“I filled out my Silver Slugger sheet yesterday and our catchers should win it,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I mean, you can’t give it to halves, but they have combined the best offensive year of anybody (catchers) in the National League.”
The duo drives each other, as they and Snitker have attested. Their best support system is whichever one is in the dugout that night.
“They’re pulling for each other, they’re each other’s biggest fan,” Snitker said. “Sometimes if you ask them, they’ve been on teams where that wasn’t the case. And it’s kind of something special when you get two guys that work together so good and have such respect for each other, then it becomes what you see right now.
“I had Tyler last year, didn’t know Kurt coming in. And as I got to know him, he’s one of the finest people I’ve ever met. Great teammate, just pro. They both are. It’s been a blessing for me because that’s a tough position, as I know (Snitker played catcher). As a manager when you’ve got two guys that are working together, and then their interests are with them kids out on the mound. That’s the thing, too. The offense is a plus, but those guys are really invested in these pitchers.”
Suzuki’s 18 homers came in 252 at-bats. His previous high mark of 16 came over 570 at-bats in 2009. That required 147 games, whereas Suzuki just completed his 76th of 2017.
For perspective: Suzuki hit 16 homers across 1,230 at-bats with the Twins over the last three seasons.
His 14 home runs since July 1 are second most on the team. He has 15 homers across his last 46 games. From May 17 through Aug. 26, Suzuki’s home run pace was on par with Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo.
The SunTrust Park effect? Hardly. Ten of Suzuki’s 18 came away from home. Entering Friday, Suzuki was on pace to homer every 15.63 at-bats. His previous best was 30.43 in his rookie season (2007).
“That’s baseball,” Suzuki said. “It’s a weird thing. Just kind of working and figuring some things out. Being on the team we’ve got great hitters like (Nick) Markakis, (Matt) Kemp, Freddie (Freeman) obviously; you can learn a lot from those guys, watching them hit. No matter how many years you play baseball, when you’re around good hitters, you can learn stuff.”
It’s hard to fathom what’s prompted such exuberate results, but some credit goes to Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer, who altered Suzuki’s practice swing.
“I used to do a one-handed finish in batting practice, and I wouldn’t do it in the game, and I’d tell myself mentally in the game to do it, to let go with one hand, and I couldn’t do it,” Suzuki said. “So (Seitzer) said, ‘Why don’t you just practice the way you hit in the game?’ So I went and hit and I probably hit about 150 balls that day. I just tried to be loose and finish with two hands until it became a habit. I can’t let go now, it’s hard for me to let go with one hand. So it’s instilled now.”
Suzuki is a bargain at $1.5 million. But his contract is set to expire, and the lure of being closer to his family in California and home in Hawaii may be too powerful to forgo.
The incoming pay day will play a role as well. Alongside Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Wieters, Suzuki heads an otherwise scarce free agent market for catchers. Safe to assume he won’t have to wait through the dog days of January to find his next destination this time around.
"Yeah, I don't see why not," Suzuki said about re-signing. "It's a great place. I like all the guys here and stuff. But there's a lot of factors: family, my kids starting school (in California), proximity to home (Hawaii). There's a lot of things you can factor in, but you know, this is a place I've grown to love."