CINCINNATI -- Like pretty much everybody else, Eugenio Suarez doesn't know what to make of seeing his name among the Major League leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at this still early but not totally early stage of the 2017 season."I don't pay attention to that," the affable Reds third
CINCINNATI -- Like pretty much everybody else, Eugenio Suarez doesn't know what to make of seeing his name among the Major League leaders in Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at this still early but not totally early stage of the 2017 season.
"I don't pay attention to that," the affable Reds third baseman said with a smile. "I just try to be good every day and work. I don't think about that. I don't want to think about how I'm one of the best at third base right now, because I don't know the future."
OK, fair enough. But seriously: Entering play on Wednesday, Suarez leads the National League in Baseball Reference's WAR, at 2.4. He was above Ryan Zimmerman (2.2), Bryce Harper (2.1), Freddie Freeman (1.9). Everybody.
Where did this come from? And is it real?
The second part of that question is easily answered: No, Suarez will quite likely not be vying for NL MVP Award honors this season. But the 25-year-old has drowned out the doubts about whether he could stick at the hot corner and taken advantage of a very special resource available to him just across Cincinnati's locker room. In so doing, Suarez has made good on his sleeper prospect status from a few years back.
So the answer to that first question comes down to two key points:
1. Suarez has been fantastic at third
Maybe WAR is guilty, as some have suggested, at overvaluing defensive metrics that are ultimately imperfect. But whether you go off the numbers or your own two eyes, there's no denying Suarez looks nothing like he did a year ago.
A converted shortstop who had to slide over to third out of deference to a healthy Zack Cozart, Suarez committed 23 errors last season and was worth just one defensive run saved, per Baseball Info Solutions. It's not that he was terrible, but he wasn't getting any legs behind his throws, he didn't have the experience that hones an understanding of likely outcomes from a given hitter and he was guilty of occasional lapses in focus.
This year, Suarez leads all Major League third basemen with seven defensive runs saved, and he's made just one error in 269 innings. He made a nice stab of a sinking Gary Sanchez liner to start the double play that capped Tuesday's win over the Yankees.
"Miraculous progress," is how Reds manager Bryan Price described Suarez's defense.
Big credit here goes to Cincinnati infield coach Freddie Benavides, who last year switched up Suarez's pregame routine to include taking grounders from his knees, fielding screaming balls of Benavides' bat and a focus on footwork.
"At first I thought [the move to third] was going to be easy because it's the same ground ball," Suarez said. "When you play third, you see it's not the same ground ball. That ball comes at you hard and at a different angle. My first year there was not good defensively. That's why I've worked hard on my footwork to be in a good position."
2. Suarez is more patient at the plate
Suarez hasn't just done his homework on opposing hitters; he's learned about himself, too.
Suarez hit 21 homers and 25 doubles last year, so his early power (seven homers and seven doubles in 110 at-bats) hasn't come completely out of nowhere. But he's getting on base at a .395 clip vs. a .317 mark a year ago. Because Suarez is swinging outside the strike zone less (21.7 percent vs. 26.6 last year, per FanGraphs), he's improved his strikeout rate by seven percentage points and his walk rate by three.
A patient approach from a Reds infielder? Gee, why does that sound familiar?
"When you see Joey Votto hitting, you know how he does it," Suarez said. "He is so focused. Always. He talks to me about selecting one pitch, no matter what it is, and waiting for it."
Suarez and Cozart, whose walk rate has doubled this season, are both benefiting from an evolution of Votto's leadership role and Cincinnati's organizational emphasis, preached by hitting coaches Don Long and Tony Jaramillo, on selectivity.
Yes, Suarez generated power in the past. But he sold out to get it.
"You can see when he's really going well, he's in the middle of the diamond to right-center -- not trying to get the barrel there on every pitch, because that's what makes him vulnerable," Price said. "That's maturity. He doesn't need to be chasing homers. I think he's coming to terms with that."
Suarez has learned to let the numbers come naturally. So, no, he's not caught up in his unexpected spot among the WAR leaders, though he did appreciate that early bit of trivia and laughed when told of the Twitter user who suggested he be referred to as Eugenio WARez.
"If you lead at something, you feel good," Suarez said.
Suarez's spot on the leaderboard might seem confusing, but he has given the Reds plenty to feel good about.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.