No one realistically expected Ranger Suárez to replicate his 2021 season. After all, the 26-year-old left hander finished with a 1.36 ERA in 106 innings spread out between the rotation and bullpen for the Philadelphia Phillies. Suárez became just the 22nd pitcher in MLB history and the first since Bruce Sutter in 1977 to throw at least 106 innings and have an ERA of 1.36 or better. Regression was expected for Suárez in 2022 following a historic season.
That regression has predictably come, but it has been much more severe than anticipated. Suárez currently has an ERA of 4.40 through 12 starts and has gone at least six innings in just four starts. His WHIP has jumped from 1.00 to 1.50. He has already allowed more home runs this season (6) than all of last season (4). He was unlikely to ever have a sub 2.00 ERA again, but Suárez doesn’t even look like the same pitcher.
Skyrocketing Walk Rate
Suárez excelled last season in filling the zone with quality strikes and limiting free passes. He walked 33 batters in his 106 IP last season for a BB/9 of 2.80. This season however, Suárez has already walked 26 batters in just 59.1 IP pitched for a BB/9 of 3.94. His command has not been close to what it was last season, which is leading to many deep counts and early exits due to an inflated pitch count.
Dramatic Drop in Whiffs
Suárez’ increase in walks goes hand in hand with his dramatic decrease in swinging strikes. The whiff percentage on each of his pitches has decreased varying degrees from last year, some rather dramatically.
|2021||Four Seam Fastball||22.8|
|2022||Four Seam Fastball||21.4|
via Baseball Savant
In fact, his two best pitches, namely his sinker and changeup, actually have lower whiff percentages than 2019 as well. The drop of the changeup is particularly alarming, as the pitch effectively served as his strikeout pitch last season. Perhaps Suárez’ biggest problem this year is he doesn’t have an “out pitch”, meaning he doesn’t have a pitch to turn to when he needs a swing and miss. That can be directly traced back to the ineffectiveness of his changeup. He hasn’t been able to rely on the pitch to escape jams when his sinker isn’t working. Opposing hitters are hitting .259 with an expected slugging percentage of .415 against Suárez’ changeup. Last year, those numbers were .202 and .321 respectively.
Hitters Not Biting
Suárez’ overall strikeout percentage has dropped from 25.6% to 18.6% from last season to this season. Yet again, his K% this year is also lower than his 2019 season (20.5%) as well.
Suárez has particularly struggled at getting hitters to swing at pitches out of the zone. His outside the zone swing percentage is down from 31.8% to 28.7%. Hitters aren’t swinging at the pitches Suárez wants them to swing at to either generate a swinging miss or a groundball. This has contributed to Suárez’ increased walk rate as mentioned before but also it has led to him getting hit around more.
Batting Line Against
|via Baseball Reference|
Suárez has had to throw more pitches in the zone because he’s not getting swings at the ones outside the zone. These pitches are getting hit more often, with a zone contact percentage of 90.5% as opposed to 84.7% last season. His general contact percentage is also way up, jumping from 75.6% to 83.3%.
The first step to Suárez remedying these issues is to improve his command early in counts. By getting ahead early, Suárez can gain the advantage and force hitters to go into protection mode and swing at more pitches outside of the zone. This will allow him to generate more soft contact and keep his pitch counts manageable so he can go deeper in games. Right now, hitters are laying off these pitches because they are ahead, or the pitches are so far out of the zone they’re an easy take.
Put Them Away
The next step after improved command is to throw more quality strikes when he does fail to get ahead. Suárez is leaving too many pitches in hittable spots and he’s getting punished for it with a home run to fly ball ratio that has doubled while his groundball rate has dropped. Hitters simply aren’t missing the pitches he’s throwing in the zone, and he’s had to throw more because he’s falling behind in counts.