The Third Degree

 

 

In his 24-year Major League Baseball career, Pete Rose averaged 639 at-bats for every 162 games he played. This will also be the last time Rose’s name is mentioned in this piece, so you may safely continue reading if you are tired of the endless debate that surrounds Charlie Hustle.

Lest you think that I’m off and running on another one of my tangents, I mention that number—639 at-bats—for a reason. Cincinnati’s brand new starting third baseman, Eugenio Suarez, had precisely 639 at-bats in his major league career after the first week of the 2016 season. And what a first week it was for Suarez, who has the unenviable task of replacing Home Run Derby champ, fan favorite, and all-around good guy Todd Frazier at the Reds’ hot corner.

So far, so good. After a week, Suarez led the team in pretty much every offensive category: hits (10), runs (9), home runs (4), RBI (9), average (.435), on-base percentage (.500). (Naturally, he went 0-4 against the Cubs in a 5-3 loss last night.) Are you forgetting about Frazier yet?

Well…no. At least, I’m not forgetting about him. I hope I never forget the fun of being at Great American Ball Park last July when Frazier put on that home run display during the All-Star festivities. But alas, Frazier is now a White Sox (White Sock?), and we have to move on. For the time being, Suarez is the replacement, and he’s getting an extended run at third base to see if he’s the long-term option.

Since Suarez has roughly one full major league season under his belt, I thought it would be interesting to compare him to Frazier at a similar point in his career. (I’m sure you’ll tell me whether it’s interesting or not, but I’m in too deep to pull back now.)

Both Suarez and Frazier are former shortstops and both swing from the right side of the plate, but that’s where the similarities end. Frazier was a first-round draft pick of the Reds back in 2007, but he was already well-known as the star player on a Little League World Champion team. Suarez was signed by Detroit as an international free agent from Venezuela in 2008 at the age of 17, and he was acquired by the Reds for the remains of Alfredo Simon in a memorable off-season deal back in December 2014.

Let’s look at some actual numbers. In those first 639 ABs, across a couple of half-seasons with the Tigers and Reds, Suarez has posted a slash line of .271/.322/.423. That’s an OPS of .745, and an OPS+ of 105, which is slightly above league average. He’s hit 21 home runs, driven in 80 runs, and walked 42 times compared to 162 strikeouts. Suarez has 28 doubles thus far, and 3 triples.

Now let’s look at Todd Frazier after 639 ABs,* which he reached in the middle of a May 4, 2013 contest against the Cubs at Wrigley Field . Frazier’s slash line was .258/.321/.480, an OPS of 801, roughly a 110 OPS+. In terms of counting numbers, Frazier had 37 doubles, 6 triples, 31 home runs, 102 RBI, 54 bases on balls, and 158 strikeouts.

*Yes, I probably should have used plate appearances, rather than at-bats. But if I had used that metric, I couldn’t have squeezed Pete Rose into the conversation. Be grateful…and please don’t forward this to Reds Assistant GM/stat guru Sam Grossman as an indication of my analytics expertise (or lack thereof).

What can we glean from these numbers? Well, I had nearly forgotten how good Frazier was in his first full season with the Reds back in 2012; he was third in Rookie of the Year voting, and hit .273/.331./498 with 19 homers. But other than the power numbers, Suarez compares well with Frazier.

Further, Suarez’s power is coming around: if you look just at his numbers since coming over to Cincinnati, Eugenio has hit 17 bombs in just 103 games (and his slash line is an impressive .289/.326/.476 in those games). FanGraphs attributes the increase in power to some adjustments Suarez has made in his swing, and they also note that his plate discipline seems to be improving.

Now take a look at each player’s career rate stats:

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Slight edge to Frazier, again because of the power. Also, we need to concede that Frazier has a substantial edge defensively; Suarez has been very uneven with the glove, though he has good instincts and he’s trying to learn a new position on the fly at the major league level. I’m not giving up on the hope that he eventually becomes an adequate defender at third.

So it seems that Suarez is slightly behind the pace set by his predecessor at third base. That’s not really a criticism, given that Frazier is a two-time All-Star third baseman. There are a lot of third-sackers around the league who are inferior to Todd Frazier.

But of course, I’ve deliberately omitted the kicker: Suarez is only 24 years old right now, which means that he compiled those numbers listed above at ages 22 and 23. At a similar point in his big league career — the first 639 at-bats — Todd Frazier was between the ages of 25 and 27.

At age 22, Eugenio Suarez was a shortstop on a division-champion Detroit team; Frazier was in Class A, playing with the Dayton Dragons. At age 24, Suarez is pounding baseballs for your Cincinnati Reds. Frazier spent his entire age 24 season at Louisville, hitting .258/.333/.448 with 17 homers in AAA.

And Suarez, right now, is still younger than Frazier was on the day that the Todd-father made his major league debut. So yeah, maybe his career numbers aren’t quite as good as Frazier’s. Yet. Be patient. There’s a decent chance that the Reds have a pretty good player on their hands here, and one who could be an anchor of the lineup on the next good Reds team.

Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, and the founder of Redleg Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.

 

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