Kurt Suzuki: Anatomy of an Underrated Player

“Overrated” and “underrated” are overused terms in the blogosphere, particularly the sports blogosphere. Thank goodness I never fall into the trap of using them. But hey, it’s Friday, I can loosen the tie a bit.

What makes a baseball player underrated? It can be a number of things: not playing for a contender, not playing in a big market, not being verbose with the media, and, of course, not having skills that are commonly remarked upon. While I don’t know about Kurt Suzuki‘s clubhouse witticisms one way or the other (one interview can be found here), I do know that he seems to meet the rest of the requirements.

Oakland has neither contended nor had excess national media coverage since Suzuki became their full-time catcher following Jason Kendall‘s trade to the Cubs during the 2007 season. Given the As’ recent performances, Suzuki might seem to be just another cog in the machine of the seemingly endless (to casual observers, anyway) rebuilding process in Oakland. But the whole point of an “underrated” post is to show that he isn’t just another player. Suzuki isn’t just another player. But to see this, one has to look a bit more closely than usual.

Offensively, Suzuki has been just slightly below average over his major league career with a 97 wRC+. CHONE has him slightly better than that at 99 wRC+, and the other projection systems see him as about the same. That may not be too inspiring, but one has to keep in mind that Suzuki is a catcher, and not many catchers can produce near-league average offense. Combined with his ability to play almost 150 games a season, in each of the last two seasons, Suzuki has been around three Wins Above Replacement. Not bad for a pre-arbitration player.

But wait, there’s more! While catchers like Mike Napoli and Jorge Posada have superior bats to Suzuki, not only do they play fewer games at catcher than Suzuki, they also have poor gloves. While FanGraphs doesn’t have catcher defense (yet), there are some sources for it. Rally’s Wins Above Replacement has Suzuki at +11 defensively in 2008, and +1 in 2009 (which matches my 2009 figure). That bumps his 2009 figure just slightly, but makes him about a 4 win player in 2008. CHONE projects Suzuki at +3 defensively for 2010.

Adding it all together, one gets a 3+ win player, which is about how the Fans have him projected. This again illustrates how valuable a player’s pre-arbitration seasons are to a team, and again, as I wrote earlier this week, it is particularly clear this off-season in light of the contracts recently given to below-average veteran catchers. While the As’ crazy-range outfield may get the bulk of the publicity, Suzuki is just as important to a team that might sneak up on their competitors in AL West in 2010.

Then again, if 42 fans understand how good Kurt Suzuki is, how underrated can he be?



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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