Thinking Inside the Box

A Tale of Two Players

If you’re like me, you’ve found yourself wondering a lot about two particular players in the Reds’ lineup. Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton were the two biggest unknowns coming into the season and, thus far, they’ve had wildly disparate results. I thought, perhaps, now was a good time to look at them and see what useful information we can get from these early season results.

Let’s start with the bad news.

Right now, BIlly Hamilton has a wRC + of 3 (yes, 3). 100 is average. By way of comparison, Votto and Phillips have career numbers of 156 and 96 respectively. This season, Hamilton has a 3. Ouch.

But, there is some hope. Hamilton only has 66 major league plate appearances. Only 44 have come this season. The best we can say given that tiny sample is that we might be starting to have a sense of his plate discipline. Generally speaking, swing% stabilizes around 50 PAs, and this season, Hamilton has been swinging at about an average rate. Contact% becomes relevant at about 100 PAs. Right now, he’s actually making contact more often than league average when he swings.

The results have been bad for Hamilton thus far, but to this point, it still looks like his numbers are heavily BABIP driven.

Devin Mesoraco has been something this week. His wRC+ currently stands at 317. You could divide his OPS in half and he’d still be above the league average. He has, of course, many fewer plate appearances than Hamilton this season, but for his career he has almost exactly one full season’s worth.

What’s interesting about that last statement is that it might tell us something useful. Mesoraco has 609 career plate appearances. In that time, he has managed a wRC+ of 78. That’s not very good. Of course, we all know that Devin hasn’t had the best handling since he joined the big club. His peripherals are interesting, though. His Isolated Power (SLG-BA) is .151, which is above league average. Additionally, his BABIP of .254 is low, even for a catcher and should be expected to rebound.

Given those two pieces of information, I think we might reasonably assume that what we’ve seen from Devin the past few seasons represents his offensive floor right now. Certainly, he’s not going to maintain his current torrid pace, but he does have legitimate power (19 HRs in those 609 PAs) and his average should rebound simply from the law of averages.

From just this year, the numbers we’re looking at need hundreds of at bats before they stabilize, but they should serve as a reminder that Mes hasn’t had a run like this before and that he was, to use a very imprecise term, due.

STAT OF THE WEEK: Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is the batting average a player has on… balls he puts in play. That is, it excludes homers and strikeouts. Pitchers tend to have very little control of this, mostly gravitating toward .290 or so.

Hitters do exhibit some control. However, the number can fluctuate wildly from season to season (See: Bruce, Jay) and a reasonably wide view is necessary before it can be identified as an actual skill. Votto’s career BABIP of .358 is otherworldly and among the best you’ll ever see as he currently ranks 5th all-time among players with at least 3000 PAs in the modern era.

In general, BABIPs below .270 or above .320 (or so) should be viewed very, very skeptically until there are several seasons of evidence. Think of BABIP for hitters as similar to advanced fielding stats. One season doesn’t tell you much, but if a player keeps it up, you can be confident something is going on there.

30 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Players

  1. Entirely agree with both, especially Devin. Anyone who was handled like Devin was wouldn’t be able to get into any kind of playing routine. And, for many players, they are better when they can get into a routine, like being a regular player. So, as for all the PA’s the previous seasons, I believe you can essentially wipe them out. With Devin if not most any player, PA’s like he had the last 2 seasons would be meaningless compared to how he is being handled this season. This year will be more indicative of what kind of player he is than the last 2 years.

  2. You stated that’s it’s obvious he won’t maintain his current pace and (since BABIP is being highlighted) his BABIP bears that out. His current BABIP is .571; more than double his career numbers. I’m hopeful that he can bring his career BABIP to ~.300. With his power numbers and a bit more hitting for average, he could be a great weapon tucked behind Votto or Bruce.

    • His .571 BABIP is not absurd. What is absurd is his 1.000+ slugging percentage! If he slugs about .550 (very high but not completely unrealistic – he surpassed that at A+ and AA) then his BABIP should be .300 or so. If his BB rate catches up to his career minor league totals, then I agree – the Reds have themselves a prototypical cleanup hitter all of the sudden!!!

      • The way Devin is going, if he doesn’t find himself in the clean-up spot sometime during 2014 – then it would be a travesty. That kid, who is only 25, is coming into his own right before our eyes. Being #1 all of a sudden has catapulted that kid into his very own. Here’s hoping he continues his current brand of hitting for a very long time.

  3. Things haven’t started out the greatest, but I am satisfied with the early returns and contributions from our catcher position. I think everyone there has performed quite well during this period. This should pay some dividends moving forward.

  4. What a lot of fun to see Mes tearing it up. Hopefully even as he slows down it all points to continued success, perhaps finally shaking off the notion that in the past two years he has never been the “bust” some feared. Rather, he was “Dust-ed”.

    • Slows down? Here’s hoping the kid hits .500 this year. First time in major league history. Actually with this line-up would be extremely happy with .280 – this kid is seeing the ball like a beach ball. Fun to watch – and brings a lot of hope for the future. .

  5. I don’t know what to expect from Devin going forward, but I see no reason to expect anything close to his ‘floor’ of 75 OPS+ from the previous 2 seasons. He certainly can’t maintain a 304 OPS+ (can he?), but I think a more realistic ‘floor’ would be something around league average, similar to Phillips’ 96 career OPS+ or Frazier’s 106 career OPS+. Quite frankly something like Ludwick’s 111 career OPS+ or Bruce’s 114 career OPS+ is a more realistic expectation with Mesoraco’s ceiling somewhere north of there. This is Mesoraco’s first regular playing time as the starting catcher at the major league level and he looks ready to sieze the opportunity after proving himself with a .279/.359/.472 in a full season (576 PA) at AAA.

    Hamilton is another matter entirely. He has never proven himself at AAA. His contact rate seems a particularly measurement of his potential since his contact generally results in poor bunts, weak ground balls against a drawn in infield or weak fly balls and popups. Those types of AB’s result in an expected slash line of .159/.196/.227 with 13 OPS+ for the season.

    The Reds need their best 8 position players on the field and unfortunately Hamilton is NOT one of the best 8 position players, despite his speed, until he finishes his development and proves he is major league ready (at AAA). Heisey has a league average 98 career OPS and should be playing CF on this team with this roster. The Reds are left with the same problem they have had every season, except 2013, in finding the least ineffective leadoff hitter (Phillips) on the roster (Votto excepted). That’s not a good way to construct a lineup, but until the Reds begin developing hitters with a professional approach at the plate, that will continue to be a problem.

    • I’m in agreement with every word here. I know it’s not a popular view in these parts, so I wanted to express solidarity. Wouldn’t want you to feel like you’d been abandoned in Siberia. :-)

    • Well said. Leadoff spot on a potentially-contending major league squad is not the place for Hamilton to develop the skills necessary to succeed.

    • Do agree with developing players with a professional approach – as I like many others, including yourself, simply don’t see it being well represented (as Zach Cozart appears to have completely missed that course). As it turns out, if hitters are not professionally finely tuned they end up playing like mere silly putty in the hands of a competent pitcher. No wonder Zach is hitting a putrid .095.

    • I mostly agree, but gotta remember that Devin’s position put him in a lot of nagging injury risk, and Devin will likely be playing A LOT given how bad this offense is. I’m sure Baltimore fans were saying similar things about Matt Wieters, and he put up a 86 wRC+ last season after putting up wRC+ of 110 and 106 in 2012 & 2013.

      Also, I think the “professional approach” issue has likely been addressed, now we’re just starting to see the last of the toolsy riff raff from previous administrations hitting the AAA/MLB levels. Most of the hitting talent the Reds have invested in recently seem like better approach guys, the Reds simply haven’t invested a lot of high quality draft picks on hitters (which has worked out pretty decent overall, and I suspect we’ll be happy about this once Stephenson gets here).

  6. To be fair regarding #6, though, his contact% is skewed because of his many bunt attempts (for which he has one bunt hit). So, while his contact% may be average to above average, it’s distorted a bit. Because of this, it may not indicate much — other than if he doesn’t start bunting the ball better, his BABIP will not improve all that much.

  7. The thing with Hamiltons BABIP is that he has absolutely zero power and yet he hits an alarming number of fly balls. So his BABIP is going to be terrible unless he either learns to stop taking uppercut swings or starts hanging out with A-Rod’s doctor.

    • No doubt – Billy needs to keep the ball on the ground – hitting it in the air completely neutralizes his strength. His liner yesterday though looked good – and he was safe at 2B. Glad the bad call didn’t affect the game’s eventual outcome.

  8. Where the rubber meets the road with Mez is how well he hits righties moving forward. The early returns are promising, save for that pathetic swing on 3-0 late in game 1 yesterday.

    I said it 2 years ago—he’s gonna be an All-Star. I’d trade that in a heartbeat if he could just be our cleanup hitter.

  9. Jason, I agree with your position that contact rate stabilizes at around 100 PAs. With Hamilton, I’m inclined to discount his first 40 or so ABs simply because of nerves and expectations. I’ll be curious to see his numbers from now until Memorial Day before passing judgement. What I do know is that Heisey is not the answer. Keep him in his role, a role that he’s very effective at.

    • Completely agree on Heisey. I have said it over and over again: He is an average starting OF and an excellent PH. We could do much worse than having Heisey starting, but we don’t have anyone who could come close to replacing his value as the first bat off the bench.

      • Love Chris Heisey – but he is not a starting OF in my honest opinion. The Reds optimize him by using him like they did on Sunday – where he knew he would get a fastball with the bases jacked. It’s his in between ABs when the table hasn’t been set for a FB that he struggles. Chris just doesn’t handle the offspeed pitches well enough to start – only wish he would learn to consistently hit offspeed stuff – but that mission is handled by the select few.

        • He’s basically a replacement level starting OF. That makes him a great 4th OF for a team that (supposedly) is a contender. The fact that you never hear his name come up in trade chatter should tell you a lot about how people view him. If anyone thought for a second he could produce as a starter the way he has as a PH then Walt’s phone would be ringing off the hook.

  10. I, like others, feel like Mes would have done alot better if it was not for Dusty. For whatever reason it seems Baker had something against the kid, and I think Mes knew it also and thus always played under pressure. Now that Baker is gone Mes will flourish….Maybe cincy should sign him to an extension now. :)

    • Dusty had that affect on quite a few so Devin wasn’t alone. Dusty holding Devin’s career back is definitely an understatement. With him gone the kid is going to flourish. I know some Cubs fans where trading Dusty for a bag of peanuts wouldn’t even be considered a fair trade (with the peanuts having more value).

      • By the way, with the way Frazier one arms HRs, maybe Todd would also consider himself part of that club.

      • Don’t know how you can state your opinion on Dusty “holding back” the development of players as if it were established fact. You may be correct–or not. The Reds did well under Dusty. If the manager is so important (and I don’t believe that he is), he should be getting credit for those 90+win seasons as well as blame for the postseason flameouts (some of which had to do with key injuries). Heisey and Frazier, at the mlb level, have produced much as one would predict based upon their minor league stats, which they compiled without Dusty’s influence.

  11. Good article, Jason! I’d like to toss out some surpising Jay Bruce stats here:

    He has the 3rd lowest O-Swing% (swinging at balls outside the zone) in the NL behind Matt Carpenter and Andrew McCutcheon. That is AMAZING, given Bruce’s wrap of swinging at too many bad pitches. (Votto 5th, as expected)

    Bruce has the HIGHEST BB% in the NL at 21.7%. That is directly related to not swinging at pitches out of the zone.

    If swing% really stablizes around 50 PAs, then could we be witnessing a fundamental change in Jay Bruce’s approach? A more Votto-esque approach, if you will. If so, he’s an unknown quantity (in a good way).

    Combine all that info with his BABIP of .156, and we could be seeing a triple-slash monster of a season in the making. If he continues to walk at a nearly similar rate and hit at his career average, we could see something like a .360 OBP from Bruce this year, which is, of course, elite.

    • As a sad follow-on to this, here are some unsurprising fly ball stats:

      Billy Hamilton is tied for 3rd highest FB% in the NL behind Pedro Alvarez (duh!) and Jason Heyward at FIFTY PERCENT.

      Zack Cozart is 7th in the NL at 47.1%

      Has BHAM helped Votto get more fastballs? Probably. Votto is seeing the 14th highest rate of fastballs in the league so far, at 65.6% (Cozart 11th higest rate). Last year, Votto saw 58% fastballs.

      Billy hasn’t been on base a ton for Votto yet, but maybe, just maybe, those stats are validation to our eye tests. We’ll continue to watch and see!

  12. We offer fresh cut bank instrument for lease/sale, such as BG, SBLC, MTN, Bank Bonds, Bank Draft, T strips and other. Leased Instruments can be obtained at minimal expense to the borrower compared to other banking options and we also discount/monetize BG’s.
    This offer is open to both individuals and corporate bodies.
    If in need of our services, contact me for detail information.
    Thank you,
    Mr.Joe Duane
    email:jduane076@gmail.com
    Joeduane@consultant.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s