This secret weapon is making Phillies' Ranger Suárez nearly unhittable this season

Through his first five starts in 2024, Suárez has been one of MLB's top pitchers. So how is he doing it?
Philadelphia Phillies starter Ranger Suárez is one of the best pitchers in MLB this season
Philadelphia Phillies starter Ranger Suárez is one of the best pitchers in MLB this season / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

To begin 2024, the Philadelphia Phillies have been treated to some incredible pitching performances from everybody in the rotation. Heading into Friday's action, the starting five owns the second-best ERA at 2.12, behind only the Boston Red Sox's 2.05 ERA and way ahead of the next-best Kansas City Royals rotation, coming in over 3.00.

A huge piece of the puzzle is the work from their No. 3 starter Ranger Suárez.

When looking at the Phillies rotation, most would think their tandem of aces, Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola, would be the guys who they would lean on. But Suárez has been the best of the bunch.

The Venezuelan native has pitched to a 1.36 ERA through his first 33 innings, the sixth-lowest among qualified pitchers and the second-best of any pitcher over 30 innings. He also leads the league in xERA (1.89) and WHIP (0.70) and is third in ground ball rate (59.5 percent). He's also in the top five in hard hits allowed (20), launch angle (5.1 degrees) and barrel rate (2.5 percent).

Suárez is currently on a streak of 25 straight scoreless innings, including a seven-inning scoreless outing against the Cincinnati Reds, a six-inning scoreless start against the Pittsburgh Pirates, and, of course, his complete game shutout against the Colorado Rockies.

He doesn't blow the ball by hitters very often, but one thing the seventh-year Phillie can do is miss barrels.

Weak contact is making Ranger Suárez nearly unhittable this season

Suárez has excelled at being unpredictable this season. His pitch mix, along with his command of the strike zone, keeps hitters off balance and working off their front foot, causing awkward swings and weak contact.

Phillies catcher J.T. Realmuto explained it best (subscription required) after Suárez's seven scoreless innings on Monday, per The Athletic's Matt Gelb.

“... you’ve got Ranger throwing against you, and he can throw literally five, six pitches on both sides of the plate, you’re basically just up there hacking," Realmuto said, per Gelb. "You have no idea. It’s hard to have an approach when guys are that unpredictable and they can do that many things to you.”

That's high praise from a perennial All-Star catcher who has caught some of the league's top pitchers. His statement is spot on, though.

Suárez and Realmuto have been masters at mixing pitches, creating tunnels, and keeping hitters guessing. This has led to the 28-year-old having an even or positive run value on all five pitches for the first time in his career.

While most starters have two or three pitches that really work for them, Suárez is playing well above league average with five pitches that move in four different directions.

Suárez going against the grain of current MLB pitching philosophy

For a pitcher like Suárez, it's important to limit hard-hit balls. Without the overpowering fastball or slider like Wheeler, a mindset of pitching on the black and producing weak contact can lead to more success over a 162-game season.

The analytics speak for themselves. The lefty has the third-best groundball percentage at 59.5 percent. Couple that with a five-degree launch angle and the lowest average exit velocity in the bigs at 81 mph, and it's a recipe for success.

His average exit velocity is 2.6 mph lower than the next-best pitcher in the league. The gap between Suárez and number two is 0.1 MPH better than the gap between the second- and eighth-ranked pitchers.

In a league dominated by the three true outcomes: walk, strikeout, and home run, Suárez flips the script on that narrative.

Suárez has done something that few have done in recent memory. When comparing 2024 to last season, his velocity on all his pitches is down. However, his whiff rate, swing rate, and chase rate are all up between three to five percent.

The increased focus on making pitches, missing barrels, and inducing weak contact has elevated Suárez's game to the next level. His pitch repertoire and ability to command each one give him enough angles and movement to keep hitters guessing.

As a major discussion has been ongoing about player safety and the overemphasis on velocity and spin rate, Suárez is going the other direction, working to become more of a "pitcher" instead of a "hard thrower."