Thinking Inside the Box

Devin Mesoraco in Depth

Since Nick wrote about Mesoraco and his place in Reds history a few days ago, I thought now was a perfect time to break down his game piece by piece.

Nick pretty well covered the basic numbers, so I won’t go into those. Instead, I’m going to jump right in to the more advanced stats. Compared to his previous major league seasons, three numbers really jump out as seeing dramatic changes: his strikeout rate, his isolated power, and his batting average on balls in play. All three of those are way, way up. His strikeouts have gone from around 18% to around 23%. His ISO has more than doubled to its current .286, and his BABIP of .330 is 66 points better than his previous best.

Mesoraco’s major league career show no precedent for these kinds of numbers, but both his BABIP and his ISO have reached these levels in the minors. His strikeouts have never been this high in significant playing time at any level.

Want to know what’s going on? It’s pretty simple, I think. He’s swinging harder. A lot harder.

Last week, I noted that Cozart had lost six feet of distance on his fly balls. Well, Mesoraco has gained more than 20 feet. His HR/FB rate of 23% is way above the league average this year, but it’s not a mirage. His fly balls are going much, much farther this year.

Further, his swing profile fits with a harder swing. He is swinging less often, especially at balls outside the┬ázone, and that’s probably helping him make better contact. When he does swing, however, he’s making contact less often (70.3% this year verses 80.9% last year). He’s also pulling the ball more, which is in line with what we’d expect given the other numbers we’ve seen.

The above numbers explain both the power and the strikeout changes, but not the BABIP spike, and that is a reason for concern. His LD% is right around league average, meaning there’s not any really good reason to expect an abnormally high BABIP (Votto, for instance, has both a LD% and a BABIP that are significantly above league average for his career. This makes sense.)

If there is something concerning about Mesoraco it is that oddly high BABIP. As far as I can see, we should expect some regression still as the season moves forward. This does not mean, however, that Mesoraco’s great numbers are an illusion. Rather, it means that while he has greatly, greatly improved, not all of that improvement is attributable to a change in approach. At least a little bit of it is luck.

 

18 thoughts on “Devin Mesoraco in Depth

  1. It seems like Devin’s bat speed has picked up a lot this season. Any time he makes contact it is a rocket off the bat to the infield or outfield. Look forward to seeing this guy continue to grow as a Red. Hopefully personal catchers are completely removed next year.

  2. Does Walt get any credit here for going with the other catcher in the Latos deal and NOT dealing Devin…

    • Yes. However, like I keep saying with the Choo deal and Cozart vs. Gregorias debate, we don’t know if the Padres insisted on Grandal.

    • Sure he does, although I’d say the scouting department had a hand in that too. I believe it was John schierholtz who used to say that scouting your own players was one of the most important things you had to do so that you knew who to keep. The latos deal was a bold move that used players who were expendable to the reds. The choo trade was a good gamble to make after what happened in 2012. But that was the last decent move that Walt has made, and that’s been what, 20 months ago? Not that I expect him to pull of big trades every year, but he hasn’t even made a decent signing in that time. It seems like trading prospects for big leaguers is the only kind of deal Walt knows how to make. He was probably well suited to the job in 2009 when the reds had a young core that he could add to with pieces from a good farm system. But now the reds need to get younger and probably less expensive and I don’t think Walt really knows how to do that.

      • This is an important point to get across. The criticism of Jocketty is about his performance in the past year and a half, roughly since the Choo trade. I have given him lots of credit for many of his moves with the Reds. I wrote strongly in support of the Rolen trade (was really the only one here who did). I liked the Sean Marshall trade a lot even though it hasn’t worked out. The Latos trade was important. He’s obviously been a successful and talented GM. BUT that doesn’t exonerate his recent failures. In the same way that ball players and managers can be outstanding and then a year or two later not be, so can a GM. I don’t want to get into great detail on it, but just because some of us are highly critical of his recent performance doesn’t mean we don’t think he’s made any right moves.

  3. Don’t harder-hit balls generally equate to a higher BABIP? If the grounder or line drive is hit harder it makes it less likely that a fielder will reach it.

    • Just like all fly balls are not created equal, all line drives and ground balls are not created equal. If Mesoraco’s fly balls are going 20 feet farther, then logic attributes that improvement to a harder or faster swing. Mesoraco would use the same swing for hitting line drives and ground balls so the same logic would mean a higher BAbip…right?

      I hate strike outs, but a 23% strike out rate for a superior power hitter who outright attacks the ball effectively doesn’t bother me in the least. The cleanup hitter needs to be the guy who drives in runs above all else, as long as he can maintain an effective plate approach to contribute when he is not driving in runs. Mesoraco is developing into a superior, prototypical cleanup hitter the Reds have needed for a long time. I am salivating in anticipation of a healthy Votto and a proven Frazier hitting in front of Mesoraco and a healthy Bruce and Phillips hitting behind Mesoraco next season.

    • Excellent article, thank you. The drop in 1st pitch swinging is sgnificant: from 39% to 26%. He used to first-pitch swing at inside pitches, grounding weakly to 3rd.

      The before and after photos of his follow through are impressive. He takes a full cut now.

  4. If there is some regression in his BABIP, that’s not a big deal, the HRs will still be flying out. And the doubles he has hit that have almost left the park will still not be caught. A drop in BABIP would only have much affect on his singles. And it might not even happen.

  5. I like really like the Mes 2014 power stroke. Definitely a pull swing. I wonder why a “pull” approach leads to a breakthrough for some players and others ruin themselves if they do that. George Foster said he could help Bruce by convincing him that he doesn’t need to try to pull so much.

    Of course there is the difference that Bruce’s front shoulder flies open when he tries to pull, Mes keeps his shoulder closed nicely.

    • Mesoraco and Bruce are both strong and can crush the baseball, but Bruce has a longer, more fluid swing and Mesoraco has a more compact, aggressive swing. The more compact swing utilized by Mesoraco enables him to maintain better plate discipline with a more aggressive swing. This allows Mesoraco swing at and hit better pitches than Bruce. Mesoraco pulls a lot of pitches in foul territory, but that just goes with the territory.

      • Plus, left handed pull hitters are at a much bigger disadvantage these days than righties are because of all the shifting. Lefties almost have to be able to hit the ball the other way now.

        • Excellent point! I hadn’t even considered the defensive alignments as a factor. Of course, there hasn’t a defensive alignment concocted that helps against balls hammered off or over the wall.

    • Yeah it seems kinda counter intuitive. I’ve been a big fan of mesoraco ever since the first time I saw him swing a bat. I kept thinking that if he could just start taking those pitches on the outer third to right field instead of rolling over on them that he would be a star. Especially with the short right field in GABP. I thought meso needed to take advantage of that the way Frazier has. But mesoraco has taken the opposite approach and decided to pull everything as hard as he can. Shows what I know. Maybe he has just gotten better at recognizing pitches that he can pull really hard and pitches that he is likely to roll over on.

  6. While Meso’s percentage of LDs is about league average, his BABIP on those is over .800 which is way above league average. And I really don’t feel that a 23% FB/HR, which is more then double his prior rate, is sustainable. Most hitters who have had one year sharp increases in FB/HR recently (Cutch, Posey and Y. Molina were mentioned in another thread) regressed by about 6-7% the next year and stayed there.

    I think it’s reasonable to expect that Meso’s future production (assuming he stays healthy) will be much better than 2013 but quite a bit less than 2014 rates.

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