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Former Nats catchers blossom into All-Stars

Jul 14, 2014, 10:04 PM EST

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Nationals always liked Kurt Suzuki and Derek Norris. They just liked Wilson Ramos better, which is why they were willing to trade away both catchers to the Athletics.

Little could the Nationals — or anybody else, for that matter — have foreseen both guys blossoming into All-Stars this season.

Yes, stroll through the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis, or gaze out on the grass at Target Field, and there were Suzuki and Norris, hobnobbing with the very best and brightest players in baseball, fellow All-Stars.

“This is definitely a blessing,” Suzuki said. “I’m very humbled to be here today.”

Norris had long been touted as a top hitting prospect who simply needed time to develop. Suzuki, though, is a 30-year-old veteran with 919 games of big-league experience who had never come close to sniffing an All-Star selection. But after becoming a free agent over the winter and signing a $2.75 million contract with the Twins, he morphed into something he had never been before: an offensive force.

Suzuki is hitting .309 with 18 doubles and 37 RBI, becoming Minnesota’s No. 1 catcher. The key to his renaissance? Advice from Twins hitting coach Tom Brunansky.

“He said: ‘Just go back to being who you are. We don’t want you to hit 30 homers. Would that be great? Yeah. But at the same time, who are you as a hitter?'” Suzuki explained. “We talked and we came to the conclusion that we were going to simplify things and I was going to be the hitter that I was when I first got called up. Use the whole field, hit line drives, not do too much. And it’s just seemed to click.”

Suzuki had his moments with the Nationals during the second half of the 2012 season and early in 2013. And he said he has nothing but fond memories of his time there. But he has no complaints how everything has worked out for him since.

“The last two years weren’t too kind,” he said. “I always felt like I still had a lot in me. It was just a matter of going out there and proving to myself that I could compete still at the highest level. Because I did catch a lot of games earlier. I don’t know if it did wear on my body. I didn’t feel like it, but it might have. So to come out this year and be fortunate enough to make the All-Star team, I think it was very humbling. I’m blessed.”

Norris, meanwhile, was blossomed into one of the AL’s best-hitting catchers, some 2 1/2 years after he was part of the six-player trade that brought Gio Gonzalez to Washington.

The Nationals’ fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft, he hit just .204 as a rookie with Oakland in 2012, then .246 last season. This year, he’s hitting .294 while sporting a robust .402 on-base percentage.

Considered one of the Nationals’ top prospects for several years, Norris always figured he’d end up in D.C. The trade to Oakland caught him off-guard, but he’s more than happy with the end result.

“I think ultimately the trade worked out for both sides,” he said. “You know what? I’m having a great time here, and I think Gio is loving his spot over there. I think it couldn’t have worked better for both sides.”

  1. adcwonk - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:18 PM

    Note to Mick: note that Derek Norris didn’t fully develop as a hitter until age 25.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 14, 2014 at 11:40 PM

      +1

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 15, 2014 at 9:52 AM

        Also to note they use him in a platoon with lefty John Jaso. The combination of the 2 is big results.

        My fear for Norris is his health. He’s taken some big hits to the noggin.

    • tcostant - Jul 15, 2014 at 8:52 AM

      The .204 was because he was rushed to the majors. He’ll be a major force for year. Why he doesn’t start more is one of the great mysteries in sports.

  2. naterialguy - Jul 14, 2014 at 10:40 PM

    Way to go Suzuki. He was great when we had him. His numbers may not be what they are now but he had very clutch hits for us in 2012.

  3. chaz11963 - Jul 15, 2014 at 6:33 AM

    There has to be more to Kurt’s renaissance as a hitter than getting some advice from the Twins hitting coach. He was a timely replacement in 2012 for Wilson, but was always so inconsistent. I’m thinking his renaissance is likely not sustainable, but hope it works out for him.

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 15, 2014 at 9:35 AM

      Kurt seems like a good guy, so I don’t say this to be mean, but …

      Let’s be clear – he is not have a “renaissance” – he is wildly outperforming his career norms. His career wRC+ is 88, but he’s at 114 on the season. His BA is 50 points above his career average, fueled by a BABIP that is about 70 pts higher than what he put up over the last 2 seasons.

      If he keeps it up, it’s a naissance, not a renaissance. If he doesn’t, it was just a short lived aberration. Either way, he and Twins fans should enjoy it while it lasts.

      • Ghost of Steve M. - Jul 15, 2014 at 9:58 AM

        Either way Rizzo didn’t have much of a choice because Suzuki wanted his option picked up which was a vast overpay and elected Free Agency. 28 other teams passed on him and I’ve seen him play. Pull hitter peppering the 5.5 hole and some wall scrapers occasionally. BABIP luck is certainly at play here plus something to prove since he’s in a 1 year deal.

    • mauimo22 - Jul 16, 2014 at 12:53 PM

      I think hitting coaches are way under-rated. Sometimes just taking a different approach given by the hitting coach makes all the difference. Look what happened to Nats BA after switching coaches last year. Take pressure off yourself, simplify approach, be productive, be disciplined, don’t swing at 1st pitches when pitcher is struggling. Aren’t these things every Big League hitter does? Or does it take a good coach to really get this in your head? I wish Danny and Bryce would take different approaches and just hit the damn ball hard somewhere instead of trying to hit Taters!

  4. ArVAFan - Jul 15, 2014 at 7:14 AM

    Off topic, but since it’s not a game day*, let me take this opportunity to thank NatsLady for the travelogue of her Philly adventure. Makes me think it might be possible to go to Philly on our own for a game. I’d always figured if we went to Philly or Baltimore it would have to be with a tour group or a couple of really big guys for protection. Oh, and thanks NatsLady for the ongoing stats and analysis, too.

    *Yes, I know the All-Star Game is tonight. Having one Nat playing (maybe) doesn’t make it a game day in my book.

  5. rabbit433 - Jul 15, 2014 at 7:25 AM

    Well, we all know that selection to the all-star game is not credible. Just stuff ballot boxes. The bat-boys could make it. I’m not saying they shouldn’t be there. It’s just the way the ball rolls.

  6. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 15, 2014 at 7:45 AM

    For the record, the HR Derby was so boring it was mesmerizing. After toggling back and both with whatever reruns were on TNT I went to bed sometime during the final round and as of this moment don’t know know and don’t care who won. If they need a compelling event the day before the ASG maybe they could have Team Beach Volleyball, or maybe bowling, to see who gets to take BP first for Game One of the WS.

    • ArVAFan - Jul 15, 2014 at 8:27 AM

      My vote is for Team Beach Volleyball, unless it involves Prince Fielder or Bartolo Colon in a speedo. In that case, I think I’ll go back to watching my kitten frolic with a toilet paper roll (which was more entertaining than the slow-motion batting practice last night).

  7. edshelton2013 - Jul 15, 2014 at 8:06 AM

    Here’s some food for thought on a slow day:

    We’re 42-3 (.933) when we score four or more runs. The converse is that we’re 9-39 (.187) in all other games.
    Is this a statistical anomaly or does it tell us something? Are we likely to “revert to the mean” and start winning the 3-2 and 2-1 games? And what does MW tell the troops in the pre-game meeting: “OK guys, let’s go get four runs tonight and we’ll win–if not, we’ll probably lose”.

    • Theophilus T.S. - Jul 15, 2014 at 8:40 AM

      Some stat savant needs to come up with the average margin of defeat in games where the Nats score three or less.

    • Hiram Hover - Jul 15, 2014 at 8:41 AM

      Is this a statistical anomaly or does it tell us something?

      I don’t have the time to do it, but I think the first step would be to identify other teams’ records and league averages in those scoring situations. And then you’d need to evaluate their pitching relative to the Nats.

      The Rockies, for example, surely have a lot of games where they score 4+ runs, but they also have a lot where their pitchers give up 5 or more.

      • Hiram Hover - Jul 15, 2014 at 8:52 AM

        Ok, actually, I did have time to do one thing. Winning % among all NL teams

        scoring 0-3 runs: .215
        scorig 4+ runs: .757

        So the Nats winning percentage (.187) is a little low in games where they score 0-3 runs, but not wildly so. But at .933, they are overperforming the league in games where they score 4 or more.

        That’s because Nats pitchers don’t often give up 5 or more runs in a game. They’ve done that in 29% of their games, vs an NL average of 38.2%.

      • stoatva - Jul 15, 2014 at 9:35 AM

        Good work, HH. Very interesting. Thanks.

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jul 15, 2014 at 10:37 AM

      Coming late to this discussion, but I think we may be over-analyzing this one. It all flows back to the simple fact that the NL average (per team) this year is almost exactly 4 runs/game.

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Jul 15, 2014 at 10:05 AM

    Hat Tip to HH.

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