Devin Mesoraco: Breakout Post-Hyper

Each season you nabbed him as a sleeper. You expected him to deliver on his top prospect promise. But he kept disappointing, or simply didn’t earn the playing time you had hoped for. So you gave up. And then he broke out. Sound familiar? It happens a lot. It’s when the former top prospect sheds all the hype, everyone forgets about him, and then he goes off. Everyone then remember that perhaps they hadn’t given that player enough of a chance, jumping off the train far too soon.

Devin Mesoraco was Baseball American’s top Reds prospect in 2012 and third best in 2011. He accumulated 589 plate appearances with the Reds from 2011 to 2013 and failed to live up to the offensive hype over that relatively small sample. He did hit 16 homers, but he also batted just .225. And his ISO last year was a paltry .124. What happened to the Mesoraco that hit 28 homers at several stops in the minors in 2010? The one that posted ISO marks above .200 at every one of the levels he played at that year and a near .200 mark in Triple-A the following year?

Whether it was the sporadic playing time or just your garden variety young catcher disappointing offensively because he’s supposedly more focused on his defense, fantasy owners had surely given up. He ranked just 18th in our preseason consensus, which made him useless in one-catcher leagues and essentially just a late-round lottery ticket in two-catcher formats.

But then without warning, Mesoraco came through. He broke out so strongly, his name has now apparently become a verb. Laughing at our belief he was only the 18th best catcher, Mesoraco earned the third highest value among catchers. So how’d he do it?

Eno interviewed him earlier in the year and Mesoraco told him he spoke with his hitting coach during the offseason and made some adjustments to his swing. You could see the slight change here. Obviously, correlation does not equal causation. We cannot know if the adjustment to his swing was the cause for his outburst. But at least it’s something we could point to that provides a possible explanation.

More evidence that he altered his swing comes in the form of his batted ball distribution. His line drive rate remained above average, but his ground ball and fly ball rates nearly flip-flopped. More loft on the ball will lead to more power, all else being equal. And speaking of power, his HR/FB rate literally doubled, and would have ranked fifth in baseball if he qualified for the leaderboard.

Naturally, the first thing to investigate to validate his power surge is his batted ball distance. In 2013, his distance was a mere 275.7 feet. This year, he shot up the leaderboard, ranking 25th in baseball with a 297.5 mark. That’s a nearly 22 foot increase and would seem to legitimize the power breakout. Now of course that doesn’t mean he’s going to sustain that increased distance and power, but the fact that his results this year were supported by his distance is a good sign. If he is able to sustain the jump in fly ball rate as well, even better. But of course the percentage play is to always expect regression to historical batted ball distribution levels.

Interestingly, along with the increased power came a significant rise in both SwStk% and K%. This seems like a classic decision. Go the high contact and mediocre power route or swing harder and sacrifice better contact for more power. Perhaps this was a conscious choice to go the higher strikeout, greater power path. Maybe his new swing lent itself more easily to this approach. Unfortunately, we just don’t know which version the 2015 Mesoraco is going to be.

We know that given his pedigree and minor league success, his performance this year wasn’t out of character. But with all the changes we observed in his various underlying metrics, you just have to wonder how many of those changes are part of a new skill set and how many were just random variance that will revert to his previous level. Then again, that so-called previous level essentially amounted to just one full season, which is barely more than this year.

Mesoraco is going to cost significantly more next year than he did this year. But there isn’t all downside. While you can’t imagine him improving on many of his rate stats, he did record just 440 plate appearances and fewer than 400 at-bats. As the every day catcher, there’s little reason not to assume at least another 100 at-bats next season, barring injury. That additional playing time would offset some of the regression he’s likely to face.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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7 years ago

I am always weary of drafting players after their breakout seasons. What do you think of the odds he pulls a Chris Davis next year?

7 years ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer