Get To Know a Nat: Kurt Suzuki

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Welcome to “Get To Know a Nat.” There are currently 39 men on the 40 man roster, and we’re going to give you the straight scoop on all of them!  Not sure where to start with player and season previews?  Not ready to jump into heavy metrics?  Just want to get to know the players, what they do, and what to expect from them in 2013?  Then you’ve come to the right place!

Name: Kurtis Kiyoshi Suzuki (Kurt)
Nickname(s): Zuuuuk!
DOB: October 4, 1983 (Age 29)
Twitter?: @KurtSuzuki
From: Wailuku, Hawaii
Position: Catcher Batting Order: 8th
Hand: Righty
With the Nats Since: Acquired via Trade in 2012 from Oakland.

If you had to pick one guy who saved the Nationals season last year, you might well pick Kurt Suzuki.  With the Nationals reeling from the loss of starting catcher Wilson Ramos, as well as both call-up catchers Jhonatan Solano and Sandy Leon, the Nationals were in desperate need of a catcher to give Jesus Flores (also hurt) a day off.  In Suzuki they were hoping to get a good defensive player who was experienced in catching games. He gave them that and more.

Suzuki proved he could be the starting catcher for the Washington Nationals.  Reunited with once again teammate Gio Gonzalez, Suzuki got comfortable very quickly catching for Gio and other pitchers in the rotation.  His fielding stats don’t readily demonstrate how well Zuk played:  He dropped from catching 38% of base stealers with Oakland to 15% with Washington, but that was largely the result of Nationals pitchers not get the ball to him quickly enough. He didn’t give up many passed balls (2) with the Nationals, and one would expect he’d play a bit more like the Suzuki of previous years statistically.

Even better, Suzuki managed to get some very timely hits down the stretch, offering a little pop at the bottom of the lineup.  In any event, the fact that he was a solid warm body that could play catcher was the most important statistic of all.  The Nationals owe their ability to close out the regular season in no small part to the addition of Kurt Suzuki.  He’ll need to play well this year for the Nationals to repeat.

From Baseball-Reference:

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WHAT’S EXPECTED:  Suzuki will likely be the starting catcher for the Nationals in 2013, unless and until Wilson Ramos proves he is healthy enough for the role.  As such, Zuk will be catching the top of the rotation – Strasburg, Gonzalez- and likely one other pitcher, leaving two for Ramos.  He may need to do more at the very outset, but I just sort of imagine Davy will split the reps between catchers 3-2.

One of Zuk’s more important jobs will be to manage the games for the pitchers on the mound. As you probably know, not all pitchers pitch the same.  What’s more, pitchers need to mix up the variety of their pitches and the location of their pitches to keep batters of balance.  The catcher’s job is to help with that by offering signs to the pitcher as to what he should throw.  As such, Zuk has to know

  1. What the pitcher on the mound can throw
  2. What the batter in the box might be susceptible to (Both type of pitch and location), and
  3. What this pitcher has thrown a lot of already.

Although a pitcher can always shake-off a called pitch (i.e. say “no” to the suggestion) you don’t want a lot of head-shaking out there. Zuk has to have an idea of what a pitcher wants to do as well, striking a balance with the suggestions he makes.

All of that, of course, is before he has to account for base-runners.  Zuk needs to call for faster pitches if he thinks a runner might try and steal. Otherwise he won’t have a chance to throw him out.  Similarly, he might need to direct his pitcher to throw over to keep a base-runner in check, or change the pitching signs to prevent a base-runner from stealing those signs and getting an advantage.

Really, these are things that apply to all catchers-but being the catcher on a team full of stud pitchers (starters and bullpen) is a lot of responsibility, and a lot of different things to keep track of.  The good news is, last year Kurt Suzuki did all of these things very well last year and also managed to hit a little while he was at it.

IF IT ALL GOES WRONG: The Kurt Suzuki who was losing his job in Oakland to a rookie shows up instead of the Kurt Suzuki who was leading the Nationals battery last year.  Zuk starts to show his age. He continues to struggle to throw runners out.  While he still calls a pretty good game, he gets no pop in his bat and is basically a black hole at the bottom of the line up.  What’s worse, is in this possible future he doesn’t really get along with some of the Nationals new pitchers.  Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano, for some reason, don’t like the way he calls the game.  Pitching and catching miscues cost the Nationals games in key moments, as Suzuki struggles to be seen as a competent catcher to key personnel on the Nationals.  He loses his job not to Wilson Ramos, but to either of the callups (Solano or Leon) who the Nationals were high on last year.

IF IT ALL GOES RIGHT: Suzuki is a strange case in that if ALL goes right, he will become the backup catcher-not the starter.  A healthy Wilson Ramos will play better than him even when he is playing well, but it won’t really be such a bad thing-just part of the plan the team was hoping for.  Suzuki carries the team through the first part of the year while Ramos gets back up to speed, and settles in as the backup catcher, working with Gio and another pitcher specifically.   When he’s in the lineup the team doesn’t miss a beat.  2012 wasn’t a fluke, but something Suzuki can repeat for 2013, and gives the Nationals a distinct advantage over other teams in the battles of backup catchers over the year.

Starting Rotation: Ross Detwiler
Outfielders: Bryce HarperDenard Span, Jayson Werth
Infielders: Wilson Ramos, Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche 
Bench: Tyler MooreRoger Bernadina
Bullpen: Ryan Mattheus
Callups: Part I, Part II

14 thoughts on “Get To Know a Nat: Kurt Suzuki

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