Washington Nationals: Emergence of Wander Suero huge for the bullpen

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CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 11: Wander Suero #51 of the Washington Nationals pitches the 9th inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on August 11, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nationals defeated the Cubs 9-4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - AUGUST 11: Wander Suero #51 of the Washington Nationals pitches the 9th inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on August 11, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Nationals defeated the Cubs 9-4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /
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We’ve got our next 2018 Report Card where we review the season of Wander Suero, who was a huge addition to the Washington Nationals bullpen last season.

As we continue giving out 2018 Report Cards to each member of the Washington Nationals, we look next to Wander Suero. The versatile reliever was one of the more underrated pieces on the team last season.

He got his first major league call-up on April 30th as the team tried out a few relievers in an attempt to replace AJ Cole. After three other trips back to Triple-A after his first call-up, he stuck around for good when the team traded Brandon Kintzler.

He finished 2018 with a 4-1 record as well as a pair of holds and an impressive 3.59 ERA. He also had 40 appearances, which ranked seventh on the team among pitchers. He already appears to have a role locked down in the bullpen for 2019 after a highly impressive rookie year.

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The Positives for Suero

Suero’s best pitch up in the big leagues was, by far and away, his cutter as he threw it 73.8 percent of the time, with his curveball coming in at 15.4 percent and no other pitch above five percent. Hitters struggled to consistently do damage against his cutter though, with just a 2.4 HR/FB% while having a .250 average against with a .320 BABIP meaning that average is probably a bit unlucky on Suero’s part. While his cutter may not necessarily blow people away, it’s going to be a plus major league pitch and will be his bread and butter at the highest level.

Unlike other relievers on the team, Wander Suero was able to showcase excellent command during his time in the big leagues, never beating himself on the mound. He had the fifth lowest walk rate among relievers on the team with at least 10 innings pitched with only Sean Doolittle, Matt Grace and Kintzler lower. He did this by constantly pumping balls into the zone with 49.7 percent of his pitches ending up in the zone, which only Grace topped among Nats relievers with at least 10 innings. While others may have better pure stuff, the Nats right-hander makes the most of his stuff to great effect.

Areas for Improvement

While he does pound the strikezone, Suero’s limited pure stuff means that he’s never going to strike out a ton of batters. He had just an 8.87 K/9, which by recent major league standards is low given the major league average is a strikeout per inning. With his cutter sitting at just 92.1 mph and his curveball at 79.7 mph, he won’t miss too many bats as his high 79.2 percent contact percentage shows. This may limit his ceiling at the major leagues to a middle relief and possible setup role, but it doesn’t mean he’s not a valuable piece if he can consistently get outs by restricting hard contact.

While the results appeared good, it will be fair to wonder whether there will be some regression in Suero’s future. Among Nationals relievers who pitched a minimum of 10 innings, the right-hander finished third in hard contact percentage at 35.8 percent, as only Trevor Gott and Shawn Kelley were ahead of him. With that in mind, his xFIP of 4.33 could become reality if his 7.1 percent HR/FB% normalizes to 10.5 percent if that high hard hit percentage maintains through to next year.

The Final Grade

His impressive pitching performance, coupled with his ability to fill multiple different roles in the bullpen means he’s set to be a key piece in 2019. However, he does have three options left on his contract, which may be a factor if Mike Rizzo continues to add to the bullpen this winter though.

If it weren’t for a certain Juan Soto, you could argue that Wander Suero was the team’s best rookie in 2018. That means he gets high marks, but we need to be wary that there are still likely to be limitations in the future. A-

A-. . RP. Washington Nationals. WANDER SUERO

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Remember to keep an eye out for more Washington Nationals 2018 Report Cards during the upcoming weeks here at District on Deck.

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