Kurt Suzuki: A Young Catcher on the Rise, but Now Declining Very Quickly

Steven ResnickSenior Writer IApril 25, 2009

NEW YORK - APRIL 22:  Derek Jeter #2 of the New York Yankees and Kurt Suzuki #8 of the Oakland Athletics laugh after watching  the ball roll foul during their game on April 22, 2009 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Oakland Athletics have a young catcher by the name of Kurt Suzuki who is coming into this second full season as a starting catcher in the major leagues. He had the experience to take the starting job away from Jason Kendall in 2007 and played in 68 games.

Part of that 2007 season was spent learning from Kendall—meaning that Suzuki had a chance to learn the techniques that would make him a solid catcher in the big leagues. On the plus side, the A's were looking for a catcher who could also give them something more offensively.

The only thing that Suzuki can say that he's done better than Kendall is hit a little bit more for power and a better batting average. Since he's taken over, Suzuki has hit .274 with 15 home runs and 85 RBI.

Kendall in his two plus seasons with the A's, before he was traded, hit .271 with three homers and 125 RBI.

Even with one bad season, Kendall still has the better offensive numbers, excluding the average and home runs.

Now, Suzuki was supposed to learn from Kendall on how to handle a pitching staff, call a game, how to be better defensively, and acquire any other skills needed for Suzuki to become a solid catcher.

During that time in 2007, Kendall never complained about losing his starting spot to Suzuki and became the ultimate team player by assisting Suzuki and helping him develop those skill sets that would allow him to stay in the league a long time.

In the 2008 season, Suzuki improved tremendously behind the plate; he helped a young staff develop into one of the better rotations in the league, even with the loss of starters Rich Harden and Joe Blanton to trades.

Behind the plate, Suzuki became better at throwing out baserunners, calling games, and blocking balls in the dirt.

Fast forward to this year, and Suzuki has regressed tremendously—not offensively though; he's currently hitting .327 with one homer and four RBI.

Defensively, he's still adept at blocking the balls in the dirt and throwing out baserunners, but his abilities to call a solid game behind the plate have regressed to the point where the excitement of Suzuki's 2007 season in which he was the A's best hitter with a .279 average is gone and has gotten to the point that Suzuki should be moved.

Most of the blame though goes squarely on manager Bob Geren—a former catcher in the big leagues who was a terrible player—a player with a lifetime batting average of .233 over parts of five seasons. Geren never played a full season; in fact, his most games in the major leagues were 110 games where he hit .213. 

The other blame can be attributed to lack of knowledge of the pitcher, because the A's starting rotation is completely different from where it was a year ago. Suzuki is learning the pitchers' throws and what they like to do.

Even with that though, Suzuki, 99 percent of the time, when an A's pitcher is struggling, whether it's a starter or reliever, comes out to the mound to speak with or just calm down the pitcher way too late and after the damage is done.

For example, in last night's game against the Tampa Bay Rays, rookie pitcher Trevor Cahill walked B.J. Upton, and a majority of the pitches that Cahill threw weren't even close to the plate.

The next batter up was Carl Crawford, and before any A's fan could get their feet settled in, it was a 3-0 count in Crawford's favore because Cahill couldn't find the plate. As soon as the first pitch thrown to Crawford was called for a ball, Suzuki should have been out there on the mound to calm Cahill down.

It didn't happen and it lead to a easy double for Crawford and the A's, trailing 1-0. 

It's not just that Suzuki hasn't been going to the mound quickly enough, but pitch selection has been questionable as of late, including the Yankees' game on Wednesday.

In the bottom of the second inning, with Brett Anderson facing Yankee hitters Hideki Matsui and Melky Cabrera, Suzuki calls for a fastball right in the wheelhouse of Matsui who launches a long homerun.

Did Suzuki learn from his mistake? Well, the very next pitch was basically the same pitch that Anderson had just given to Matsui, and the ball was driven out for back-to-back home runs.

Even later on in the game, Suzuki didn't learn and gave the Yankees the victory in the bottom of the 14th. The Yankees couldn't have asked for a better pitch to hit from Dan Giese. 

Giese, who in Toronto gave up a game-ending walkoff home run to Lyle Overbay, threw the exact same pitch that got launched for a game-ending two run homer to Overbay to Cabrera who did the same thing as Overbay.

Suzuki is regressing to the point where the A's may need to do something about the catching situation. It seems that, with Suzuki behind the plate, the A's pitchers are going to soon lose confidence in him, if he can't get his act together, call better games, calm pitchers down when they're struggling.


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