Venezuela has given the MLB an excessive amount of talent in recent history. Players such as Luis Aparicio, Dave Concepcion, Omar Vizquel, Bob Abreu, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, and many more have excelled in the majors throughout the years. This season, another player might join this exclusive list. Eugenio Suarez, third-baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, had a stellar 2019 season. His offensive stats are far above average, prompting some to say that he’s in the conversation for top 5 third baseman in the National League.
This season, Suarez has made some changes that seem to be paying off. He was able to surpass the record for most home runs by a Venezuelan player in one season, cracking Andres “El Gato” Galarraga’s record of 47. How did he accomplish this feat, never having shown power like this before? Whether it is a product of the “juiced ball” era, a change in approach, or both, Suarez hit 49 home runs this season, fifteen more than his previous career-high.
How did he do it? Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Suarez’s numbers haven’t actually changed that much. In 2018, he posted a WRC+ of 135 with 34 HRs, compared to 133 with 49 HRs this year. His BB% actually slightly decreased while his K% increased by 4%. His ISO, or Isolated Power, increased drastically, skyrocketing 60 points from last year due to all the home runs. A stat that has caught the attention of many baseball analysts is the increase in Pull %.
In 2018, Suarez pulled the ball 42.7% of the time. This year, he exceeded the halfway line by pulling the ball 52% of the time. His launch angle increased by 3 degrees, meaning he put the ball in the air more than he ever had. When you combine the increase in launch angle and Pull %, we can start to see where his power spurt came from.
In addition to the changes in his launch angle and pull percentage, Suarez also altered his game to focus on fastballs more than any other pitch. He had a .441 wOBA on fastballs this year, compared to .392 last year. Focusing in on fastballs also has its downfalls. His wOBA for both breaking balls and offspeed pitches have decreased. His 2018 wOBA on breaking balls was .329, while this year it was down to .299; his 2018 wOBA on offspeed pitches was .389, which severely fell to .283. Suarez gave up production on non-FB pitches, but an overall production increase can be seen in his flaunting of a .927 OPS this year vs a .892 OPS last year. This graph shows the wOBA differences of past seasons based on pitch group:
The Barrel % of Eugenio also increased dramatically this year:
This ultimately led to more home runs on fastballs than any other year of his career:
With all of these sabermetrics put together, we can see how Suarez was able to break the home run record by a Venezuelan player in a single season. An increase in launch angle, pulling the ball more, and a focus on fastballs have all been keys to the historic season he had. Will that record hold? With players such as Ronald Acuna Jr. and Gleyber Torres showing incredible promise, I wouldn’t bet on it.