Will 2014 be a special season for Suzukis?
Though they share a surname, Kurt and Ichiro Suzuki are rarely mentioned in the same breath, but they have much in common this season.
My mind has recently been on a couple of players who are performing surprisingly well this season, and I realized these two have several things in common. Both had seemingly left their best seasons behind them, are making the best of timeshare situations by posting high batting averages and on-base percentages, though with little power, and both have the last name Suzuki.
So, yes, I'm talking about Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki and Yankees right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, and while their careers hadn't had much in common up to this point, since they have the same surname, this space seems as good as any to address the value of both.
Competing respectively with Josmil Pinto and the combination of Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano for playing time, I figured neither would be getting the majority of starts at their positions by midseason, much less be producing at their highest levels in years. Kurt is getting it done by reducing his swing percentage on pitches outside the strike zone from 26.5 to 22.2 percent, according to FanGraphs.com, which has helped him to achieve a respectable walk rate (9.5 percent of plate appearances) and a superb strikeout rate (9.3 percent of at-bats).
Kurt has never excelled at hitting for average, though, as he's been prone to popups. His 8.2 percent popup rate isn't extremely high, but it's his .297 batting average on grounders that has helped to elevate him into the top 12 among catchers in both standard Head-to-Head and Rotisserie formats. Though he is on a career-high pace for infield hits (he has eight to date), the Twins' backstop doesn't figure to keep that up. Even with improved plate discipline, his .297/.367/.395 slash line numbers look due to drop dramatically across the board.
Ichiro has been a great contact hitter over the years, yet he is experiencing a renaissance (.320/.377/.359) while carrying a career-worst 19.4 percent strikeout rate. Like his catching counterpart, the Yankees' Suzuki is succeeding by way of a suspiciously high batting average on grounders. A .346 mark on ground balls wouldn't have looked out of place in the late 2000s, but Ichiro is no longer a speedster who is going to leg out 60 infield hits over a full season.
With a 6 percent ownership rate in CBSSports.com leagues, few owners are buying into what Ichiro has done. It's a little surprising, given that he is now getting enough playing time to matter in Roto leagues with this level of production, but wisely, no one is apparently thinking it will last. Kurt, on the other hand, is owned in 53 percent of leagues, but once his batting average recedes, he won't produce enough to merit a spot in most mixed two-catcher leagues.
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