Casey McGehee's 2014 Season Has Been Strange and Wonderful
For those of you who aren't fluent in Japanese, that means "Welcome back to America, Casey!" At least, that's what my computer tells me, anyway.
Last year, Casey McGehee played in Japan in an effort to rediscover his swing, and hit 28 home runs while knocking in 93 runs. It seemed to have worked, which led to the Miami Marlins to sign him during the winter to a one-year, $1.1 million deal to play third base. They probably weren't expecting a whole lot, but took a chance on a guy who hit 23 bombs and brought in 104 runs for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010. It was a very low-risk signing that didn't move the needle on most MLB transactions and rumors blogs.
Instead, what they got was the potential National League Comeback Player of the Year who can't be a free agent until 2016.
McGehee is currently one of the five NL finalists for the final spot on the All-Star ballot. However, this isn't a piece that aims to convince you he should be chosen over the other worthy candidates. Instead, it's to shine a light on what has been a very strange, yet very rewarding season for McGehee.
Heading into Tuesday's games, McGehee leads the National League in hits with 110 in 88 games. His .322 batting average is fourth-best in the NL, and his .390 on-base percentage is eigth. His nERD of 1.56 (which means a lineup full of McGehee's is worth 1.56 more runs per 27 outs than a lineup full of average Major Leaguers) is 50th among all MLB players. Those are all good stats and indicate he is, indeed, having a very solid season. But then, things get a bit weird.
McGehee's 53 runs batted in are sixth-best in the National League. Of course, runs batted in are largely dependent on the production of hitters who bat in front of him, and McGehee is the four-hole hitter in Miami's lineup, hitting behind Giancarlo Stanton. However, he's tallied those 53 RBI with just one home run, and an isolated power (ISO) of .073, which is 11th out of 11 third basemen in the NL who have enough at-bats to qualify. So how is it possible for McGehee to have so many runs batted in with so few homers?
Batting average with runners in scoring position. McGehee leads all of baseball with a .398 batting with RISP. The next closest hitter to him is Cleveland's Lonnie Chisenhall, at .370. That's a ridiculous number, far better than the MLB average with RISP of .249. And as most followers of baseball know, hitting with runners in scoring position is a difficult feat to repeat on a year-in, year-out basis. These are McGehee's career numbers in that department.
This is a fairly typical fluctuation in batting with RISP, something the struggling St. Louis Cardinals offense has discovered this year. McGehee is also having a funky season with some of his other peripherals.
What's absolutely astonishing is McGehee's home run-to-fly ball ratio of 1.1%, which is far below the league average of 9.2%, and far below his career rate of 9.8%. That essentially means just over 1 out of every 100 fly balls McGehee is hitting this year are leaving the yard. It's a number that makes no sense, given that he hit 28 homers while playing in Japan just last year. It's also a number that figures to increase in the second half.
McGehee is also relying on a higher-than-normal batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .373, compared to the league average of .289. His .373 BABIP is fourth in baseball, meaning he's been pretty fortunate on the balls he's put in play. What's also aiding McGehee's turnaround is a solid approach at the plate, walking in 10.6% of his plate appearances and striking out in just 13.7% of them, numbers that are also better than the league average.
Simply put, McGehee is having a terrific bounce-back season at the plate. His home run rate is likely to rise in the second half, however, don't be surprised to see his batting average dip and his RBI totals slow as his BABIP and batting average with RISP normalize a bit. But even if those those things do happen, McGehee seems to be playing himself into a very nice arbitration check once the season is over.
Casey, you can probably leave your English-to-Japanese dictionary in the storage shed. You're not going to need it again for a while.