Hard to believe that Kurt Suzuki is entering his sixth major league season with the A's. That makes him one of the veterans on the ballclub, and the most seasoned and longest-tenured Athletic (tied with Daric Barton and Dallas Braden.) Crazy.
No one is more anxious to reap the benefits of a spring rebirth than Suzuki. His 2011 campaign was unmemorable, as he posted career lows in batting average (.237), on-base percentage (.301) and hits (109). Additionally, opponents stole 98 stolen bases on his watch, most in the American League.
Needless to say, it was a tough season for Suzuki all around.
To make matters worse, this past winter saw him lose several battery mates via trade: starters Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Josh Outman and Guillermo Moscoso and relievers Andrew Bailey and Craig Breslow. Suzuki now has to develop new relationships and groom several young pitchers who'll vie for spots in the starting rotation.
Though that may be a daunting task for any catcher, it's especially tough for Suzuki, who aims to rebound at the plate. A deeper look finds that Suzuki had trouble against left-handed pitching, posting a lackluster .308 slugging percentage in 133 at-bats. He struggled mightily in adjusting to his woes. His ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio was the worst of his career, despite posting a career-high 3.93 pitches per plate appearance. His mechanics may need some massaging this spring, in an effort to adapt to the tendencies that saw him lose his pitch recognition.
His performance gave the A's trouble when constructing their lineup, as he provided little right-handed power, leading some to believe he could also be expendable this past offseason.
New manager Bob Melvin is also a former big league catcher, so hopefully he'll be able to impart some wisdom and guidance in getting Suzuki back up to par. Suzuki is still a rock when it comes to handling pitchers, so his starting spot is more than secure. But it's possible that with added depth at catcher, Suzuki will be able to take more breathers whenever he is in a slump.
Former manager Bob Geren almost overly coddled Suzuki, because in part of his own experience as a MLB catcher. He'd leave Suzuki in the lineup or sub him in for defensive purposes for the sake of it, leaving the bench without a catcher in extra-inning affairs. Hopefully, Melvin will be more realistic with how to handle Suzuki, especially if the catcher does falter for extended stretches.
Look for Suzuki to bounce back—not all the way, though. He'll have a modest season at the plate and a difficult time acquainting with his new pitchers and keeping the staff as good as they had been the past several seasons. But after last year, things can only go up for Suzuki.
How he'll fare in 2012: If the A's find themselves in position to do so, Suzuki is a candidate to be dealt at the midseason trading deadline.