On every professional team in every sport, there is one player who seems to draw the ire of social media posters and talk show callers.
Jack Suwinski is emerging as that player for the 2023 Pittsburgh Pirates. It seems like the critics can’t wait for manager Derek Shelton to quit playing the 24-year-old outfielder.
The biggest criticism about Suwinski is his propensity to strike out. And it certainly is a fair criticism.
Suwinski punched out three more times Wednesday in the Pirates’ 9-4 victory over the Giants in San Francisco. That raised his season total to 60 in 179 plate appearances, meaning he has struck out in a little than a third of his trips to the plate.
As a rookie in 2022, Suwinski had 114 strikeouts in 372 plate appearances. That gives him a total of 174 in 551 PA, the equivalent of one full major-league season.
Suwinski has fanned so many times that he could be considered the human air conditioner.
The number of strikeouts is cause for concern and, over the long haul, Suwinski is going to have to improve his contact percentage. Call me a dinosaur if you must but it would also behoove Suwinski to raise his .214 career batting average.
Then there are the left-handed hitting Suwinski’s struggles with left-handed pitching that include a .142 batting average and .518 OPS in 153 career plate appearances.
Yet those are not reasons for the Pirates to go up on him yet.
If anyone needs one big reason why the Pirates need to keep playing Suwinski, it showed Monday in a game the Pirates were routed 14-4 by the Giants.
The left-handed hitting Suwisnki hit two home runs into McCovey Cove beyond the right-field stands at Oracle Park. He became just the second player to accomplish that feat since the ballpark opened in 2000.
The other player is Barry Bonds, who did it twice for the Giants. Bonds, of course, hit more home runs than anyone in major-league history and is also the only player in Pirates’ history to win two National League Most Valuable Players awards.
Now that is not to say that Suwinski is going to come close to matching many of Bonds’ many other feats. However, Suwinski’s power is very intriguing, especially for a team like the Pirates, whose 53 home runs this season rank just 25th among the 30 major-league clubs.
Suwinski has a team-leading 11 home runs and 30 for his career. That is an impressive total for a player who has just a little under one full year of major-league service time.
Furthermore, Suwinski is proving this season that his power is not primarily the creation of a short right field at PNC Park. After hitting 16 of his 19 home runs in home games last season, eight of Suwinski’s 11 longballs this year have come on the road.
For what it’s worth, Bonds had a .223 batting average in 113 games as a rookie with the Pirates in 1986 when he hit 16 home runs and struck out 102 times in an era when triple-digit strikeouts were a bad thing. Bonds’ batting average against lefties was .219.
Again, this is in no way suggesting Suwinski can come close to Bonds’ achievements. However, it shows that even the greatest players need some time to adjust to the big-league level.
That is why the naysayers need to cut Suwinski some slack.