Left-hander Andrew Suarez has signed with the Yakult Swallows of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball for the 2022 season, per a club announcement (link via Yahoo Japan). It’ll be the first season in Japan for the lefty, who spent the 2021 season with the LG Twins of the Korea Baseball Organization.
Suarez, 29, will head to Japan on the heels of an outstanding season in the KBO. The lefty in 23 games (22 of them starts) and worked to a pristine 2.18 ERA and 2.72 FIP with an impressive 26.6% strikeout rate, a solid 8.7% walk rate and a huge 57.1% ground-ball rate through a total of 115 2/3 innings. Given that success and his relative youth — Suarez won’t turn 30 until next September — it stands to reason that a strong season in Japan would go a long ways toward putting him back on the MLB map as a free agent.
Suarez, after all, is only three seasons removed from a pretty sound debut campaign with the 2018 Giants. That season saw the 2015 second-rounder rack up 160 1/3 innings of 4.49 ERA ball with a 19.5% strikeout rate that was below the league average but a 6.8% walk rate and 51.3% grounder rate that were both considerably better than the average big league pitcher.
Despite that solid showing and some shakiness at the back of the San Francisco rotation in his sophomore season, Suarez was used almost exclusively as a reliever the following year in 2019. He didn’t take well to the change, scuffling to a 5.79 ERA in a small-ish sample of 32 2/3 innings. Suarez saw even less MLB time in 2020 after the acquisitions of Kevin Gausman, Drew Smyly, Tyler Anderson and Trevor Cahill; he logged just 9 2/3 frames out of the bullpen that season and had his contract purchased by the KBO’s Twins that offseason.
In an odd coincidence, Suarez will continue down a similar career path to 32-year-old righty and similarly named Albert Suarez (no relation). Both made their Major League debuts with the Giants within the past five years and have seen their only MLB action come with San Francisco — Albert from 2016-17 (4.51 ERA in 115 2/3 innings) and Andrew from 2018-20 (4.66 ERA in 202 2/3 innings). The similarities don’t stop there; Albert has spent the past three seasons pitching for the same Swallows club that Andrew will now join. Albert departed the Yakult organization as a free agent this winter and signed in the KBO — albeit with the Samsung Lions and not Andrew’s former Twins.
Time will tell whether either pitcher will make it back to the big leagues, but the younger Suarez has certainly taken some promising steps down that path. Andrew’s 2021 campaign in Japan will be particularly worth monitoring for big league clubs who are eyeing 2022 rotation help.