Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Is Devin Mesoraco the Reds' catcher long term?

Devin Mesoraco has risen among catchers like a rocket this season. He has certainly made a lot of fantasy players happy (including this one) with his sixteen homers in only 244 plate appearances. His .406 wOBA is outstanding and he was an All Star this season. That's pretty heady stuff. But, of course, there are two sides of catching. There is the offensive side, which Mesoraco is killing and there is the defensive side. I am concerned about the defensive part of his game.
I watched him closely for the three game series with the Yankees recently and Devin Mesoraco did not seem very smooth behind the plate. He seemed to stab at everything and if the pitch had any kind of movement, he was slow to react. This resulted in some balls bouncing off his mitt and had to make the umpire's job that much harder.
But the eyes are not the only test to look at catchers. I'd like to think that I have watched the game for fifty years and know what I am looking at. But do the numbers back up what I observed? After digging around, I found that they did indeed back up my observations.
Let's start with a somewhat discredited statistic called Catcher's ERA. While nobody thinks this should be any kind of guide on good catching or bad catching, I do note that Mesoraco has a CERA of 3.52 compared to Brayan Pena's 2.91 with the same pitching staff. Pena, as observed on Sunday, seemed much smoother in his receiving. I will also note here in fairness to Mesoraco that Pena is the personal catcher for Johnny Cueto. Twenty starts with that bad boy will improve your CERA any day.
Okay, now that I have the least respectable stat out of the way, I'll look at some more advanced stuff. There is a site called StatCorner that actively scores catcher framing. This is still a work in progress, so that should be stated up front. But according to this site, Mesoraco is 73rd in the league among catchers at framing pitches. His score is a -3.2 runs. Pena, on the other hand, is 30th. Framing is the ability to get the umpire to call a strike, not only in the strike zone, but "steal" strikes out of the zone.
Devin Mesoraco has also regressed a bit in the amount of passed balls he allows. He had four last year in 782 innings behind the plate. This year, he is only at 527 innings behind the plate and already has seven passed balls. His rate of allowing wild pitches to get by him has improved however with only eleven compared to 22 last year.
Mesoraco is only slightly behind the league average of 27% for throwing out potential base runners. He is at 26%. But you have to consider that stolen bases are just as much the pitcher's responsibility as it is the catchers. But again, you have to compare him to Brayan Pena who is at 35% for the year.
It appears that my eyes were on to something when I observed Devin Mesoraco catching. He is only 26 but he has a long way to go before becoming what would be a good receiver behind the plate. And sometimes, you either have the soft hands or you don't. If he keeps producing when he hits, he would be a Posada-type catcher: Big on offense, not so great on defense. A lot will depend on how the Reds' pitching staff feels throwing to him. Sometimes staffs will rebel. I haven't heard anything from there, so perhaps they are fine with him behind the plate. Lord knows, the man is killing the ball on offense.

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