Derek Norris: More Than a One-Trick Pony
The Oakland A’s are not afraid to platoon anyone in their lineup. For years they’ve made a living off of platooning guys like Seth Smith, Brandon Moss, Nate Freiman, and obviously their catcher position. In years past, they’ve mixed and matched lineups as situations arise, but this season, there's no reason to mix and match anything. At least for one A’s catcher.
Derek Norris and John Jaso are two of the top three hitters for average for the A’s this year. They are top three for on-base percentage (OBP) and top five for slugging percentage (SLG) amongst every A’s batter, no matter how many at-bats.
Forget how great they have been when compared to other A’s players though. The two of them actually sit in the top three for weighted on-base average (wOBA) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+) in the MLB when it comes to catchers with at least 100 plate appearances.
While John Jaso has been a great player for the A’s, he only has nine at-bats against left-handed pitching. Derek Norris, on the other hand, has 45 at-bats off righties compared to 54 at-bats against lefties. Jaso has been great this season, but Norris has been much better.
Of the 28 catchers who have 100 plate appearances in Major League Baseball, Derek Norris is number one and it’s not even close. His .435 wOBA is 60 points higher than Jonathan Lucroy who is second. His 183 wRC+ is 46 away from Lucory in second place as well. I keep mentioning these two stats, but what does this actually mean for Norris?
If you ask any hitting instructor, they’ll tell you that hitting starts with seeing the baseball (to go along with timing, hands, getting ahead of the count, and confidence), and Norris arguably is doing that better than anyone else right now at his position. His 16.8% walk rate (BB%) is tied for first with Chris Iannetta, and his strikeout rate (K%) is 10.9%, which ranks him in the top five (Iannetta isn’t even in the top half).
Clearly Norris is recognizing what’s being thrown his way with these kinds of numbers, and it’s translating to hits. He has a catcher-leading .343 batting average, and .454 OBP. He’s doing more than just getting on base though. Norris is hitting for a very high isolated power (ISO), ranking in the top 25% of catchers with his .192 ISO.
The man known as “Norrisaurus” or the “Chemisterizer” has produced such high numbers because of one big reason: his ability to shed the “platoon” tag from his name. In 2012 and 2013, he combined to hit .173 against righties. Although we’re not even one-third of the way through the 2014 season, Norris is hitting .333 against righties.
With small samples, it’s dangerous to predict change in a hitter, but when comparing his numbers to how he has done against lefties this 2014 season, it just feels right. With only nine more at-bats against same-handed pitchers, Norris has one less extra base hit, one more strikeout, and four more walks. This means he has nearly identical OBPs with a more than respectable .500 SLG against righties.
Norrisaurus has come out red-hot this 2014 season, and there’s no reason think his numbers will plummet because of regression. Although his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .366 and he’s never hit like this before, there isn’t much past evidence to suggest this year is really that different.
Last season, Norris had a .301 BABIP while hitting .149 against righties. Improving against those pitchers will clearly raise his BABIP. And even if you think Norris isn’t a .300 hitter against righties, he has clearly shown he’s not a .173 hitter.
In 2014, Norris has shown he’s more than just a beard that crushes southpaws. He’s an everyday catcher.