Pittsburgh Pirates: Debating if These Early Season Successes are Sustainable

Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals
Pittsburgh Pirates v Washington Nationals / Jess Rapfogel/GettyImages
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Jack Suwinski

Jack Suwinski’s rookie season was pretty solid. He was about baseball’s most league-average batter in 2022. However, despite somewhat promising numbers in his first big league campaign, there was certainly some concern. Suwinski had a 30.6% strikeout rate with a whiff rate in just the 15th percentile. Even more fans were concerned after his poor Spring Training, but Suwinski has seemingly put most of that worry to rest.

Suwinski has only stepped to the plate 80 times, but he’s batting .297/.413/.656. Suwinski has hit six home runs and has a 17.5% walk rate. The outfielder has also cut his strikeout rate down below 30% at 27.5%, which still isn’t great, but still a 3.1% upgrade. Overall, he’s been one of baseball’s hottest hitters with a 1.069 OPS, .443 wOBA, and 179 wRC+.

There are many reasons for Suwinski’s start. First, he’s completely obliterating the baseball when he hits it. His 92.7 MPH exit velocity is in the top 90th percentile and a 4.5 MPH uptick. This has led to his barrel rate going from an already strong 12.2% to 22.7%. The big improvement Suwinski has made is cutting his chase rate to just 14.7%, 10.1% lower than in 2022. Sure, Suwinski was already a patient batter, but he’s become even better at laying off pitches. On top of that, in the few times he has swung outside the zone, he’s made contact half the time. Last year, his chase contact rate was just 43.3%.

Don’t look now, but Suwinski and Mike Trout’s Baseball Savant percentile rankings are almost identical. The only major difference is that Trout has a .298 expected batting average, while Suwinski has a .259 xBA. I don’t know if Suwinski is a .300 batter, but based on the way he has demolished the baseball this year, he could certainly outperform his xBA. Speaking of Trout, he did the same thing last year with a .265 xBA but had an actual BA of .283. But even if Suwinski does bat .260, nobody will complain because of the power, on-base ability, speed, and fielding he’s brought to the Pirates this year.

But batting average is the only expected stat that currently has a lot of separation between that and his expected rate. He currently has a .434 xwOBA and .665 xSLG. Both are within ten points of his actual wOBA and slugging percentage. It may be early, but his raw power, combined with his ability to lay off pitches outside the zone, makes him a guy who could really sustain a good portion of his unbelievable start to 2023.