Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Enjoying Casey McGehee...for now

If you have read my stuff for a while, you know that I am a sucker for the comeback story. I love the improbable when a guy falls out of baseball only to come back a year or more later and have some success. There has been Vogelsong in the past and this year the Sizemore story in Boston. Another one that might not be as much in the news is what Casey McGehee is doing down in Miami. After two terrible seasons left him out in the cold and forced him to Japan, McGehee is back and looking great for the Marlins.

The question, of course, is how long it will last. After all, two years of history are hard to erase. In 2011 and 2012, McGehee came to the plate 952 times and compiled an fWAR for the two seasons of -0.3 to go along with wOBAs of .275 and .283. Those are pretty ugly seasons. After two such seasons, nobody wanted him and he went to Japan for a year.

And he did really well in Japan. He put up a .891 OPS in Japan in 144 games and had a season very reminiscent of his 2010 season for the Brewers. But it is easy to dismiss such success as we all wink and say the competition and the pitching is not as consistently strong in Japan as it is here in the Major Leagues.

But perhaps he found something. Perhaps he got his stroke or confidence back or both. I noticed that he got an invite to the Marlins this season and did not think much of it. He had a decent spring for that club but nothing special. But here he is fifteen games into the season, and yes, it is a small sample size, but he is hitting .309 with a very healthy .381 on-base percentage. He has not hit a homer yet, but he has five doubles and a triple and currently has a wOBA of .358. Good on him!

The question, of course, is if it will last. The odds seem to be against it. For one thing, his current BABIP is .395 which is way high and speaks to a bit of good fortune so far. Are there any indications that his success can continue? There are a couple.

First, his plate discipline thus far is much improved over any time in his previous MLB incarnation. He has a career 7.8% walk rate and thus far is walking at an 11.1% clip. And the PitchF/X data seems to indicate that is not a fluke.

While McGehee always was pretty good at laying off the pitch out of the strike zone (25.5% for his career), he is very good in that area this year at 21.4%. Therefore he is being more selective at the plate than at any time in his career. Confidence in his ability has a lot to do with that and these numbers are encouraging.

The second encouraging thing is that he seems to be a different hitter if you look at his batted balls. In his two terrible seasons, his line drive percentages were pretty awful at 16.2% and 15.5% respectively. And his career line drive percentage is only 17.5%. But this year (so far), line drives are whistling off his bat.

His current 2014 line drive percentage is 23.3%. If you hit a lot of line drives, good things are going to happen and a healthy BABIP should occur. Perhaps not as healthy as .395, but healthy nonetheless. The drawback to the line drives is that he has the lowest fly ball percentage of his career, which will cut into his normal power numbers some.

But with a big home park like the Marlins play in Miami, hitting a lot of fly balls would probably not be a really good thing and line drives would be more suitable. I still think he will hit double-digit homers. He always has, even in his two terrible seasons he hit 22 of them.

Casey McGehee has been a nice story thus far and has tickled my comeback radar nicely. I don't believe he will do quite as well as he is doing now. But if he hits .270 with a .340 on-base percentage or higher, it will be a resurrection of sorts for a career that seemed to have ended with a thud after the 2012 season.

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