Ken Suzuki

From BR Bullpen

Note: This page links to Ken Suzuki, the long-time corner infielder and DH for the Seibu Lions and Yakult Swallows. For the pitcher in the 1990s by the same name, click here.

Ken Suzuki (鈴木 健)

BR register page

Biographical Information[edit]

Ken Suzuki was a three-time All-Star and two-time Best Nine pick in a 19-year career in Nippon Pro Baseball. He once led his league in OBP and won two Japanese minor league batting titles. Overall, he was noted for his balanced offensive game of contact, power and plate discipline. Suzuki also briefly played in the US minors.

Early Career[edit]

Suzuki hit 83 home runs in high school and played in two Koshien Tournaments. That led to the Seibu Lions making him a first-round pick in the 1988 NPB draft. He was farmed out to the San Jose Giants but struggled, going just 1 for 18 with 2 walks in 8 games. At age 18, he was young for a high class A league and the sample size is obviously a limited one. The next year, he made his NPB debut with a 1-for-8 performance for Seibu, spending most of the season in ni-gun.

Suzuki won Eastern League batting titles in 1990 and 1991. He hit .259/.286/.296 in 11 games for Seibu the first year and .286/.338/.444 in 39 outings for the club the next. He hit his first NPB home run in September of that campaign, with a dramatic pinch-hit game-tying ninth-inning homer.

By 1992, Suzuki was a decent bench player for the Lions, batting .261/.327/.478 in 104 plate appearances over 69 games. He pinch hit five times in the 1992 Japan Series, going 1 for 5 with a 3-run homer in game six as Seibu won their third straight title.

1993-1999: Big years with Seibu[edit]

In 1993, Ken emerged as the Seibu starter at third base and hit .270/.348/.420. He batted .350/.435/.550 in the 1993 Japan Series and hit a pinch-hit grand slam in game five against Tsutomu Yamada. He became just the second player in Japan Series history to have hit a pinch-hit grand slam. Seibu won the game (7-2) but lost the Series in 7 games to end their title run.

With Hiromichi Ishige moving to third in 1994, Suzuki moved to DH primarily. He produced at a .350/.428/.571 clip but only had 302 plate appearances, battling Ishige and Mike Pagliarulo for time at 3B and DH. Had he qualified, he would have ranked third in the Pacific League in average, OBP and slugging, trailing another Suzuki, Ichiro Suzuki in the former two departments. Suzuki only hit .208/.240/.208 in the 1994 Japan Series as Seibu fell again.

With Ishige and Pagliarulo gone in 1995, Suzuki split his time between third base (70 games) and first base (56 games), leading Seibu in appearances at the latter but not the former. He hit .252/.328/.363 in an off-year and Seibu failed to win the PL pennant for the first time since he had become a regular.

Suzuki bounced back in 1996, hitting .302/.383/.534 with 21 home runs. He was third in the Pacific League in slugging percentage behind Troy Neel and Tetsuya Kakiuchi.

In 1997, Ken batted .312/.431/.518 with 31 doubles, 19 home runs and 94 RBI. He tied a PL record by driving in one or more runs in 11 straight games (from May 7 till May 22). He made his first All-Star team. On October 3, he hit a home run in the bottom of the 10th against Shintaro Yoshitake to clinch the pennant for Seibu. He led the Pacific League in walks (90, 3 ahead of Tuffy Rhodes) and OBP (right ahead of Chris Donnels). He was third in average behind Ichiro and Phil Clark and third in doubles behind Rhodes and Hiroki Kokubo. Suzuki was picked as a Best Nine, chosen as the best third baseman in the Pacific League. He hit .313/.476/.438 with 5 walks in 5 games in the 1997 Japan Series as Seibu lost; he was a rare bright spot when the team hit a cumulative .229/.322/.261.

Suzuki hit .275/.376/.461 with a career-high 22 home runs in 1998. He led the PL with 8 sacrifice flies and made his second All-Star team. He hit .227/.292/.364 in the 1998 Japan Series as Seibu dropped another Series to the Central League champions.

In 1999, the 29-year-old batted .261/.362/.417. His 77 walks were second in the PL to Norihiro Nakamura, only two shy of the lead. He led the loop with 7 sacrifice flies.

2000-2002: Struggles[edit]

During the 2000 season, Suzuki hit just .249/.333/.339 with six home runs, his lowest home run total in 8 years and his lowest OPS as a regular.

Suzuki bounced back in 2001, batting .252/.331/.482 with 18 home runs. He only played 65 games in 2002, hitting .238/.295/.390 as Tom Evans became Seibu's main third baseman. He played just one game in the 2002 Japan Series, striking out as a pinch-hitter.

2003-2007: Yakult[edit]

A free agent, Suzuki was picked up by the Yakult Swallows.

Suzuki batted .317/.392/.517 in 2003 with 36 doubles, 20 home runs and 95 RBI. He replaced Akinori Iwamura at third base and made his third All-Star team. Ken tied Akihiro Yano for third in the Central League in OBP and led the league in doubles, one more than Koichi Ogata and Makoto Imaoka. He was 4th in RBI, behind Alex Ramirez, George Arias and Kosuke Fukudome. The veteran won the NPB Comeback Player of the Year Award. Suzuki earned his second Best Nine pick.

In 2004, Ken hit .289/.350/.430 in his last year with 100+ games. He moved to first base that year so Iwamura could play third regularly. Suzuki batted .252/.318/.361 in 81 games in 2005, splitting first base duties with Adam Riggs and serving as Yakult's DH in interleague games.

In 2006, Suzuki hit .167/.259/.333 in 34 games and did not play a game in the field. He was just 3 for 27 in a similar bench role in 2007. He retired following the season.

Career Statistics[edit]

Suzuki hit .278/.362/.446 with 284 doubles, 189 home runs, 797 RBI and 664 walks in 1,686 games.


Japan Baseball Daily by Gary Garland,