Is it time for a Diamondbacks change at 3B with Eugenio Suarez?

Jun 4, 2024, 5:20 PM

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Eugenio Suárez #28 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up before t...

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - MAY 21: Eugenio Suárez #28 of the Arizona Diamondbacks warms up before the start of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 21, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — There was a vision coming into this season of how the Arizona Diamondbacks would improve offensively.

Their two crutches were production at designated hitter and third base. Arizona ranked 27th in OPS at both positions, per Baseball Reference, and made moves in the offseason to address it.

Joc Pederson is putting up All-Star numbers at DH, with the D-backs’ OPS there all the way up to third. That’s a stellar mark of .950 up almost 300 points from last year’s poor .678 OPS. The top-three mark trails two MVP candidates in Atlanta Braves DH Marcell Ozuna Jr. and Los Angeles Dodgers DH Shohei Ohtani.

At third base, however, the OPS is actually down from .644 to .587, the second worst in baseball. Of the 242 plate appearances, 234 have been Eugenio Suarez’s, a trade acquisition that has not panned out.

It’s to the point where a change is becoming more necessary by the day.

Suarez’s own OPS is .593, a drop of nearly 200 points from his 10-year career yielding a .788 OPS. The power bat comes with the acceptance that he will strike out a ton and not hit for average while mashing home runs to make up for that. He only has four home runs in 59 games.

The metrics tell a worrying tale for a 32-year-old. His barrel percentage has dropped from the 94th and 87th percentile the last two years to 43rd this season, per Baseball Savant. Going the same way with average exit velocity, the percentile ranks with the Seattle Mariners were 66th and 69th before a cliff dive to 20th in Arizona. Even the plate discipline is down, with Suarez’s tremendous chase percentage for Seattle sitting at a rate this year that is slightly above average.

And the D-backs will soon have more alternatives to consider beyond Suarez, something that wasn’t as clear back in April.

After Jace Peterson’s departure, Arizona’s options at the hot corner were slim on the depth chart. But thanks to a great story for spring training invite Kevin Newman and strong hitting from rookie Blaze Alexander, there is now room to breathe.

Newman is batting .259 with reliable defense at shortstop. Alexander has recovered from an eventful beginning to his defense and his average sits at .279 with an OPS of .759. Both are naturally shortstops, the position of the injured Geraldo Perdomo, who begins his Triple-A rehab assignment on Wednesday as he nears his return.

When Perdomo gets activated off the injured list in presumably a few days, there is a tough decision looming. Lovullo stated plainly on May 24 Perdomo is still the D-backs’ everyday shortstop. The confidence is sound. Perdomo is very good defensively and works quality at-bats as much as anyone on the team, with the latter being something the D-backs are really missing.

Perdomo has eight starts in the last two years at third base, Newman made 18 in 2023 and Alexander got his second nod there on Sunday. Is there an opening there? To extend the playing time for Newman or Alexander, while at the same time, cutting back on Suarez’s?

The solution to finding someone to split time with Suarez at third base could simply be Perdomo.

D-backs manager Torey Lovullo on May 26 was asked about that idea. He praised Perdomo’s own versatility and likes knowing Perdomo can play third, citing his time there in 2023 while also noting he’s not committing to that just yet.

Regardless, the first steps for pulling back on Suarez’s role have begun. Lovullo has pinch hit for Suarez in four of the last six games, including for Pavin Smith’s walk-off dinger on Monday.

It is a delicate process, especially for Suarez, a veteran that takes pride in playing every day. He played all 162 in 2023 and has sat for just one contest for the D-backs. Lovullo is trying to handle it the best he can, accepting the fact that we are past a two-month sample size now and how it has to be at the very least considered.

“Geno has been unbelievably professional about it,” Lovullo said Tuesday about the pinch-hitting situations, noting he has had a handful of conversations with Suarez about it.

How is he balancing the evaluation and potentially sitting Suarez more often?

“Well there’s two sides to a player, there’s offense and defense,” Lovullo said. “Geno is impacting games defensively, he’s continuing to help us win on that side of it. That at-bats I thought over the past four or five games have been a little bit better. Results aside, I think he’s swinging at better pitches and he’s impacting the baseball. … I don’t know when and if that happens but I have to be mindful of it. And it’s just not him.”

That last bit is where the amount of faith in Suarez is justified. His track record goes beyond a half-decade of being one of the more productive sluggers in the sport. While it wasn’t an absolute haul Arizona sent to Seattle in return for Suarez’s services, they did invest assets into him and Suarez also makes $11.2 million this year.

But at the same time, Perdomo’s arrival will make it much easier on Lovullo to explore other solutions. Alexander, in particular, is the one to spotlight.

The D-backs created chaos over the weekend in New York with speed and had their best defensive performance of the season on Monday, two areas where Alexander directly contributed. The team just hasn’t looked like itself in terms of its identity over this slow start to the season, and when Alexander plays, that core DNA is seeping through him. You can see it on the field.

“He’s excelling, he’s doing a really nice job. … We’re winning games because of him,” Lovullo said of Alexander after Monday’s win. “That’s the ultimate compliment when a young player [comes] in here and helps you win games. It’s very noticeable.”

Lovullo admitted Alexander got overwhelmed a bit in April and May with some of the defensive blunders before shouting out all the hard work Alexander is putting in that no one is seeing.

“I think I was speeding up the game,” Alexander said Monday. “I was going at the ball 100 miles an hour, obviously trying to make a play. … It’s all about slowing it down now. I think I got it slowed down, confidence is there and the boys are hot. We’re rolling.”

“I know I had some mishaps early but I wouldn’t be on this team if I couldn’t play defense,” he added. “They trust me at third, short and second and doing my job and gonna start making plays.”

Alexander certainly sounds like someone who will make Lovullo’s roster choices that much more difficult when Perdomo comes back, and ditto for Alek Thomas.

“It’s a great luxury that I have. … That’s his role and he understands what that is,” Lovullo said of Alexander’s positional versatility.

And when it comes to Alexander potentially relieving Suarez more in the future at third base?

“That’s a possibility,” Lovullo said, never one to shut down the chance of a tweak here or there.

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