After erratic season, Suero needs to find formula for consistency

As our offseason coverage kicks into high gear, we have reviewed each significant player on the Nationals roster. We conclude today with Wander Suero, who led the staff in relief appearances while being wildly inconsistent game to game.

Suero-in-Rain-Red-sidebar.jpgPLAYER REVIEW: WANDER SUERO

Age on opening day 2020: 28

How acquired: Signed as international free agent, February 2010

MLB service time: 1 year, 123 days

2019 salary: $562,500

Contract status: Under team control, could be arbitration-eligible in 2021, free agent in 2025

2019 stats: 6-9, 4.54 ERA, 78 G, 1 SV, 71 1/3 IP, 64 H, 36 R, 36 ER, 5 HR, 26 BB, 81 SO, 3 HBP, 1.262 WHIP, 101 ERA+, 3.07 FIP, 1.5 fWAR, 0.7 bWAR

2019 postseason stats: 0-0, 4.50 ERA, 4 G, 0 SV, 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 HR, 0 BB, 2 SO, 0 HBP, 1.000 WHIP

Quotable: “The confidence he’s given me, especially lately in big situations despite my numbers not being where I’d like them to be, he keeps giving me the confidence. So I’m definitely excited and ready to be out there and help out any way I can.” - Suero, on Davey Martinez, after recording his first career save June 21

2019 analysis: Who was the only member of the Nationals’ opening day bullpen to remain on the active roster the entire season? Would you believe it was Suero, who managed to stay healthy but also to be just effective enough to ward off any serious talk of a demotion to the minors.

We tend to remember the right-hander’s bad outings, because typically they were really bad. In his nine losses - an awfully high total for a reliever - he gave up 21 runs, compiling a 35.44 ERA and 4.875 WHIP. Yes, those were really bad. But that means 21 of the 36 total runs he gave up all season long came in only nine of his club-high 78 appearances. His ERA in those 69 other outings: 2.08. His WHIP: 0.954.

That’s why Suero pitched as much as he did. Well, that and the fact Martinez barely had any other viable options for much of the season. When he was good, he was very good. When he was bad, he was really bad.

2020 outlook: Like Tanner Rainey, Suero has electric stuff that makes him a very effective reliever at times. And like his fellow inexperienced righty, Suero needs to find some way to more consistently be effective.

The best way for him to do that? Harness his cutter - the bread-and-butter pitch he throws 72 percent of the time - and develop trust in his off-speed pitches in order to give batters more to think about at the plate. Suero did increase his changeup usage this season. After throwing it only 4.4 percent of the time in 2018, he threw it 20.6 percent of the time in 2019. And it’s an effective pitch: Opponents hit only .123 off it this year (as opposed to .268 off his cutter and .304 off his seldom-used curveball).

Suero at times gets too much movement on his cutter, which means he can’t throw it for strikes and hitters don’t have to worry about taking the bat off their shoulder. Somehow he needs to learn how to make in-game adjustments and move that pitch back toward the strike zone on nights when he doesn’t have a good feel for it.

If he can do that, Suero has a bright future and an opportunity to be a mainstay for the Nationals in a setup role. But he needs to prove he can actually do it.

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