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Alternate reality free agency: Seiya Suzuki

The Yankees chose not to make a run for Seiya Suzuki. How has this choice turned out?

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Cincinnati Reds Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees made the decision last offseason to not make any notable changes to their outfield after getting Joey Gallo during the 2021 trade deadline. In addition, the Yankees returned their normal starters in Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Aaron Hicks. Judge and Stanton have been their usual selves, making their place in the outfield guaranteed. Hicks and Gallo have played adequate, if not inspiring, baseball. One of the more interesting free agents over the last offseason was Seiya Suzuki from Japan. After some early rumors about the Yankees being interested, the Cubs signed Suzuki for $85 million over five years.

Realistically, the Yankees were never going to sign Suzuki. He is an outfielder and the Yankees already had four starting outfielders under contract for this season. Stanton and Judge were always going to be locks for the roster with their history of excellent performance, if not also significant injury history. However Aaron Hicks and Joey Gallo have question marks in their batting profiles. So the question is, would it have been worth it to get rid of either of Gallo or Hicks for Suzuki?

In 2019, Hicks signed a contract extension for $70 million over seven years though 2025 with a 2026 club option. Meanwhile, Gallo is in his third year of arbitration with a salary of just over $10.275 million. Neither of these players could realistically have been dropped from the roster. Hicks is only halfway through his contract extension, meaning the Yankees would have to eat a lot of money to DFA him. Gallo has a somewhat different problem in that the Yankees paid a price in prospects to get Gallo from the Rangers. The Yankees are not going to give up on Gallo so easily, the sunk cost fallacy is alive and well. With the situation of the Yankees outfield in mind, how does Suzuki stack up?

Seiya Suzuki MLB Percentile Rankings
Credit: Baseball Savant

The 27-year-old righty swinging outfielder has a .245 batting average with a .344 on base percentage and an OPS of .776 in 41 games. In addition, Suzuki has 49 strikeouts to go along with four home runs and three stolen bases. Going by the standard baseball statistics, Suzuki has been performing fairly well. However, once you start looking deeper, some concerning trends start to emerge. Suzuki is in the bottom 14 percent of the league in expected batting average at .223 and a little below in average expected weighted on base average at .330. Additionally, his xSLG is a little below average at .429 and a strikeout percentage in the eighth percentile of the league at 30.1 percent. Though, in a positive note, Suzuki has a barrel percentage in the 87th percentile of the league at 13 percent and a walk percentage in the 89th percentile of the league at 12.9 percent.

Joey Gallo MLB Percentile Rankings
Credit: Baseball Savant

In a lot of ways, Seiya Suzuki acts like a copy of Joey Gallo’s style of baseball. This year, Gallo is hitting to the tune of a .193 average with an OBP of .291 with a SLG of .372 — this results in an OPS of .663. While this might look worse than Suzuki, and it is, the underlying stats might indicate some positives for Gallo. Joey Gallo has an xSLG in the top quarter of the league at .499 with an xwOBA of .359. Both of those numbers are above Suzuki’s expected numbers, suggesting that Gallo might eventually do much better at the plate than has emerged so far this year. It’s possible that Gallo will eventually have a better overall year than Suzuki.

Aaron Hicks MLB Percentiles
Credit: Baseball Savant

Suzuki in comparison to Hicks paints a somewhat worse picture for the Yankees. Aaron Hicks has not played particularly well this year — both traditional counting stats and the advanced stats have not been kind to him. This year, Hicks is hitting .238 with a .358 OBP with an OPS of .644 and a SLG of .286. Apart from the OBP, those numbers are not great, and the advanced stats look even worse. Hicks’s xBA is .229 with an xSLG of .328 and a xwOBA of .308. Hicks has an xSLG is in the fifth percentile of the league, an xBA in the 17th percentile of the league, and a barrel percentage in the seventh percentile of the league. The only real positive is that Hicks strikes out a little less than average and is in the 96th percentile of the league in walk percentage.

The Yankees were never likely to sign Seiya Suzuki, but maybe they should have. While Suzuki is not a perfect player, he does a good job of hitting the ball hard and taking a ton of walks. Joey Gallo also does both of these things very well; however, Hicks has not played well this year by any means. He has not hit the ball particularly hard, nor is he making consistently good contact. Hicks’s previous success and contract situation make getting rid of him difficult for the Yankees, and it is possible that Hicks finds his previous form. Ultimately, Suzuki would have been a slightly above average addition to the Yankees that would have necessitated DFAing or trading one of Hicks or Gallo. At this point, it looks like Suzuki would have been a better option than Hicks from a pure hitting standpoint. Gallo and Suzuki have a similar batted ball profile, making a change for one or the other not worthwhile.