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2007 Post Mortem: Jeff Suppan

Now that the season is over and all we have to look forward to is a bunch of well-managed teams with sure-handed third basemen, I figured it was a good time to start picking apart what happened in Milwaukee this year.

Throughout the playoffs, I'm going to do a series of posts like this one, taking one player (or part of the team, perhaps) and seeing how he stacked up against expectations.

I remember being neutral about the Suppan signing when it happened--here was the announcement on the site back then.  Here's what I said at the time to temper our hopes for the $42 million man:

As you all know, the Brewers didn't exactly have the greatest defense on the planet in 2006. Without getting into the morass of defensive metrics, let's look at how Brewers pitchers did relative to their FIP. In short: not so good. Team totals: ERA of 4.83, FIP of 4.39. In approximate terms, then, the Brewers defense cost the team nearly half a run per game. That's about how much the Cardinals defense saved Suppan. Put it all together: if Suppan switched defenses, his ERA last year would've shot up a full run.

If you consider the difference in defenses, it's pretty clear that we got what we paid for.  Maybe even better.  Suppan's ERA this year 4.62, exactly a half-run worse than last year's 4.12, but the defense makes almost all of the difference.  He also got a bit unlucky with the bullpen (big surprise there)--fewer of his runners were stranded than in recent years.  

Here's how Soup did in the three stats he has complete control over:

  • HR rate: went down.  (Lowest of his career, actually!)
  • Walk rate: went down.  Right in line with career norms.
  • Strikeout rate: went up--in fact, it was the second best strikeout season of his career, and the best since 2000.
People will doubtless focus on the .500 record and the below-average 4.62 ERA, but those people need to read this article.  Nobody expected Suppan to be an ace--and he wasn't paid as such, despite how much he got--and we got a pretty darn good pitcher.  And he came through in the area that the brain trust emphasized the most: he didn't miss a start, making 34 on the year.

Now, all of this doesn't necessarily mean that his contract was a good idea.  One year into a four-year deal is not the time to make that judgment.  It remains to be seen whether Suppan has a somewhat flukish good year (in the areas discussed above) or whether Maddux had a positive effect on him that will last.  (Or maybe he just likes brats.)

There are some areas for concern if you dig deeper into his batted-ball stats:

  • While his line drive percentage went down (that's a good thing), his infield pop-up rate went WAY down.  Are hitters making better contact?  That's worrisome when combined with the next point:

  • His percentage of flyballs that turned into home runs went WAY down as well.  Now, maybe he's still coaxing weak contact--it's just that what used to be an infield fly is now lazily drifting out to left field.  I don't know.  But that could be a fluke, just a matter of Albert Pujols hitting flyballs into the deepest part of Miller Park.  If it is a fluke, expect an even higher ERA next year--and one he deserves.
But even if a few more of his flyballs sail out of the park, he'll still be a solid #3/#4 starter, which is just what we acquired him to be.  Going forward, all we can hope for is that he ages well.  For the most part, the signs so far suggest that he will.