Despite late struggles, Suzuki was critical to Nats’ success

As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we’re going to review each significant player on the Nationals roster. We begin today with Kurt Suzuki, who at 35 enjoyed one of the best offensive seasons of his career and became a trusted batterymate for the team’s two aces.

PLAYER REVIEW: KURT SUZUKI

Age on opening day 2020: 36

How acquired: Signed as free agent, November 2018

MLB service time: 12 years, 113 days

2019 salary: $4 million

Contract status: Signed for $6 million in 2020. Free agent in 2021.

2019 stats: 85 G, 309 PA, 280 AB, 37 R, 74 H, 11 2B, 0 3B, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 0 SB, 1 CS, 20 BB, 36 SO, .264 AVG, .324 OBP, .486 SLG, .809 OPS, 102 OPS+, -14 DRS, 0.6 fWAR, 0.4 bWAR

2019 postseason stats: 10 G, 35 PA, 30 AB, 2 R, 3 H, 0 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 4 BB, 11 SO, .100 AVG, .229 OBP, .200 SLG, .429 OPS

Quotable: “You’ve got a bunch of veterans on this team. I think we understand that it’s not over til it’s over. Obviously, the chances are a little slim, but you’ve got to be a pro. You’ve got to go up there and keep having good at-bats. You never know what can happen. Obviously, tonight shows it.” - Suzuki, after his walk-off grand slam completed a seven-run comeback against the Mets on Sept. 3

2019 analysis: The Nationals signed Suzuki early last offseason, trying to get a jump on the catching market. Only a week later, they traded for Yan Gomes, giving themselves a veteran catching tandem. The initial plan called for Gomes to play slightly more, but Suzuki established himself as the better offensive weapon while also developing a strong rapport with Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Aníbal Sánchez. He wound up behind the plate for the vast majority of all of their starts.

Suzuki Throws Blue World Series.jpgA far different hitter now than he was during his first stint with the Nats in 2012-13, Suzuki is a dead-pull power hitter. When he connects, he hits the ball hard and in the air, with 13 of his 17 homers hit to left field. He finished with a 1.250 OPS on balls hit to left, compared to .647 to center and .493 to right. Suzuki also showed a real knack for delivering in clutch situations. He hit .366 (30-for-82) with runners in scoring position and an eye-popping .417 (15-for-36) with two outs and runners in scoring position.

A strong season ended on a sour personal note, though. Suzuki missed time in September with an elbow injury, then missed much of the World Series with a hip injury. His postseason numbers were ugly: 3-for-30 with one RBI, though that RBI was a big one, coming on a go-ahead homer off Justin Verlander in Game 2 of the Fall Classic.

2020 outlook: After signing a two-year deal, Suzuki is guaranteed to return next season, with a still-modest $6 million salary. At 36, though, there are only so many squats behind the plate left in him. And the injuries he dealt with this season - especially the elbow ailment - are cause for concern.

So are his immense struggles stopping the running game. Suzuki threw out only 10 percent of opposing basestealers this season (five of 50), the worst rate of his career. Even with a healthy elbow, he had trouble, and that only got worse when he tried to play through the pain.

Still, Suzuki’s pop at the plate, knack for clutch hits and rapport with Scherzer, Strasburg and Sánchez all continue to make him a valuable part of the Nationals’ roster next season. They’ll need to make sure they pair him up with another catcher capable of sharing the load, whether they re-sign Gomes or add someone else new. But Suzuki will return, and the Nats will be better for it.

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