Andrew Suárez is entering his second full season as a big leaguer, or at least he will once a roster spot is cleared for him. After being one of the better starters for the team last year, Suárez will likely begin the year in Triple-A for the simple reason that he has options remaining.
Though he’s just 26, Suárez is already something of an old style of player. The trend now is for pitchers to throw high spin fastballs up in the zone to counteract the uppercut swings of so-called launch angle hitters. Suárez, however, throws low-spin fastballs down in the zone to get ground balls.
Suárez doesn’t miss a ton of bats. With all of his pitches, he only gets 18.2 percent swings and misses. League average is 24.9. That translates to a low strikeout rate, but with his command, he maintains a respectable strikeout-to-walk ratio. A word that gets applied to Suárez a lot is “pitchability,” which is another way of saying, “his stuff isn’t great, but he can throw it where he wants it.”
None of the above is necessarily a bad thing. Suárez isn’t throwing balls of liquid hot magma, but he can still place a 93 MPH fastball. He may not have designed his slider in a lab with a team of scientists who were all killed once the project was finished to ensure their silence, but it’s still, you know, a decent slider.
There are plenty of ways for Suárez to improve without him even doing anything. Suárez’s control means that he throws an above average amount of pitches on the edges of the zone, and without Nick Hundley behind the plate, Suárez should have more of those pitches called for strikes.
FanGraphs very helpfully released framing numbers this week for catchers and pitchers. A pitcher’s framing numbers show how much a pitcher was helped or hurt by his catcher. In Suárez’s case, Giants catchers cost him six tenths of a run. It’s not a lot; it’s not nothing. Buster Posey and René Rivera have consistently been good framers. Posey had an elite framing season as recently as 2016. Even being a run or two better in this area could be the difference between having an ERA over 4.00 or under 4.00.
Something that should also help Suárez is how he’s used this season. Last season, Suárez made every appearance as a starter, but it’s possible that he’ll rotate in and out of the bullpen to limit fatigue have more favorable matchups.
With as much pitching depth as the Giants have, we can expect pitchers to face the lineup a third time through less often. (Suárez was actually at his best a third-time through the order last season, but I wouldn’t expect that to continue.) Because he was so much better against lefties, Suárez could face more lefties out of the bullpen and start against left-handed heavy lineups.
Suárez doesn’t have to change a lot to stave off a sophomore slump, but he should probably stop allowing so many dingers. Working low in the zone and trying to induce ground balls also means that he plays into the strengths of the uppercut guys.
Looking through Baseball Savant’s video archives, the backdoor slider got pounded by righties. 22 of Suárez’s 23 home runs allowed were given up to right-handed hitters, so attacking righties differently will be something he needs to do differently. Suárez didn’t have a pitch that was super effective to righties, but the least punished ones were the changeup and sinker. Relying on movement that works downward rather than in to right-handed hitters could be key.
IP: 120 1/3
Those are marginal improvements to his strikeout, walk, and home run rates. That’s not a breakout, but it’s not a breakdown either.
It’s possible that we could see Andrew Suárez get traded. Dealing away a controllable starter is a great way to reinvigorate the farm system. The Rays, for instance, got Matt Duffy, Michael Santos, and Lucius Fox for Matt Moore.
But Suárez will be cheap, dependable, and if he can swing between the rotation and bullpen well, versatile. Those are all things that Farhan Zaidi, or any POBS, likes, so I don’t think we’ll see Suárez get dealt.