In an unexpected development, the Cincinnati Reds have acquired two of the top right-handed power hitters in the National League. Their names are Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco.
You want the Reds to trade the farm, the Cuban Missile and/or frontline starting pitching for Giancarlo Stanton? Devin the Destroyer’s power numbers are higher than Stanton’s.
Much has rightly been made of the need for the Reds to acquire a right-handed slugger to pair with Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. After Ryan Ludwick’s shoulder injury vanquished any thought the veteran left fielder could provide that pop in the middle of the Reds order, it had become obvious that the club’s top need since April 2013 was finding that bat. Walt Jocketty, to the extent he tried, swung and missed for more than a year.
It’s not exactly a new situation for the organization. The Reds haven’t enjoyed consistent right-handed power since Greg Vaughn in 1999. Sure, there were flashes of Austin Kearns, E5E5, Wily Mo, Jose Guillen and even Ludwick in 2012. But compare that list to the corresponding lefties: Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., Josh Hamilton, Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. The Reds built a short right porch and a team to go with it.
But now, to the great fortune of the Cincinnati Reds, there is early, tentative evidence that not just one, but two big right-handed bats have emerged.
Two measures of power hitting are the statistics SLG (slugging percentage) and ISO (isolated power). They have different formulas – with the largest variance being that hitters get credit for singles under SLG. ISO is a more precise measure of raw power. But the difference doesn’t matter for this post. Look at whichever of the two you prefer.
To identify the best power hitters in the National League, let’s take the top thirty as rated by either of these metrics. Thirty is an average of two hitters per team. For players with over 100 plate appearances in 2014, to be in the top thirty, you need a SLG of over .475 (28 hitters > .475) and an ISO of more than .200 (27 hitters).
Todd Frazier has a SLG of .518 (16th) and an ISO of .239 (13th). Devin Mesoraco has a SLG of .609 (2nd) and ISO of .304 (2nd). First in both categories is the high-altitude wonderboy, Troy Tulowitzki.
To put it in back-of-the-baseball-card terms, if Frazier gets 600 plate appearances (his number last season) and hits home runs at the current rate, he’ll end the year with 32. If Mesoraco gets 420 plate appearances and keeps this pace up, he’ll hit 30. For context, only three players hit 30 home runs in the NL last year.
In Frazier’s (28) case, he’s not only exceeding his sophomore slump output, he’s bettering his outstanding 2012 (.498/.225). There are solid reasons to believe the good news that he’ll sustain it. The data shows Frazier has substantially improved his line drive rate and plate discipline.
Devin Mesoraco, at age 25, is still finding his level. He’s dramatically increased his line drive and fly ball rates. Mesoraco’s rate of home runs as a percent of fly balls has skyrocketed. And if you’ve watched him play, you know his homers aren’t cheapies.
Comparing Mesoraco’s 2014 to his previous major league numbers doesn’t make much sense because he’s still developing and never had sustained regular playing time. Yes, of course, he’s extremely unlikely to hit like this for six months, but his AA and AAA track record indicates he can sustain a SLG over .475 and ISO over .200. Even as his batting average slumped in May, his SLG stayed high (.609) and his ISO actually improved (.370).
Frazier and Mesoraco have flaws in their approach and they will go through slumps like any hitter, to be sure. And it’s too soon to state with any certainty that either one can continue to hit like All-Stars.
But if the Reds had actually acquired two big right-handed bats for their 2014 line-up, this is exactly what it would look like.