Raise your hand if you ever expected Brent Suter to strike out more than a batter per inning over the course of a season.
You’re lying if you have your hand up, and also may look a little silly responding to a blog post that way, but that actually happened this year.
Suter took an incredible return from Tommy John surgery in 2019 that saw him return in September and promptly win the NL’s Reliever of the Month award, and turned out to be the perfect swingman for a weird 2020 season that needed multi-inning relievers and occasional doubleheader starters.
It may have been a shortened season, but it was the best one of the 30-year-old lefty’s big league career. Appearing in 16 games — 12 relief appearances and 4 starts — he put up a 3.13 ERA that was actually a bit unlucky if you ask FIP (3.00), including a 10.8 K/9 and a ridiculous 7.6 K/BB ratio thanks to striking out 38 and walking only 5 in 31.2 innings.
That last part made his loss of control in the NL Wildcard round against the Dodgers all the more puzzling, but the Dodgers may end up winning the World Series as soon as tonight, so a performance like that could probably be forgiven.
He may go by “The Raptor,” but in the era of big velo and blowing everything past batters, Suter actually is a bit of a dinosaur in that he’s thriving with location and low velo. Despite seeing his average fastball speed dip to 85.6 mph — lower than the 87.5 mph he threw in limited action in 2019 and even lower than the 86.7 mph he threw in 2018 — he ranked in the top 4% in the majors in lowest exit velocity allowed and also ranked in the 86th percentile in lowest hard-hit percentage and in the 77th percentile in whiff percentage.
Those are crazy numbers, especially for a pitcher that doesn’t have a particularly high spin rate on his fastball or curve. It may have helped that he frequently followed flamethrowers like Brandon Woodruff or Corbin Burnes and proved to be one hell of a change of pace, or his own quick pace on the mound may have played a factor in a year where plenty of hitters already looked uncomfortable at the plate.
No matter the role in 2020, though, Suter largely performed. His outings ranged from the minimum 3 batters faced up to 14, when he threw 4 shutout innings in the first game of a 7-inning doubleheader against the Cardinals on September 25th that the Brewers won, 3-0 — one of those wins that the Brewers ultimately needed to make the postseason for a third straight year. Suter never gave up more than 2 earned runs in an outing, and largely put up zeroes — he was unscored upon in 10 of his 16 outings.
Whatever the scenario or the cause of his success, Suter was one of the most valuable weapons the Brewers had this year on the mound, and his versatility proved to be a godsend in a year where Craig Counsell truly needed to think outside the box to get through the season.
(Also, the Back to the Future Spring Training parody was probably the second-best one he’s ever done, behind only the Mean Girls video from 2019 with Yasmani Grandal. Bonus points for that, even though Keston Hiura probably wishes he could go back to 2019.)
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Savant