Devin Mesoraco: Big Red Hitting Machine?
Logic says that Devin Mesoraco should have cooled off long, long ago. The nice thing for him, and Cincinnati Reds fans, is that logic doesn't always apply to baseball.
Last Tuesday, Mesoraco homered for the fifth game in a row, tying the franchise record of one of baseball’s oldest and most storied clubs. Mesoraco’s season line is now .307/.373/.627. He has 14 home runs (5 more than he had all of last season, in about half as many at-bats) and 40 RBI (just two less). He's become one of the top fantasy options for catchers, and has even breached the numberFire player rankings, coming it at number 28 with a nERD of 2.37. Jonathan Lucroy is the only other catcher to make that list.
This was all, in one word, unforeseen. Mesoraco began the season on the disabled list, providing a validation of sorts for the many Reds fans who were upset to see Ryan Hanigan traded in December. But the organization saw a future in Mesoraco and depth in Brayan Peña, who they signed to a two-year deal over winter. Both of these players have greatly exceeded expectations this season.
Mesoraco began 2014 watching from the dugout with an oblique injury, a nuisance to so many a big leaguer these days. He played 13 games before he again went on the DL, this time due to a strained hamstring. In those two weeks of play, Mesoraco had a towering line of .468/.509/.787, accruing six doubles, three home runs and 13 RBI, providing a tantalizing glimpse at what might be possible, if not what was to come.
Before going on that tear, there had been few such hints. Though he occasionally got on the field in 2011 and 2012, Mesoraco saw his playing time increase substantially in 2013. He played in 103 games, and in 323 at-bats (roughly half of an average season) hit .238 with a minuscule slugging percentage of .362, 9 home runs and 42 RBI. Not horrible numbers for a part-time catcher, to be sure, but they’re not exactly eye catching. And they gave zero indication of what he is doing now.
There’s nothing that jumps out as wildly different about Mesoraco’s approach, and it’s hard to point to one thing that he's actively doing differently than he has in the past. The Reds organization knew he had power, and believed the numbers would come eventually, but not to this extent. So what is it that can perhaps attempt to explain Mesoraco’s stratospheric jump in numbers?
First of all, look at the batting average on balls in play. Mesoraco’s BABIP is currently at a very comfortable .330, and even that has cooled significantly from where it stood earlier in the season, when it was near .600. Last year he finished the season at .264, a weak mark in this category. Perhaps Mesoraco’s luck has just gotten better, or maybe he was unlucky in the past.
Or, most likely, he’s simply hitting the ball harder and farther this season. The most telling statistical change for Mesoraco comes in his ground ball to fly ball ratio. Mesoraco finished 2013 at 1.33, and this season he has it down to 0.81. This stat is supposed to show that the lower this ratio is, the higher the slugging percentage and home run count become. Mesoraco provides perfect proof for it with his 14 homers and a slugging percentage nearly double what it was last year. By simply elevating the ball, giving it more chances to drop in to a patch of outfield green or hurdle over a fence, Mesoraco has turned himself into – at the moment – one of the best hitting catchers in all of baseball.
It’s easy to say that Mesoraco won’t continue to hit at this pace. But it was also easy to say that he never would in the first place. So long as he can stay healthy (and with Peña there to provide plenty of rest, Mesoraco most certainly should) and continues to get loft under the ball, there’s no reason to think that Mesoraco won’t finish the season where he is now – an offensive force, a top-three fantasy catcher.