Projecting Seiya Suzuki

© Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

While the end of the ownership lockout looks increasingly far away after the owners’ latest proposal to the players underwhelmed, at some point, major league baseball will return. And when it does, there’s a lot of unfinished business remaining before actual games can be played; at this point, 56% of the positive projected player WAR in 2022 is still available on the free agent market. One prominent name in that group is outfielder Seiya Suzuki. When teams can talk to and sign free agents again, the four-time Nippon Professional Baseball All-Star is expected to draw heavy interest and provide an exciting alternative to the other top outfielders remaining on the market, such as Michael Conforto and Nick Castellanos.

The Hiroshima Toyo Carp may have struggled to get out of the .500 range in recent years, but Suzuki has provided plenty of highlights and one can easily understand why a player like him would intrigue teams in the other hemisphere. Last season, his 38 home runs lapped the rest of his team (Ryosuke Kikuchi was next with 16 dingers), while his 1.073 OPS bested all of his teammates by more than 200 points; that last number also led NPB by a significant margin. Suzuki will play most of the 2022 season as a 27-year-old. Even if he’s not necessarily a significant improvement on Conforto or Castellanos, Conforto’s 2021 dimmed his profile somewhat and Castellanos is a few years older.

Of course, before we can assess his fit, we must first consider whether Suzuki, whose 30-day posting period was paused by the lockout, will wait out the current labor dispute. When asked about that last month by Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic, Suzuki indicated that he was prepared to be patient with the delay.

“I’m just going to wait until both sides agree,” said Suzuki, who arrived in Okinawa last week to conduct workouts on his own. “There’s no date I set on myself. In Japan, you don’t experience a lockout so it’s a first for me. At first, I was a little worried about it. But when you think about it, it’s going to end sometime soon. Just having that positive mindset that it will end sometime has allowed me to keep my head up.”

Given that we have no specific information to indicate that he’s changed his mind (and given that NPB is just about a week away from exhibition games), we’ll work under the assumption that Suzuki will sign with an MLB team at some point in 2022. And what might that team expect from Suzuki? Obviously, any projection will take some of the air out of that lofty OPS. After all, Tyler Austin and Domingo Santana were both elite hitters in 2021, and while it’s likely that they’ve improved, neither seems destined to become a superstar if transplanted back overseas. But the ZiPS translations for Suzuki put him in the .280 to .290 range in batting average — almost Wade Boggs in 2020s MLB — with 20-30 homers per year and an OBP somewhere around .350. Translations for NPB aren’t going to be quite as accurate as the ones for organized baseball over here, but at this point, we have a great deal of data from the players coming back and forth from Japan, considerably more than we have for Korea.

Projected in a neutral park, ZiPS has Suzuki as a better-than-league-average corner outfielder but one who projects below All-Star levels without another step forward:

ZiPS Projection – Seiya Suzuki
2022 .287 .351 .480 529 81 152 29 2 23 85 49 12 124 0 2.6
2023 .285 .350 .488 502 77 143 29 2 23 81 47 10 125 -1 2.5
2024 .282 .349 .479 489 74 138 29 2 21 78 47 10 122 -1 2.2
2025 .281 .347 .479 474 72 133 27 2 21 76 45 9 122 -1 2.1
2026 .278 .341 .466 457 67 127 25 2 19 71 42 8 117 -2 1.6

ZiPS suggests a five-year, $83 million contract for Suzuki, though some of that wouldn’t be part of his contract, with a chunk instead going to the Carp as a posting fee. (Based on the ZiPS’ projected contract, the posting fee would be about $14 million under MLB’s current arrangement with NPB, and I swear, I didn’t change Suzuki’s cut to $69 million in order to make that joke.)

And there’s at least some chance that Suzuki’s deal winds up going even higher for a few reasons not tied to a rigid WAR-to-dollars relationship. The free agent roster for outfielders isn’t particularly deep this winter, giving contending teams a real incentive to be aggressive if that’s where they need help. Also, with the now nearly-certain addition of the universal designated hitter, 15 National League teams need to find 650 plate appearances for a high-offense player. Not every team has that in-house — interleague play isn’t enough to justify NL teams carrying a solid DH — and a league-average corner outfielder or first baseman is going to make a much better DH than a league-average catcher or shortstop would. That could result in a real bonus for Suzuki, along with players like Castellanos, Conforto, Nelson Cruz, and Anthony Rizzo, with Rizzo likely pushing an incumbent first baseman to DH. (Freddie Freeman is the obvious elite option at first base, though he’s already a tier or two above the rest of the free agents in terms of performance and salary, so the universal DH will probably provide less of a boost to his eventual deal.)

Where might Suzuki land? He makes a lot of sense for the Boston Red Sox, so it’s no shock that the rumor mill has repeatedly connected him to the Beantowners. You don’t need to go further than our Depth Charts to see the wisdom of this for Boston; currently, we have two-thirds of their outfield primarily covered by a combination of Jackie Bradley Jr., Jarren Duran, Christin Stewart, and Rob Refsnyder. It strikes me as implausible that the Red Sox won’t make further additions prior to Opening Day; if they don’t, it’ll be much to their regret in a stacked American League East.

But lots of teams have had Suzuki buzz and since we don’t know where he’ll end up with any certainty, let’s project how all of the teams would improve with him on the roster. I ran the most up-to-date ZiPS simulation 30 times, with Suzuki joining a different team each time and replacing their worst PAs at a corner outfield position or designated hitter:

ZiPS Projections – Adding Seiya Suzuki
Team Playoff Probablity With Suzuki Difference
Philadelphia Phillies 23.5% 39.0% 15.5%
Milwaukee Brewers 57.7% 71.5% 13.8%
Oakland Athletics 24.8% 38.1% 13.3%
New York Mets 58.7% 69.4% 10.7%
San Diego Padres 70.4% 81.1% 10.7%
St. Louis Cardinals 65.5% 75.6% 10.1%
Los Angeles Angels 24.7% 34.7% 10.0%
Boston Red Sox 30.5% 40.1% 9.6%
Cincinnati Reds 17.3% 26.6% 9.3%
Detroit Tigers 10.4% 19.6% 9.3%
Atlanta Braves 70.3% 79.5% 9.2%
Toronto Blue Jays 63.8% 72.0% 8.2%
San Francisco Giants 19.7% 27.6% 7.9%
Miami Marlins 15.8% 23.4% 7.6%
Seattle Mariners 17.4% 23.8% 6.4%
Cleveland Guardians 17.5% 23.6% 6.1%
Minnesota Twins 8.8% 14.5% 5.7%
Chicago Cubs 6.8% 12.4% 5.6%
Los Angeles Dodgers 87.9% 92.9% 5.0%
Kansas City Royals 6.7% 11.7% 5.0%
Chicago White Sox 74.8% 79.8% 5.0%
Tampa Bay Rays 61.7% 66.2% 4.5%
Washington Nationals 4.3% 8.1% 3.8%
Texas Rangers 3.0% 5.5% 2.5%
New York Yankees 74.3% 76.5% 2.2%
Arizona Diamondbacks 1.5% 3.4% 1.9%
Houston Astros 81.6% 82.7% 1.1%
Pittsburgh Pirates 0.3% 1.4% 1.1%
Colorado Rockies 0.1% 0.5% 0.4%
Baltimore Orioles 0.1% 0.1% 0.0%

At least based on ZiPS’ reckoning, the Philadelphia Phillies get the largest playoff boost with Suzuki. The Phillies’ outfield situation is a wreck past Bryce Harper even before considering a universal DH. Right now, they’re projected around .500, making marginal wins quite valuable, and unlike some of the teams near the top, there’s zero excuse for the Phillies to pretend they can’t afford to add him.

ZiPS also thinks that a Suzuki signing could settle the NL Central. The Cardinals project as a strong offensive team overall, but the DH position doesn’t look impressive. Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s offense is nowhere near as strong; they get the largest projected benefit after the Phillies. Just after Milwaukee comes Oakland, but I don’t see the A’s adding Suzuki; they’re more likely to trade one or both of the Matts than make such a significant investment.

In the NL East, the Mets might pretend that their current roster means they don’t need Suzuki, but neither ZiPS nor Steamer is particularly impressed with their DH options. Meanwhile, another offensive position exposes a fundamental weakness in the Padres at the corners; the good three-quarters of the infield can cover up a lot of sins, but San Diego is not blessed with great depth on the easier side of the defensive spectrum.

Boston ranks highly here, too, with the Blue Jays the other AL East team to have a strong ZiPS argument for Suzuki. The Angels certainly ought to be interested given the team’s inability to find secondary talent after their stars, but they’d do even better if there was a pitching equivalent of Suzuki out there. Continuing down the list, the Reds ought to be seriously interested — but they won’t be — and the Tigers’ bump is predicated on the notion that Detroit uses him to supplant Miguel Cabrera, something they likely wouldn’t do.

Hopefully, in the next few weeks, we can speculate about where Suzuki ends up rather than wondering if MLB will let baseball happen. Even with some teams like the Pirates and Orioles staying out of high-stakes free agent wooing, the week before the lockout was one of the most exciting weeks I’ve had covering baseball. Not always something fancy, just teams trying to get better. Seeing what Suzuki can do is one of the things that most interests me in the coming season and it’s fun to see MLB continuing to become a truly international league. But we’ll need the lockout to end first!

Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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2 years ago

Petition to call Suzuki the “Say Ya Kid”