Like a novelist nearing their deadline, the authors behind Major League Baseball's offseason will have to tie up a lot of loose ends in a short amount of time once the owner-imposed lockout is lifted. At that point, the major unresolved storylines should reach their resolution: the free agencies of Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman, and Clayton Kershaw; the disassembly of the Oakland Athletics; and the arrival of Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who CBS Sports ranked as the 15th-best free agent this winter.
Suzuki, 27 years old, is caught in limbo. His 30-day negotiation window (which began when Nippon Professional Baseball's Hiroshima Toyo Carp "posted" him for MLB consideration) will remain paused for as long as the lockout endures. Suzuki and his agent opted against signing before the work stoppage, and he didn't tip his hand during a recent television appearance alongside former big-league reliever Koji Uehara -- not even when Uehara pressed him about signing with the Boston Red Sox.
Seiya Suzuki explains that he actually followed the Boston Red Sox two years ago to watch hitters like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts.— Yakyu Cosmopolitan (@baseballcosmo) January 12, 2022
He later confirms that no decision has been made yet regarding any contract, including with the Red Sox. pic.twitter.com/eMtpojZ092
To most American fans, Suzuki is a mystery man beyond what is captured on his Baseball-Reference page. He's a career .309/.402/.541 hitter who has launched 189 home runs and has swiped 102 bases. He first appeared on these pages back 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 most discerning eyes in the league, and he's topped 25 home runs in each of the past four seasons. Defensively, he has a strong arm that serves as a reminder that he pitched as a youngster. He's tallied 24 assists since 2017; for comparison's sake, Bryce Harper led big-league right fielders in that category last season, and he has 22 assists over the same timeframe.
Soon, Suzuki will be tasked with ending a recent drought that has seen Japanese position players fail to take to the majors. Excepting Shohei Ohtani (the ultimate outlier, in many regards), MLB teams have gambled and lost in recent years on the likes of Yoshi Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama making a smooth transition. Evaluators think Suzuki's swing and overall game are more likely to translate to the MLB game.
Just how reasonable is that belief, and how good might Suzuki be? To attempt an answer on both ends, CBS Sports obtained Suzuki's ball-tracking data from an industry source and used it to create similarity scores by comparing his outputs in several key categories (exit velocity, launch angle, and so on) to all big-league hitters who recorded at least 300 plate appearances last season.
Before getting to the results, we are obligated to state some caveats. Foremost, for as good as NPB is -- and it is the second-best baseball league in the world -- there is a difference between posting these numbers there and posting them in MLB. That much should be understood. Additionally, using one season of data for all the involved players is less precise than using multiple seasons and weighing it in accordance to recency. For our purposes, we're willing to make that trade.
Now, onto the good stuff: Suzuki averaged a 91-mph exit velocity and a 13.6-degree launch angle on his batted balls last season. Roughly 45 percent of those traveled at 95 mph or faster, and 26.5 percent of them were launched between 10 and 30 degrees. We didn't include chase or whiff rates in our similarity scores, but while we're data-dumping: he expanded his zone on just 17 percent of the pitches he saw, and he flailed on 21 percent of his swings. (The averages for those metrics among our MLB player pool were 27.3 percent and 25 percent.)
With that out of the way, let's reveal the 10 hitters most statistically similar to Suzuki:
|name||AVG EV||Launch angle||95+ mph%||10-30 degrees%||2021 OPS+|
It's an interesting group. You have the reigning National League Most Valuable Player Award recipient, in Bryce Harper; an all-world slugger, in Pete Alonso; a World Series champion coming off a breakout season, in 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.
Oftentimes, it's easier to analyze the group as a whole than to pick and choose from the 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've established about Suzuki: he hits the ball hard; he makes a good amount of contact; he seldom swings at balls; and he has an optimized launch angle. If you were building the ideal hitter from scratch, you'd make a point of including all of those qualities before you sent them to the dish.
All the above seems to bode well for Suzuki as he attempts to become a productive big-league hitter. Factor in his strong arm, and his presence in right field should make him a meaningful contributor on both sides of the ball. (He's not much of a base-stealing threat, suggesting his contributions will end there.)
As we recently explained, we expect Suzuki's contract to come in lower than his talent demands as a tax on the failures of recent NPB hitters. Even so, there's sufficient reason to think that he could become one of the offseason's biggest bargains -- especially if most teams are more concerned with the risk than the reward.