To say it’s been a roller coaster of a 2023 season for Jack Suwinski would be quite an understatement.
We’ve seen him be really good at times. In 22 games through April, Suwinski finished with a .279/.393/.618 slash with six home runs, 18 RBIs and five steals.
We’ve also seen him be really bad, as he has been in the month of August. After going 0 for 4 with a couple of strikeouts on Friday night, Suwinski is hitting an abysmal .082 (4 for 49). He has not homered this month and he has struck out 24 times in 60 plate appearances (40% strikeout rate).
Sandwiched in between his MVP-caliber April and his pitcher-hitting-like August were three months filled with inconsistences.
In May, Suwinski hit .207 with a decent, yet unspectacular .730 OPS while striking out 37% of the time. In June, he managed a .772 OPS but he hit just .185.
July was a good month, as evident by his .903 OPS, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. In his final 12 games of the month, he slashed .175/.209/.400.
So, has Suwinski been good or bad this season?
Well, it probably depends on what statistics you favor. If OPS is your measuring stick, you’d probably say he’s been good. Entering play on Saturday, Suwinski has a healthy .781 mark (112 wRC+).
He also has a career-high and team-high 21 home runs and is roughly a 2.0-WAR player according to both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.
On the flip side, if you’re more of a traditionalist, Suwinski is barely above the Mendoza line with a .207 batting average.
He’s also striking out at an alarmingly high clip (33.8% of the time). Of all qualified players, that’s the highest mark in baseball.
Suwinski’s perplexing season has drawn the ire of Pirates’ fans and it’s understandable as to why. Suwinski has been tasked with anchoring key positions in the lineup for much of the season.
The outfielder was the Pirates’ cleanup hitter on Friday night. In three of his four at-bats, the Pirates had multiple runners on base. Twice, he struck out looking and once he popped out to third base.
Suwinski, at this point, is essentially a true-outcome hitter. Over half of his plate appearances this season have either been home runs, walks or strikeouts.
There could be some value in that, but it isn’t what you want to see from a cleanup hitter. Or even a five-hole hitter for that matter.
In scoring opportunities, guys need to put the ball in play. That’s not Suwinski’s profile.
Which brings us to an even bigger question. Is Jack Suwinski an everyday player?
The platoon splits say no, and they’re probably right. In his career, he’s slashed .223/338/.484 against right-handed pitching. His strikeout rate, while still high, is a more manageable 29.7%.
Against lefties, Suwinski has slashed .159/.259/.296 and has struck out in 45% of his plate appearances.
If he’s not an everyday player, then is he at least a platoon player? I would say yes. In the same breath. he’s probably not a guy that should be hitting in the top half of the lineup, though that fault doesn’t lie with him.
Suwinski does have value. This season, at least to me, it’s seemed like the Pirates have asked him to do too much — both with the bat and in the field.
With a healthy Oneil Cruz back in the fold and a potential offseason acquisition or two this winter to help beef up the lineup, Suwinski’s playing time should be reduced to a platoon situation, and he should be shifted to a back-half spot in the lineup.
It will be interesting to see how the Pirates handle Suwinski moving forward. For the rest of this season — or at least until Cruz comes back — it could be more of the same.
With a full offseason of decisions to be made, Suwinski could — and probably should — wind up in a different role with the club in 2024.