Rum Bunter Staff Predictions For The 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates: Noah Wright
Breakout Position Player - Jack Suwinski
Everyone, and I mean everyone, will have either Ke'Bryan Hayes or Oneil Cruz as their breakout position player. While I agree with both Cruz and Hayes being prime breakout candidates, I'm going to go with one player that receives a significantly less amount of attention: Jack Suwnski.
Suwinski had a fairly solid rookie campaign. Through 372 plate appearances, Suwinski slashed .202/.298/.411 with a .311 wOBA and 100 wRC+. As a batter, he posted numbers almost identical to the league average. Suwinski struggled with strikeouts, however. He K'd at a 30.6% rate but made it up with walks and extra-base hits. Suwinski walked in 11% of his plate appearances with an isolated slugging percentage of .209 and crushed 19 homers.
Suwinski also excelled on defense. He racked up +1 defensive run saved, +1 out above average, and a +7.8 UZR/150. This all came to a 1.8 fWAR in just 106 games and 372 trips to the dish. That comes out to a 2.5 fWAR in 150 games and 2.9 fWAR in 600 plate appearances. But I think Suwinski can be much better than just a league-average hitter next year.
The first reason is that Suwinski's struggles against LHP can be mitigated better this season. The additions of Connor Joe and Andrew McCutchen mean that Suwinski doesn't have to face an LHP every time a team starts one. When Suwinski faced same-handed pitching, he batted just .122/.225/.286 with a 47 wRC+. However, when he faced a right-hander, he batted .237/.330/.465 with a 122 wRC+. That's a 75% difference in wRC+.
The second reason is a combination of two factors. One is that with the new shift rules, Suwinski will have a much more limited shift placed on him. Suwinski was shifted on in 71.2% of his plate appearances. The second reason is that he had a barrel rate in the 86th percentile. Barrel rate is how often a batter hits a ball with an exit velocity and launch angle that goes for a hit more than 50% of the time. With a 12.2% barrel rate, combined with the new shift rules, there will be a lot more opportunities for Suwinski to get a hit.
Sure, the strikeouts are a bit worrying, but he didn't let that get in his way when he faced right-handed pitching last year. Give him 400-450 plate appearances in a platoon role, and he'll play well. He could be a .240/.350/.450 batter next year and be an integral power hitter in the Pirates' line-up.