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Seiya Suzuki Signs with Chicago Cubs - Fantasy Baseball Impact

Not since Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels has there been so much hype and expectation about a Japanese player heading to the MLB. And Seiya Suzuki certainly has the makeup to be a star. Maybe not quite as big a star as Ohtani, but a star nonetheless.

Suzuki already warmed himself to fans at his introductory press conference when explaining why he chose to wear the number 27 jersey but will he be able to become a fan favorite amongs the Chicago Cubs fanbase who are in need of a new hero following the departures of Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, and Javier Baez.

The contract with the Cubs is worth $85m over the next five years, making Suzuki the third highest-paid player on the Cubs roster, so they clearly have a lot of belief in him being a star. But what should we expect from Suzuki in 2022 and beyond from a fantasy viewpoint? To understand what we can expect from Suzuki in MLB, we'll look at his NBP numbers and compare them to other Japanese players, and we'll look at some scouting reports and decipher what it means from a fantasy standpoint.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received five total writing awards and 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, tops in the industry! Congrats to all the award winners and nominees including Best MLB Series, NFL Series, NBA Writer, PGA Writer and Player Notes writer of the year. Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


NPB Career Numbers

As you might expect, Suzuki has had a remarkable career in Japan.  He heads to the US with a career .315/.414/.570 slash line in 902 games (3,539 plate appearances) over nine years. He's still only 27-years-old after debuting as an 18-year-old so he can be considered now in his prime years.

That was evidenced last year when Suzuki put up his best numbers in any season. In 132 games (533 plate appearances), Suzuki hit .317/.433/.639 with 38 homers, 88 RBI, 77 runs, and nine steals. The home runs and slugging percentage were both career highs.

Below is a breakdown of each year in the NPB:

2013 11 14 0 1 0 0 .083 .214 .083
2014 36 68 1 7 6 0 .344 .382 .500
2015 97 238 5 25 21 6 .275 .329 .403
2016 129 528 29 95 76 16 .335 .404 .612
2017 115 512 26 90 85 16 .300 .389 .547
2018 124 520 30 94 86 4 .320 .439 .619
2019 140 612 28 87 112 25 .335 .453 .565
2020 118 514 25 75 85 6 .300 .409 .544
2021 132 533 38 88 77 9 .317 .433 .639

Other than Ohtani (424 games), below are some comparable Japanese players who have had 500+ MLB games in the last 20 years and shows their numbers in Japan prior to moving to the US.

Hideki Matsui 1268 5504 332 889 901 46 .304 .413 .583
Kazuo Matsui 1159 5162 150 569 762 306 .309 .366 .486
Kosuke Fukudome 1074 4503 192 647 713 71 .305 .400 .543
Nori Aoki 985 4431 84 385 664 164 .329 .408 .454
Ichiro Suzuki 951 4098 118 529 658 199 .353 .434 .522
Seiya Suzuki 902 3539 182 562 548 82 .315 .414 .570
Shohei Ohtani 403 1170 48 166 150 13 .286 .358 .501

As you can see, Seiya Suzuki compares well to some of the best Japanese players to have played in the US. He has more power than Ichiro Suzuki, but less speed. He has more speed than Hideki Matsui, but less power. His slash line falls in between Matsui and Ichiro while his closest comparison overall is with Fukudome.

Suzuki's numbers are a bit better than Fukudome's and if he ended up with a better MLB career than Fukudome, he'll have been a success. If he ended up as a hybrid of Matsui and Ichiro, it's safe to say he'll have a very successful MLB career.

Obviously, there are caveats to this. Everyone on the list (except Ohtani) played in a different era in both Japan and the US. Different balls, different opposition, different lots of things. So a straightforward like-for-like comparison isn't really possible. This is more a guide than a definitive expectation.

And there are intangible factors in play, as much as we hate them in fantasy and can't quantify them. Moving to a new country, not knowing the language, and leaving friends and family behind can have an impact on someone and their performance.

But just looking at Suzuki's raw numbers, he profiles as someone who should have success in MLB and at 27-years-old, has the potential for a long and solid career which could make his contract look like a bargain for the Cubs.


Scouting Reports

We've seen his numbers. So what about his scouting reports? Well, remember they are subjective and one person's view may differ from another. But here are some tidbits from people who cover NPB about Suzuki. Click their names to go find their Twitter accounts and give them a follow too.

Tom Mussa: "His approach is very good, with just a 16 K% and a matching 16 BB%. When combined with his plus power he’s a force to be reckoned with at the plate. These numbers were better earlier in the year as he was more patient at the plate in the first half. But since traded it out to be more aggressive and exploded with power at the plate, hitting an incredible 19 HR in the past two months."

That sounds like a talented hitter who can make adjustments to best utilize his skill set. He traded in patience to harness more power and it certainly worked when we look at his numbers.

Baseball America: "While many Japanese hitters keep their hands inside and take short, direct swing paths to the ball, Suzuki takes powerful uppercuts more conducive to the modern MLB game. He gets into a launch position and pulls balls hard in the air for long home runs to left and left-center field, as well as driving the occasional shot to right-center."

Given the recent changes in approach to hitting in MLB, Suzuki appears to have a swing already conducive to what teams look for.

Wyatt VanDyke: "Remarkably Good Eye: 55 Grade. Double Plus Power: 60 Grade. Moderately Alright Baserunning: 45 Grade. Plus Outfield Defense: 50-55 Grade."

Sounds like a good defensive outfielder, with a good eye and very good power who won't clog up the bases.

There's also a comprehensive scouting report from Jim Allen (former columnist for the Daily Yomiuri) which you can find by clicking here.

The common consensus among those who have covered Suzuki in Japan is he has plus power that should translate into MLB, is an average base runner, and is an above-average defensive outfielder who should have no issue playing right field for the Cubs. He has a good eye and makes regular contact to make use of his power with a swing that should be beneficial for making the most of his power.


Fantasy Outlook

The outlook is a good one for Suzuki, especially from a fantasy standpoint. But it does come with a warning. Our final comparison will look at what some of the notable Japanese players did in their first season in MLB. As noted earlier, moving to a new country and facing a whole different level and type of competition can take time to adjust to.

Hideki Matsui 163 695 16 106 82 2 .287 .353 .435
Kosuke Fukudome 150 590 10 58 79 12 .257 .359 .379
Ichiro Suzuki 157 738 8 69 127 56 .350 .381 .457
Shohei Ohtani 104 367 22 62 59 10 .285 .361 .564

It's safe to say, each of these players went on to have better seasons than their first. Ichiro's first season is the closest to their year-on-year average numbers which plays into the likelihood that Suzuki won't fulfill his true potential in 2022 but should still be a solid fantasy producer and better things are in his future.

Suzuki's projections are a little varied which echoes the volatility of a player making the move from Japan to the US.

Projection Games PA HR R RBI SB AVG OBP SLG
ZiPS 133 574 14 58 55 6 .211 .281 .343
BAT X 119 517 19 64 61 9 .251 .338 .439
ATC 119 517 22 68 69 7 .268 .360 .479
Steamer 133 559 29 81 87 9 .286 .386 .528

ZiPS and Steamer are at the low and high ends while BAT X and ATC sit somewhere in the middle, which is probably the most realistic expectation. ZiPS can be considered Suzuki's floor while Steamer is likely his ceiling.

Suzuki has an ADP of ~204 on NFBC, although that should go below 200 now that he's signed and he has been taken as early as 111th in a draft. Suzuki is going in the same region as outfielders Michael Conforto, Ian Happ, AJ Pollock, and Adam Duvall. All of whom have flaws and a wide range of outcomes, similar to Suzuki.

Continuing the theme of comparisons, ATC and BAT X have Suzuki and Happ with similar counting stats while giving Suzuki a significant edge in batting average. At his current ADP, Suzuki's downside is priced in but should he hit the ground running, he can finish as a top-30 outfielder despite being drafted as the 55th currently.

A big part of his fantasy value could come from where he hits in the Cubs lineup. They may want to protect Suzuki and ease him in early, but as long as he hits, the Cubs would move him up the order.

If you're inclined to follow the projections, Suzuki makes a lot more sense at their current ADP than Happ although you may need a little patience in redraft leagues should Suzuki struggle early season. In OBP leagues, Suzuki's ability to take walks should push him up rankings even more.

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