Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Jack Suwinski is off to a concerning start while former first-round pick Travis Swaggerty has started the season off on a high note at Triple-A, but is it time for the two to switch roster spots?
The Pittsburgh Pirates opened the year with a few outfield options. Bryan Reynolds was entrenched in a regular role, but Ji Hwan Bae, Jack Suwinski, and Connor Joe all were projected to at least get semi-regular time in the grass. However, one of those final three, specifically Suwinski, has struggled mightily to start the season. On the other hand, Travis Swaggerty has done great in his first few games. So is it time to give Swaggerty the call and replace Suwinski?
Let’s first start out by stating that any statistical numbers from 2023 are in a microscopic sample size. Anyone can look like an MVP candidate or Triple-A depth in less than ten games. Milwaukee Brewers utility man Brian Anderson is second to just Bryan Reynolds in National League wRC+ and leads all hitters in OPS. Houston Astros’ all-star third baseman has an OPS under .400 so far. Any statistic from 2023 should be taken with the smallest grain of salt possible.
With that out of the way, let’s look at Suwinski’s small sample size first. The 2022 rookie standout has just a single hit in 17 plate appearances. He has drawn three walks but has six strikeouts. Right now, he is in the 8th percentile of whiff rate and sitting at an 8.8% increase from 2022. Travis Swaggerty, on the other hand, has eight hits in 33 plate appearances. Of those eight hits, over half have gone for extra-base hits (three doubles, a home run, and a triple). He’s only struck out seven times but has walked twice.
If you were going by 2023 statistics alone, Swaggerty absolutely deserves the spot over Suwinski. But again, this is a small sample size of just 50 plate appearances between the two. Suwinski was a league-average batter in 2022, slashing .202/.298/.411 with a .311 wOBA and 100 wRC+.
In terms of OPS, wOBA, and wRC+, he was baseball’s most league-average batter in 2022. He walked 11% of the time, which helped offset a poor 30.6% strikeout rate. Swaggerty, meanwhile, was a .254/.348/.399 batter with a .338 wOBA, and 102 wRC+. He struck out just over a quarter of the time (25.5%), though he had an outstanding 12.4% walk rate. Like Suwinski, Swaggerty was about as league average as you could get but in the International League.
Don’t panic just yet because of Suwinski’s ice-cold start. Sure, it’s not great, but you’re still looking at an extremely small sample size. I definitely think he will start to lose playing time, however. Ji-Hwan and Joe have been nothing short of outstanding to start the year. Between the two, Bae and Joe have combined for 14 hits, half of which are doubles, and a home run in 39 plate appearances.
But that also doesn’t mean that Suwinski should be given a ton of leeway. If Suwinski is still in this funk by the end of April with no signs of improvement, and Swaggerty has continued to produce, the Pirates will have no choice other than to call up the former first-round pick. It’s been an extremely rough go of things for Jack, but let’s see how he can do in more than 17 plate appearances before jumping ship with him and give Swaggerty a few more chances before naming him as Suwinski’s replacement.