What Kurt Suzuki looks for when he prepares for an opponent

brushback_harperIn today’s Post, I wrote about Kurt Suzuki and how he made himself into a major league catcher. In high school, few scouts noticed him because he came from Maui, where the competition consisted of five or six opposing high schools. Few scouts cared to watch him play, and he walked on to his college team. Suzuki had the requisite talent to become a major leaguer, but so, back then, did hundreds of others. Suzuki needed to separate himself in some way, and his relentless positivity paired with a dogged work ethic made the difference.

With the Nationals, Suzuki’s work ethic comes out mainly in his preparation. “There’s a lot of studying and looking at stuff,” Jordan Zimmermann said. “When people are doing other stuff, he’s in the video room or lifting.”

When Suzuki goes into the video room, what is he looking for? I found a lot of what he said surprising and pretty interesting, but it got left on the cutting room floor. Suzuki melds stats and visuals with video to determine how a certain pitcher should face a certain hitter.

“I like to look at tendencies,” Suzuki said. “I do a lot of studying on the computer before games. I look at hitter’s tendencies, what they’ve been doing the last 10 games. Runners in scoring position. First pitch. Two strikes. What counts are they really aggressive? That’s the type of things I really look at.”

Suzuki also looks at heat maps, a visual representation of how a hitter fares against different pitches in different locations. If a hitter likes to chase pitchers high and out of the strike zone, Suzuki wants to know that. But he does not just blindly take the figures and apply them.

“I think you look more than just the stats,” Suzuki said. “If he’s hitting .600 on fastballs inside, you look to see if they were hard hits or bloopers or grounders or choppers or something like that. They might be hitting .600, but they’re not hard hits, so you still go in there. So sometimes you have to dig a little deeper than just the stats.”

Sample size and recency play a major role in how Suzuki prepares, and why he chooses to mix in video study with the work on tendencies. He knows the numbers when he sits down to watch video of hitters. He wants to know how legitimate the numbers are, and/or if a hitter has changed his approach recently to make the numbers less relevant.

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

“If it’s a small size, you kind of check it out,” Suzuki said. “Maybe he likes the ball out over the plate more. But for the last 10 games, he’s started pulling the ball well. That’s why I like to see the 10 games. Then you really see what he’s doing well off of that.”

In the end, Suzuki will lean on his preparation, but he will not allow how a hitter struggles to override how his pitcher succeeds.

“You obviously try to match up your pitcher’s strength with the hitter’s weaknesses,” Suzuki said. “Sometimes, you don’t find any. You just have to go butt heads. You never want to get beat with the pitcher’s worst pitch just because it’s the hitter’s weakness. So I always went with the pitcher’s strength. If we had to butt heads, with the pitching staff that we have, I was 100 percent confident if we had to butt heads. I didn’t even worry one second. I was like, ‘Good luck hitter. Here it is.’ That’s how good these guys are.

“You have to. If he’s a fastball hitter, I’ll take my chances with a guy like Stras or Zim. Or Det or Gio. Danny. I’ll take my chances any day of the week, and I’ll feel 100 percent confident in our chances. That’s how good these guys are.

“I try not to over-think. As the game goes on, you try to adjust. That’s why you have to learn these guys. You have to know what you can go to and adjust, where you can’t just look at scouting reports. For me, the hardest part is you have to learn these guys. You have to know what adjustment you have to make. That can be the part that takes the longest to learn. That’s why spring training is really important, because that’s where you can really figure a guy out.”

FROM THE POST

Relentless positivity and careful preparation carried Kurt Suzuki from Maui to the Nationals.

Over the weekend, James Wagner wrote a fascinating story on the vision training drills the Nationals have embraced.

FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL

New details on Yewri Guillen

Detwiler’s last WBC tune-up

Ramos gets first at-bats

Nats make cuts

Cards-Nats recap

Perez excited for WBC

Garcia has partial tendon tear

TODAY’S GAME

The Nationals are off today and will host the Astros at home on Tuesday. Today, Chris Young will start a minor league game to align himself to start March 9 in Ross Detwiler’s spot in the rotation.

DAYS UNTIL OPENING DAY

28

Also on Nationals Journal

Two years later, new report on Nationals prospect Yewri Guillen's death