Seiya's recent slump first sign of growing pains

Ross on rookie outfielder's struggles: 'You're seeing the league kind of adjust'

May 5th, 2022

CHICAGO -- Seiya Suzuki's first two weeks in the Major Leagues were astonishing. The power and patience that made him a star in Japan were immediately present when he donned a Cubs uniform, quieting all that talk about a tough transition period.

"Maybe this is the transition," Cubs president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer quipped during his team's second homestand of the young season.

Hoyer was quick to make sure his media audience that afternoon at Wrigley Field understood that he was joking.

"We know there will be challenges ahead," he continued. "Because everyone faces them. But, yeah, it's been a lot of fun to watch so far."

The first challenge phase has arrived. Perhaps Suzuki's initial entrance to the big leagues -- complete with the National League's Rookie of the Month Award for April and the NL's second Player of the Week honor of the season -- established unfair expectations. A rough patch was bound to arrive.

During Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the White Sox, Suzuki went 0-for-4, striking out on a changeup and popping or lining out on elevated fastballs in his three other at-bats. It was the continuation of a skid that has now lasted nearly two weeks.

"I was really happy, but obviously my condition isn't very well right now," Suzuki said via his interpreter, Toy Matsushita. "So that's what I’m trying to work on."

Suzuki's season to date can be split into two sections:

First 11 games (April 7-19)

• He slashed .414/.581/.897 and hit four home runs in 43 plate appearances.
• He had more walks (12) than strikeouts (nine), equating to a 27.9 percent walk rate and a 20.9 percent strikeout rate.
• Suzuki hit .533 with a 1.200 slugging percentage against fastballs.
• He had a .500 batting average and a 1.083 SLG on all swings.

Next 13 games (April 19-May 4)

• He slashed .157/.189/.235 with no home runs in 53 plate appearances.
• He had far more strikeouts (18) than walks (two), equating to a 34 percent strikeout rate and a 3.8 percent walk rate.
• Suzuki hit .171 with a .229 slugging percentage against fastballs.
• He had a .186 batting average and a .279 SLG on all swings.

While Suzuki's contact rate has remained relatively stable overall, he has had more swinging strikes in the past two weeks (8.2 percent) than in that first 11-game stretch (5.7 percent). He has also been more prone to swinging at pitches outside the zone (29 percent in the past 13 games, compared to 11 percent in the first stretch).

Suzuki said he has not seen "that much difference" in how pitchers have attacked him lately in comparison to early in the season. Cubs manager David Ross did not disagree, calling the recent offensive dry spell more of an issue with timing than anything else.

Ross noted that Suzuki has continued to toy with different timing mechanisms with his stride, alternating between a leg kick and a more reduced toe tap at times. During Spring Training, Suzuki explained that a big adjustment to Major League pitching has been the variety of delivery styles.

No one around the Cubs sounds too concerned, given that every hitter experiences peaks and valleys throughout the course of a long season. Suzuki's current drought just feels glaring in light of how remarkable the early-season peak was for the rookie star.

"To everyone, it was like, 'Wow, this guy's taking the league by storm, right?'" Ross said. "Now, you're seeing the league kind of adjust. And he's also in that same boat of adjusting back to pitchers."

In terms of the types of pitches Suzuki has been seeing, opposing pitchers have increased the amount of curveballs, changeups and cutters over the past two weeks. With fastballs specifically, Suzuki is seeing fewer two-seamers, and the heaters he has faced have been increasingly elevated.

"It's easy to get caught in the minutiae of it," Cubs hitting coach Greg Brown said. "At the end of the year, I think that his numbers are going to be where they're supposed to be. I think from him, it's more about staying steady in his process or how he prepares."

And Brown has been impressed with Suzuki on that front.

"He does his own homework," Brown said. "He doesn't want necessarily a lot of information. Pitch types, obviously. Movement. Type of break. We watch video. And I think that, again, his mind works pretty fast. So, when he's in there, I think that he sees and processes information really well."

Right now, Suzuki is in the midst of processing how the rest of the league has started to adjust to his keen eye and powerful bat. How he responds from here will be the first real test of his Major League career.

"It's obviously a long season," Suzuki said. "So I want to continue and just keep what I'm doing."