Three players for your consideration:

MVP copy

Clues: All three players wore the uniform of the Cincinnati Reds. All three put up these numbers in their third full major league season. At the conclusion of these seasons, Player A had been an All-Star three times, Players B and C had been All-Stars just once. Players A and C were both catchers.

Enough hints, time to pull back the curtain.

Player A is Johnny Bench, in his MVP season of 1970. Player B is Joey Votto, in his MVP season, forty years later, in 2010.

Player C is Devin Mesoraco, today, in his MVP-caliber 2014 season.

That’s right, Devin Mesoraco is a legitimate candidate for Most Valuable Player of the National League. Among players with at least 220 plate appearances, he ranks third in the league in wRC+ behind Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew McCutchen. He is WAY out ahead in ISO (isolated power) and second to Tulowitzki in slugging. And, like Johnny Bench, Mesoraco plays the demanding position of catcher. If you prorate Mesoraco’s fWAR to a full 90 games played, he’d be second in the NL to Tulowitzki.

MVP voters typically choose players on a winning team. Both Bench and Votto were on first place teams in those MVP years. Devin Mesoraco has more home runs right now (16) than any player on the Dodgers, Giants, Nationals, Cardinals and Brewers. And he’s played in only 58 of his team’s 93 games. Mesoraco trails the Braves’ Justin Upton by one homer, although Upton has had 141 more plate appearances.

Mesoraco has hit five of his sixteen home runs in the top of the ninth inning. He’s homered off Tim Lincecum and Zack Grienke. He’s doubled off of Cliff Lee, Madison Bumgarner and David Price. In last night’s dramatic win, he homered off of All-Star reliever, Tony Watson.

Ah, last night. The Reds dugout was full of heroes after their glorious, heart-pounding win. I could list five and that would leave out five more. But it was Devin Mesoraco’s upper-deck home run in the bottom of the eighth inning, with two outs and the Reds down 5-3, it was that blast that signaled both to the Pirates and his teammates that the Reds weren’t done yet. It said “No. Not yet. Not tonight. We haven’t given up.”

Devin Mesoraco began this MVP-caliber season on the DL and returned to it one other time. He’s taken a pounding. He’s been hit by swinging bats, broken bats, charging runners, foul tips, by pitches thrown by opponents and by pitches from his teammates. Yet he keeps going. He’s what Bryan Price meant by relentless.

The word caliber has two meanings.

To assert that Devin Mesoraco is “MVP-caliber” is accurate with either definition. Caliber means the level of one’s ability. Mesoraco’s numbers this year, as amply demonstrated in the Table above, are MVP level.

But it’s the second meaning of caliber, the internal diameter or bore of a gun barrel, that fits even better. Last night, Tony Watson faced the barrel of the Reds’ .357 Magnum MVP as he went off.

Of course, there’s a huge “SO FAR” caveat. Devin Mesoraco is having an MVP-caliber season so far. But I’ll let you be the one to tell him he can’t keep it up.

Just wanted to bring it to your attention that if he does, we could be celebrating DevinMVP at the end of the year, along with a few other nice team trophies.

28 Responses

  1. Ryan Lykins (@ryan_lykins)

    It’s almost a crying shame to think of the great season he’s had so far and then look back at last season and how he was used. Maybe he wasn’t this good last year but man doesn’t it make you wonder what might have been?

    • Steve Mancuso

      I had a paragraph written about that – and deleted it. Didn’t want to detract from the main focus. But it said that the truth was probably somewhere in between the two views (a) Baker stunted Mesoraco by playing Hanigan too much and (b) Mesoraco learned a lot watching Hanigan handle the staff as he eased into the major leagues. I’ve always leaned to (b) but Mesoraco’s breakthrough certainly makes me wonder.

      • Kyle

        Its funny, I think you posted a comment about how Hanigan could’ve probably thrown better than Holmberg a few nights ago. I had the same thought. As much as I love Hanigan, however, giving Mesoraco the starter’s role (not just the majority of the games, but the starter role) has been great.

        Excellent column.

      • yoitsscholzy

        I really like Devin, but he would be absolutely brutal in LF. Every time he runs he looks like he’s going to fall over. It’s not just that he’s slow – he’s super awkward when he gets going. I understand the thought, and with a lot of players it might work, but I really can’t imagine him out there. Obviously the Reds don’t either or they would have tried it at some point.

      • RedinInd

        In a Daugherty story in last Thursday’s Enquirer, Devin says he started catching when he was 10 years old. Along the way, he also pitched, played shortstop, football, and basketball. He knew he wasn’t “super fast” or “crazy athletic” (Devin’s words in the article), so he stayed behind the plate, becoming one of the best at what he does.

    • sultanofswaff

      Last year, it was pretty obvious (to me at least) that whatever deficiencies Mesoraco had behind the plate, he would’ve more than made up for with his bat relative to Hanigan. Hanny was just awful with the bat, it was such a low bar to hurdle.

  2. tct

    I’ve been a huge mesoraco fan ever since I first saw that
    Quick,compact, powerful swing. Watching meso crush a home run in slow motion is like watching a lion take down a gazelle. It’s so violent, but it’s kind of a beautiful, majestic type of violence.
    I think he is still short of the 3.1 pa/game minimum to qualify for the batting crown, and I don’t know if voters will consider a player who is not qualified. The 2 injuries along with the fact that he gets at least one if not 2 days off per week have kept his plate appearances down and that’s a shame.

  3. Kyle

    Devin has been incredible thus far. The 58 of 93 games is why he is not in the discussion right now. I’m very happy he got recognized as an All Star- I did not think that happen. Well deserved.

    One of my favorite questions to ponder this season has been ‘Which position player has been most surprising (NOTE: not best): Frazier, Hamilton, or Mesoraco?’ This is obviously has a lot to do with your personal expectations coming into the year but I have constantly gone back and forth on this question.

    Frazier did not have a good year last year, looking very bad at times. I thought he had righted himself enough to be a consistent, possibly average third baseman with his glove bringing him up to average. I thought Hamilton would be unplayable with the bat and slightly above average in the field and Schumaker would be playing by now in LF or CF (with Billy in AAA or as a defensive/run specialist with a start or two per week). Mesoraco has been a personal favorite and I hoped he could hit well enough to justify the starting position. I was worried though because every argument for his previous MLB success was basically his one good month last year (and his overall numbers were bad).

    It has been fantastic to watch what all three of those guys have done. Ideally, the Reds could kick the injury bug and get Votto back to good health (unlikely), Bruce back to his average numbers in the second half, and Phillips healthy down the stretch. With this starting pitching and back of the bullpen, this is, frankly, a pretty loaded team. There are a lot of ‘ifs’ (Frazier, Hamilton, and Mesoraco getting close to these numbers chief among them) but who doesn’t have those. Should be a fun second half. And the Reds have one more year with this same basic group to try and make a good run.

    • redsfan06

      I was pondering the same question the other day – which Reds position player has produced the most surprisingly good results? My answer leans toward Hamilton. I really thought he could use more development at AAA and that his OBP and batting average would be sub-par.

      Even after a rough start at the plate, his BA/OBP/SLG is .285/318/424. While I thought he would cover some ground in the OF, I figured he would need some time to acclimate. Instead he is the best center fielder in the league. The only stat that is a little disappointing is the number of times caught stealing.

      Incredible to be having this discussion with Mes having an MVP caliber year and Frazier hitting so well with continued GG play at 3rd. The young guys are carrying this team on offense.

  4. RedAlert

    Really nice situation that the Reds have a nice core of such players as these to build around – future looking very bright for years to come.

    • George Mirones

      The commitment to pitching is the basis of success, it allows younger players to acclimate to being good and not being blown out by 4 or 5 runs every night.Tampa is another example of this style of development. I think of Castro on the Cubs, all he has seen or been involved in is misery and failure. I really think he could make one great left-fielder on the Reds team and he is only 24.

  5. WVRedlegs

    A .357 Magnum? C’mon, this is Devin Mesoraco. Our Dirty Harry behind the plate. Upgrade him to a .44 Magnum, please.
    Nice article and wished Mes had been named an All Star replacement for Molina instead of Montero. He is much deserving.

    • WVRedlegs

      I’ve been out in the hot sun too much today. I knew Mes was on. Stupid me.

  6. Ron Fulton

    I am certainly surprised by Meso bat this year but I still have a few reservations about his catching ability. I watched the game last night for instance and he must have dropped 20 balls. Maybe he was breaking in a new glove. As far as left field is concerned, forget about it. Everyone is saying who should play left field. If that dunce would do his job we would be getting a left fielder to help the Reds, but so far he has done nothing. I am referring to Jocketty.

    • pchuck

      He started the game with a new glove that had red laces, and was dropping some off-speed stuff. (i wouldn’t go as far as 20 drops) Later in the game he switched back to a different mitt. Watch Mesoraco catch every night, then watch other MLB catchers around the league..His defense is far better than most.

      • lwblogger2

        Mes is a decent receiver. His hands are a little below average but he generally presents a nice target and does a good job of framing pitches. He also has good footwork, quick release, and a solid arm. He moves his feet pretty well and does a good job of blocking balls in the dirt. He is good at plays at the plate as well. Overall, I’d say Mesoraco is on the high side of average as a defender and has the potential to be one of the better defensive catchers in the league.

  7. charlottencredsfan

    Soto has been called up and the “redhead” sent down.

    • George Mirones

      So maybe tonight will be

      Billy CF
      Todd 3b
      Bruce RF
      Mes C
      Ludds LF
      Soto or Lutz 1B
      Santiaco 2B
      Cozart SS

      • charlottencredsfan

        Real lineup:

        BHam – cf
        Santiago – 2b
        Frazier – 3b
        Bruce – rf
        Mes – c
        Ludwick – lf
        Pena – 1b
        Cozart -ss
        Leake – p

        Not great but if Santiago can keep it up, not too bad either. Very little choice at this point.

      • Michael J Hampton

        I kind of like the switch of Santiago and Cozart. Santiago has the hot hand (for now). I would like to have seen Lutz get the start at first.

  8. George Mirones

    Speaking of “being sent down”
    On 6/26/14 Tony Cingrani. was put on 7 day DL by the Bats. After 16 days is there any word about his left shoulder strain?

    • Eric the Red

      Good question. The whole thing with Cingrani’s injury–the timing, the surprise expressed by the team, the radio silence since then–has been odd. I hope he’s back and ready to go soon, in case one of these little Bailey/Latos injuries turns into a problem.

  9. George Mirones

    Update top of 3rd Cards are up 6-0 over Brewers 2 outs men on 1st and 3rd. Wainwright pitching for Cards.

  10. ToddAlmighty

    I think the biggest thing that needs to be said about those years is Bench started 152 games in his 1970 MVP season. 130 of them at Catcher, with 131 total complete games.

    Joey Votto started 145 games in his 2010 MVP season, 137 complete games..

    – – –

    Devin Mesoraco needs to find another position to play on his off days if he wants to be an MVP, otherwise he’ll end up like Molina who probably will never get higher than 3 in the MVP voting because despite being an AS, GG, SS, and going to the World Series last year, he started 130 games and only had 109 complete games,

    I know there were two injuries, but he’s only started 53 out of the Reds 93 games, and that’s with a situation where their backup catcher is having to play first base.