Very few major leaguers ever have had the breakout season Devin Mesoraco did in 2014. That’s something many of us understood while we watched him last season, but the historical context Jeff Sullivan uncovered over at Fangraphs back in August really illustrated just how much of a jump he had made from 2013 (though his wRC+ would fall to 147 by year’s end and out of such historic company).

The realization of his lofty potential led to a lot of digital ink being spilled to document and explain his ascension to elite company. A combination of better patience at the plate, swinging hard, and standing closer to the plate while leaning over the inside corner led to him making more solid contact. Though he whiffed on a higher percentage of swings on pitches in the strike zone, the increase was marginal, going up to 14.8% whiff/swing from his 2013 mark of 13.6% (while seeing 110 more pitches in the zone last season).

Mesoraco blossomed into both a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat and a bona fide pull hitter last year. Check out his heat maps on line drives and fly balls for 2013 and 2014 (followed by one just mapping line drives):

meso 13-14 ld-fb heat

meso 13-14 ld heat

Looking at left field on these maps, the picture of Mesoraco’s story becomes clearer, especially in terms of BABIP. You can practically see the left fielder standing in the negative space on the 2014 maps, and how often Mesoraco was walloping fly balls over his head or line drives in front of him last season. Devin’s adjusted approach at the plate made him more productive than anyone expected, allowing him to pulverize pitches up in the zone while still being able to get his hands inside of pitches on the inner third

In terms of projecting his 2015, though, his pull-heavy tendencies makes me a bit cynical. For one, a lot of defenses are going to start employing a more pronounced shift when he’s at the plate. Having the infield play him dead pull will take away a few more groundball base hits (and thus a few points off his batting average) as well as a few line drives to shallow left. Bringing the center fielder just a couple yards closer to the left fielder could also rob a few gap shots from Mesoraco as well:

meso 2014 spray

The thing is, shifting against a pull hitter doesn’t often change that hitter’s mind or approach. Add in pitchers throwing more off-speed stuff to try and get Mesoraco to roll over on it and the negative effect may be more drastic than just a few points of batting average. It’s tough to slap the ball the other way when it goes against a hitter’s mechanics and when the pitcher is doing everything to prevent that from happening. It may be even tougher because Mesoraco’s new hitting approach made him so successful as a pull-hitter the adjustments to hit the ball against the shift may make his swing less fluid. With this in mind, here are my projections for Devin Mesoraco in 2015:

121 G | 499 PA | 17 2B | 23 HR | .245 AVG | .329 OBP | .439 SLG

He’s going to take a step back in my mind, but not a drastic one and the power will still be there all year long. A drop of .030 points in on-base percentage is a little steep—I hope I’m incorrectly pessimistic about him adding more walks than his track record suggests (he did boost his walk rate by 2.5% last season over 2013). Honestly, I hope I’m wrong about the batting average, too—it would solve a lot of problems if Mesoraco could turn in another campaign of .270 or better, thus allowing him to hit higher in the batting order if Votto or Bruce aren’t healthy or back to hitting well. He very well could with luck—that stat line above just needs 12 more balls to drop in for hits to match his 2014 batting average—but more likely it will take him adjusting to the adjustments his opponents make. And for a 26 year-old playing the game at a high level at the toughest position, that’s certainly in the realm of possibility both this year and in his bright future ahead.

8 Responses

  1. cfd3000

    I will be (pleasantly) surprised if Mesoraco turns out to be a historically good hitter, or even a historically good hitting catcher. But that still leaves plenty of room for him to be a solid middle of the order guy. I’m expecting some regression this year but also look forward to him solidifying his role as part of a potent offense. With Votto, Mesoraco, Bruce, Hamilton and Frazier this lineup has the potential to be very productive. If so they’ll be a lot of fun to watch. Here’s hoping.

  2. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Devin does repeat his numbers. I suspected he was a type of player who needed to play everyday, get into some regular routine, instead of play 1-2 games, sit 3-4 games. I still consider last season to be his rookie season, since he really wasn’t given any chance to be a regular player in 2011 and 2012. The question is going to be, with a season under him now, how are the other teams going to adjust to him? And, how is he going to adjust back? The sophomore jinx, will he catch it? That’s why I sort of wonder why the Reds extended him now. I would have preferred to see at least how he starts this season out. Then, if I did extend him, I would have extended him 6 years, not 4.

  3. charlottencredsfan

    There will be probably be adjustments to Devin all pull approach. I would never pitch this guy middle in, unless off the plate. My guess is he will have to make his own adjustments. It isn’t the possibility of shifts rather than how he will be pitched that concerns me.

    Obviously, I don’t think he is going to tank but without counter adjusting; I think your projections are pretty good.

    The concussions probably concern me a lot more than most people.

    • VaRedsFan

      Yes, this. If he could become more Molina-like in his opposite field approach then he will be able to maintain or exceed his current level.

  4. brmreturns

    Kevin –
    I’m hoping you’re wrong about the games played. If the Reds are running out Pena/Barnhart for 1/4 of the season; they are already in big trouble….. I’m hoping that number sits closer to 140ish. That alone could/would boost his counting stats by 10-12% more than you’re projecting. Here’s to hoping Meso stays healthy for the most part and can provide stability behind the dish for more than the 75% of games you project.

    • Kevin Michell

      I thought it was interesting when I looked at PECOTA/Steamer/ZiPS, they all projected between 105-113 games played. I know PECOTA naturally assumes a lower % of games played for starting catchers, I’m not sure if Steamer and ZiPS do the same. I ended up just going up a bit from there–just being incredibly cautious because playing catcher can be rough. 44 games is a lot, though, and Price wants him to play 145, so knock on wood.

  5. VaRedsFan

    Is there any research on weather the hockey mask (like Hannigans) protects your head better than the pull over strap mask? He’s had enough head trauma that the Reds need to explore ways of protecting his melon.

    I would like to see his defense improve. Pitch framing (Hanigan was a master). Blocking balls. He also, had a large amount of dropped or mishandling of regular pitches. (based on my observation only)

    • lwblogger2

      His defense has definitely gotten better but there is still room to grow. He’s moving his feet better back there but still not quite like I want to see him. His throwing and footwork on his throwing has gotten much better. He’s a decent receiver and his pitch framing seems pretty average to my eye. There is pitch framing data out there that may say otherwise though. I like the way he handles the pitchers for the most part. I wish I could tell what he’s saying to them (and what they to him) better.

      I’m not sure if the hockey-style mask is better or not but it might be worth trying.