Monday, June 10, 2024

Always Be Closing: The Inexplicable Titan


Here's something odd about the 2024 season so far. The story setup of 'there's this 30something pitcher named Suarez who'd left the MLB and gotten huge in international leagues, came back in the last couple years and is suddenly unhittable and being used in a major role by a competitive team' can be used to describe two different guys. 

There's Albert Suarez, who's been surprisingly lethal in a longman role with occasional starting perks in Baltimore. And then there's Robert Suarez, who was never drafted by an MLB team, became a relief giant for the Hanshin Tigers during the early 2020s, signed with the Padres, became one of their most dominant relievers, got signed to a multi-year extension at the height of Seidler-geddon, and now has 17 saves and a 0.69 ERA in 25 games this season. There's coming out of nowhere, and then there's whatever the hell this is. 

What's wild is that I didn't know Suarez was an unconventional rookie story. I just assumed, oh here's this new kid from the same system Pedro Avila, Adrian Morejon and Dinelson Lamet all wandered out of, good to see they've given him a chance. No, this is a pure export situation, where Suarez, like Ha-Seong Kim, got a small deal to see if he could work in the MLB, then got extended when it became clear that he could, and now the ninth is his. And considering that A.) last year was injury-shortened for Suarez and B.) the Padres no longer have Josh Hader, this ascent to the ninth just seemed like a perfect storm of great timing for the 33-year-old.

Suarez's 17 saves put him at 5th in the MLB, behind veteran closers like Emmanuel Clase, Kyle Finnegan and Clay Holmes, and relievers who are highest on the depth chart, like Ryan Helsley. Again, I submit that Helsley's come into so much luck being a reliever for the Cardinals that he wouldn't have found otherwise, and it's nice to see a self-made, underrated guy like Suarez come in on him. Suarez was lucky to inherit a team with a lot of save situations, as well as a team with a great bullpen heritage. Even taking Suarez out of the equation, the Padres have people like Jeremiah Estrada, who had this insane run to start the season, Yuki Matsui and Enyel de los Santos. Suarez is just the tip of this, and he's lucky enough to get the closing job. 

Now, another reason why he's been doing so well in the ninth might be that the Padres are currently at .500, and have teetered around there for a while. They have a lot that's going well, and a few too many players underperforming. Yet this is still a competitive team, one that could build given the right momentum. And having a guy like Suarez could definitely help this team sneak into the conversation as we head into the later months of the season.

Coming Tonight: The Rays had an abundance of relievers and too many starting vacancies. So this guy's been a top starter this year. 

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