Chicago Cubs 2023 Season Preview: Right fielder Seiya Suzuki

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Continuing with our season previews for the Chicago Cubs, we're analyzing Seiya Suzuki and what we can expect from the slugging right fielder in 2023. Already projected to lead the Cubs in home runs, there is much more to dive into from an analytical standpoint. Let's first take a look at the basic stat line projections from Fangraphs and Baseball Reference:

2023 Fangraphs ZiPS projections: .267/.352/.488, 21 HR, 63 RBI, 135 wRC+, 2.7 WAR

Baseball Reference 2023 projections: .257/.327/.415, 12 HR, 44 RBIs

Above, we have two very different projections for Suzuki, with Baseball Reference still unsold on his abilities. There is certainly room for improvement, both in the field and at the plate. Defensively, Suzuki notched 201 putouts, three assists, and four errors in his rookie campaign, suitable for a 0.981 fielding percentage. Not a bad number, but you do hope to see his runs prevented and outs above average improve, as he recorded a -3 RP and -4 OOA on the year. He was a five-time NPB Golden Glove Award winner in Japan, so he has the potential to be an elite defender.

Flipping to the offensive side of things, Suzuki showed to be a little more productive against left-handed pitchers, recording slash lines of .269/.367/.481 with a 135 wRC+ against southpaws, and .259/.325/.416 and 110 wRC+ against RHP, respectively. Important to note, as well, that be batted .282/.354/.479 (134 wRC+) throughout 188 at-bats in his first year at Wrigley Field. To find potential areas of offensive improvement, we can start by breaking down his numbers individually vs. different pitch types:

  • Four-seam Fastball (30.77%) .314/.397/.524, .373 BABIP, .210 ISO
  • Slider (23.22%) .174/.255/.326, .241 BABIP, .152 ISO
  • Sinker (19.45%) .322/.374/.511, .368 BABIP, .189 ISO
  • Curveball (8.24%) .300/.323/.467, .409 BABIP, .167 ISO
  • Changeup (8.19%) .176/.282/.265, .217 BABIP, .088 ISO
  • Cutter (7.76%) .242/.278/.333, .308 BABIP, .091 ISO

(Miscellaneous pitch types accounted for the remaining 2.36% of all pitches seen.)

Chicago Cubs: How Can Seiya Suzuki improve in 2023?

Right away, the most significant area of improvement for Suzuki will be against sliders. Seeing a pitch at a 23% clip and only managing a .174 batting average against it was the primary reason he only batted .262 in 2022. Increasing production against this pitch, in particular, will increase his overall numbers astronomically.

For reference, Suzuki saw 431 sliders throughout 92 different at-bats in which the pitch was thrown but only managed 16 hits while striking out 38% of the time. Opposing pitchers are aware of this and will continue to attack this area until adjustments are made. Sprinkling in even ten more hits against sliders in 2022 would have taken his overall batting average to a team-leading .287 based on last year's numbers.

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Fortunately, he will be the beneficiary of more protection in the lineup around him in 2023. It's too soon to tell what the lineup will be just yet, but it will be imperative for David Ross to put another productive bat behind him. Otherwise, pitchers have the luxury of working around him to get to the easier out. Nevertheless, his potential remains through the roof. He did a fantastic job last season adjusting to the MLB. With a little more experience and complete Spring Training ahead of him, it will be fun to see what he can accomplish this season.