I won’t bore you with the obvious unique things about Brent Suter — that he’s one of an estimated 10 percent of the population that’s left-handed; that he was one of 7.1 percent of applicants to get into the Harvard Class of 2012 (and that he managed to graduate with a degree in environmental science and public policy); that he’s one of 1,238 domestic amateurs who were drafted in June 2012; and that he’s one of 860 people on the planet to play in an MLB game this year.
Here at Beyond the Box Score, we don’t waste time on trivialities like “personal details” or “defining characteristics.” This blog is about cold, hard numbers — and even viewed through an unflinchingly objective eye, Suter’s a pretty distinct guy. With a 3.04 ERA and 3.27 FIP in 50 1⁄3 innings, he’s been a key contributor for the upstart Brewers. Let’s look at three of the (wholly baseball) unique things about this 28-year-old southpaw.
Since 2002 — the first year Baseball Info Solutions began collecting data — fastball velocity has increased steadily across the majors, with an average four-seamer traveling at 92.8 mph this season. Mike Fast’s seminal study on the matter, from way back in 2010, showed that for each 1 mph increase in fastball velocity, a pitcher will allow about .24 fewer runs per nine innings. Long story short: Pitchers want to throw the ball hard.
Given that — and given Suter’s aforementioned success this year — you might be surprised to see this:
Lowest four-seam fastball velocity — 2017
Nobody in baseball throws their fastball as slow as Suter. The list has plenty of solid soft-tossers — Rich Hill’s career renaissance has shown how little velocity matters for some pitchers — but still, Suter is in last by more than two full miles per hours.
The pitch doesn’t have many other appealing attributes, either. Its spin rate (2,137 RPM) is the 16th-lowest in the majors, its vertical movement (-0.4 inches) is fourth-lowest, and its horizontal movement (7.4 inches) is eighth-lowest. Yet despite all that, it’s performed better than an average four-seamer in pretty much every way:
Four-seam fastballs — Suter vs. MLB
|Suter FF||72.6%||22.1%||10.4%||83.8 mph|
|MLB FF||65.0%||19.0%||9.2%||88.4 mph|
How does Suter’s fastball excel like this when it (a) isn’t fast, (b) doesn’t have spin, (c) doesn’t run, and (d) doesn’t rise?
The answer, I suspect, is twofold. As Ryan Braun suggested after Suter dominated the Cubs last month, the lefty’s delivery appears to deceive hitters, who can’t spot the ball and either take it for a called strike or swing through it. At the early point in his delivery, Suter almost looks like a sidearmer, leaning over to put more power on the ball:
But then he straightens up, and releases the ball at a little bit above a 3⁄4 arm slot (by my estimation):
A few of Suter’s coaches have tried to change his herky-jerky motion, but as he explained last fall, he learned not to mess with success:
"When I tried to smooth out my mechanics, my ball was harder but straighter, and I would get waxed," he said. "Some of my worst outings of my minor-league career were when I tried to smooth out my mechanics and get it straightened out.
"That was kind of when I was like, ‘OK, this path, I’m going to have lower velo and a little bit more movement, but it’s more my kind of strength, more my pitching style.’ I’ve kind of embraced it since then and luckily it’s gotten me here."
Along with his tricky delivery, Suter commands his fastball well — and plays it off his secondary pitches. Note the divergent location patterns on his four-seamer and his slider/changeup:
Suter challenges hitters with his fastball, preferring to attack them up in the zone, as he did to Paul DeJong in the GIF above. Because they’re also trying to fend off a low, slow pitch — a slider if they’re a lefty, a changeup if they’re a righty — the heater can catch them off-guard and prevent them from getting good wood.
So Suter’s fastball is doubly distinct — not only does it travel slower than anyone else’s, it manages to befuddle hitters despite that lack of velocity. With two reliable secondary pitches accompanying that heater, he has a full arsenal to attack hitters with, even if nothing lights up the radar gun.
The average MLB game in 2017 has lasted three hours and five minutes, the longest since those records began being kept. For all the complaints about three true outcomes and relief pitcher usage, one of the major sources of the problem is pitchers taking more time on the mound. On average, 24.3 seconds have elapsed between pitches this year, up from 21.7 seconds in 2008.
This sequence is certainly a departure from that norm:
Video via Reddit
That video shows six pitches in about 80 seconds, as both Suter and Aaron Judge wanted to waste no time. While that plate appearance didn’t end especially well for Suter, who gave in and threw ball four, it encapsulates yet another noteworthy thing about him — he works really, really quickly:
Fastest pitchers — 2017
No pitcher in baseball has worked more efficiently than Suter this season. While his fastball doesn’t move very fast, he makes up for that by not dilly-dallying around between pitches.
You (if you’re me) might wonder, “Does pitching that rapidly make him less likely to throw strikes?” It seems like a legitimate question; if you’re not taking your time on the mound, maybe your control doesn’t hold up. Although that hasn’t been an issue for Suter — he’s put 54.3 percent of his pitches in the strike zone, the fifth-highest clip in baseball — it does appear to affect other pitchers, as the below graph shows:
Suter, as you might have guessed, is represented by the Crimson “H.” Not many of the extreme strike throwers are fast workers, and not many of the efficient pitchers pound the zone. Here, as with his fastball, Suter stands apart.
The justification for Suter’s promptness is pretty much what you’d expect — his goal is to “keep the tempo going, keep the defenders on their toes, and keep everyone in the game.” Judge was able to outwit him in their matchup, but most other hitters haven’t been able to slow things down and figure Suter out. Who needs velocity when you can throw off hitters’ timing like this?
The running game
Okay, so this one is a little bit of a stretch. Suter isn’t “unique,” in that a few other guys have done what he’s done. Still, I think this is pretty impressive:
Pitchers with no stolen base attempts — 2017
|Pitcher||Innings||SB opportunities||SB attempts|
|Pitcher||Innings||SB opportunities||SB attempts|
Out of the 201 pitchers who have compiled 50 innings this year, these are the only six who haven’t allowed a stolen base attempt — that means no steals, no caught stealings, no nothing. The metric in the middle, per Baseball-Reference, is “[p]late appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open.” Sixty-five times this year, opponents have had a chance to take off against Suter, and zero have they capitalized.
As a southpaw, Suter has a natural advantage to hold runners in place — namely, his ability to stare them down from the set. That alone won’t prevent runners from advancing, though; as Jon Lester can testify, you have to actually throw over to first once in a while to keep them honest. And this is a skill Suter has down like few others. Check out this pickoff move:
Suter caught Jose Osuna leaning toward second base, which gave him the split second he needed to pick him off. It’s hard to blame Osuna for this, given that Suter’s setup is virtually identical whether he’s throwing to first or home:
The lean as Suter sets up is doubly effective: Not only does it add deception to his fastball, it makes it look like he’s about to throw to first, and when he actually does throw to first, he’ll catch baserunners off guard. Osuna is something of an outlier — Suter has a mere two pickoffs this year — but with a process this good, the results are bound to come.
Stolen bases don’t matter as much as velocity or timing, but they can still make a difference (again, just ask Lester). Suter has stranded 76.7 percent of his baserunners this season, above the MLB average of 72.6 percent. As a fairly marginal pitcher, he needs every advantage he can get, and preventing runners from moving up 90 feet has definitely worked in his favor.
Suter, in a way, is reminiscent of Mark Buehrle, who famously threw slow and worked fast, while also catching more than his fair share of baserunners. Buehrle was a pretty unique guy himself — a 38th-round draft pick back in 1998 who overcame long odds to have a 16-year, borderline-Hall of Fame MLB career. Suter has already made it to the Show, and with these three things working in his favor, he could enjoy a similarly illustrious career.
All statistics as of Saturday, Aug. 5.