Seiya Suzuki Displaying Otherworldly Plate Discipline in Early Going

I don’t care if we’re only three games into the season, what Seiya Suzuki is doing at the plate is very impressive. And I’m not talking about the booming homer that gave the Cubs an early lead Sunday, though that was certainly an encouraging sign of things to come. No, it’s the almost preternatural patience he has shown from the moment he stepped into the box at first spring training.

The outfielder struck out twice in that first game at Sloan Park, both on very questionable calls, as he proved unwilling to expand his zone in spite of both pressure and adrenaline. That same approach continued through the opening series of the season, with Suzuki carefully curating pitches and selecting only those he believes he can drive.

To the surprise of no one at all, he has shown a better understanding of the zone than the men employed to adjudicate it.

So he has chased just one pitch and he ended up with a single to show for it? Not bad.

Though the season is still far too young to provide evidence from which to draw firm conclusions, Suzuki’s 3.1% O-Swing% (swinging at pitches outside the zone) is one of only three single-digit tallies in MLB and is 5.2 points under the next-lowest batter (Mitch Garver, 8.3%). Out of 163 Cubs players who have tallied at least 100 plate appearances since these plate discipline numbers have been tracked, the lowest O-Swing% is 11.5% by Delino DeShields.

But, Evan, Suzuki only has 13 plate appearances. Okay, we’ll expand the sample to all Cubs who have accumulated at least 10 plate appearances. Out of those 285 players, the legendary Steve Smyth never chased a single pitch across 10 PAs taken as a lefty reliever during the 2002 season. Next on the list? Suzuki. After him? DeShields.

A big part of Suzuki’s restraint comes from not swinging at many pitches at all, since his 21.1% Swing% currently stands as the lowest in baseball. Kyle Schwarber is next at 25.5%, but the slugger’s 17.2% O-Swing% shows that he’s been a wee bit less discerning than our hero. Apropos of nothing, Javier Báez boasts a robust 59.4% O-Swing% with a 68.8% Swing% that is almost nice.

What’s about Suzuki that’s so interesting, though, is that his low chase rate isn’t just a matter of his low swing rate. Even though he has offered less frequently than anyone else in baseball to this point, his chase represents a lower percentage of his overall swings than anyone else on the list. What’s more, his 1.8% swinging-strike rate is among the lowest in the game right now.

These numbers are all going to change, of course, but what Suzuki has done thus far shouldn’t simply be dismissed as a fluke. That’s because plate discipline numbers tend to stabilize at around 100 pitches seen, and Suzuki is already at 57 through three games. Another two or three games and we can start taking his performance very seriously.

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