playing shortstop. His -12 OAA at shortstop is so poor that hardly any performance at the plate could nullify the hole in the field at a premium position. On top of that, Kyle Farmer has an identical OPS to Suarez, and a higher OAA at shortstop (4) than Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Fernando Tatis Jr., Jose Iglesias, and Willy Adames.
When the Reds face a LHP, a trouble spot for the lineup this year, Suarez could get occasional starts. Despite posting a paltry .460 OPS in 76 PA vs LHP this season, his career OPS against southpaws is .855, higher than his .780 mark against RHP. In comparison, Moustakas has a .506 OPS vs LHP in 22 PA vs LHP this season, and his career number sits at .714.
By the end of the month, Eugenio Suarez could be relegated to a bench or platoon role. That would be difficult to see for many fans. The positive side is that with favorable matchups, Suarez could get back closer to the form that made him so highly regarded in Cincinnati.
Featured image: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/1153820151894069253