Pittsburgh Pirates: Biggest Improvements Jack Suwinski Needs to Make

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Chicago Cubs v Pittsburgh Pirates / Justin Berl/GettyImages

Pirate outfielder Jack Suwinski had a decent rookie campaign, but there is one glaring issue that he needs to improve next season.

Jack Suwinski was a surprise rookie for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. The outfielder posted solid numbers at the dish, slashing .202/.298/.411 with a .709 OPS, .311 wOBA and 100 wRC+. He was a league-average batter in nearly every rate measurement. The league average wOBA and OPS last season were .310 and .705, respectively.

His 100 wRC+ is average on the dot, and his 98 OPS+ is only 2% worse than average. On top of that, he was a great fielder, racking up +2 Defenisve Runs Saved and +1 Outs Above Average in 818.2 innings.

But Suwinski’s season had its positives and negatives. He hit 19 home runs in 372 plate appearances, leading to a .209 isolated slugging percentage. He also walked in 11% of his plate appearances. But he also struck out at a 30.6% rate. Going into next season, the biggest thing Suwinski needs to improve isn’t his strikeouts per se, but his plate discipline.

Suwinski was about average in nearly every plate discipline measurement, per FanGraphs. He had a 72.9% contact rate compared to the league average rate of 75.3%. When Suwinski swung at offerings left in the zone, he had an 84.9% contact rate when the league average was 84%. He had an out-of-zone swing rate of 27.4% when the league average rate was 31.2%. Suwinski’s zone swing rate was 63.2%, the league average was 68.2%. His swinging strike rate was 11.7%, just 0.2% worse than the average rate of 11.5%.

All of those are relatively close to the average, except for maybe his zone swing rate. But his out-of-zone contact rate was the biggest outlier in his plate discipline profile. He swung outside the zone less often than the normal batter. But when he did swing, he only made contact 51.2% of the time. This was over 10% worse than the league average O-contact rate of 61.9%.

The issues were even more pronounced once he was recalled at the start of September. Suwinski’s numbers from earlier remain the same from September through the end of the season. 27.8% out-of-zone swing rate, 62.7% in-zone swing rate, and 70.4% contact rate, improved his zone contact rate to 89.5% and saw more first-pitch strikes. But the massive issue was his out-of-zone contact rate sitting at just 38.8%, which was by far the lowest in baseball in September (min. 100 plate appearances).

This is the biggest thing he needs to work on, but there is also something worth highlighting that he could take advantage of. Suwinski had a zone contact rate of 89.5% in September. That was only 0.3% behind notorious contact-hitting second baseman Jeff McNeil. Overall, Suwinski’s zone contact rate was above the league average. But he only swung at pitches in the zone 62.7% of the time during September, which was the 27th-lowest mark. He also had a first-pitch strike rate of 66.7% (league-averaeg is 60.8%). 

Suwinski has no issues making contact when pitches are in the zone, but he isn’t fully taking advantage of his ability to do so. A swing rate of 62.7% is very low, and increasing it could increase his production. Speaking that he had a swinging strike rate of 12.6% in September and an 11.7% rate overall, both of which are average, it is not an issue of identifying in-zone offerings for Suwinski. In short, he could be a bit more aggressive on offerings that are in the zone.

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If Suwinski can even get his out-of-zone swing rate within the ballpark of average, at least within 5-7% away from the average rather than 10%+ away from it, he could make a big impact next season. Suwinski has the power to be a real threat at the dish. He doesn’t need to bat .280, or even .250 to be productive. Given his power and ability to reach base, a .210-.230 average might lead to a 110 wRC+ or greater. If he can improve his out-of-zone swing rate, he could do this next season.