If you’re a baseball fan, you know who John Buck is. If you were describing John Buck in one sentence, you’d probably say something along the lines of, “He’s a journeyman catcher who cracks a home run every once in a while.” I don’t think many of us would describe him as an All-Star, but in 2010 during his only season with the Blue Jays, Buck batted .281 and smacked 20 homers (both career highs) earning him his lone All-Star selection. Buck obviously has the talent to maintain a job in the majors on a year-to-year basis but has never again approached the numbers of his All-Star season, seeming to indicate luck had something to do with his breakout season in 2010. This article will examine whether any of this year’s breakout catchers seem to be perennial All-Stars or just “lucky Bucks”.
You’ll see some statistics referenced below I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with. Just in case you haven’t seen some of these statistics, I’ll try to provide a quick explanation of what they mean and how they contribute to the “luckiness” of a hitter.
- BABIP: BABIP refers to batting average on balls in play and is a player’s average on all at-bats not ending in a strikeout. The average BABIP for MLB players is near .300 meaning when a ball is hit in play, it goes for a hit about 30% of the time. Players who make a lot of hard contact and hit a high percentage of line drives tend to contend for batting titles and can sustain BABIPs near .350. If a player’s BABIP is significantly above league average and/or his career mark and there is no indication he is hitting more line drives, it’s likely that player has run into a decent amount of luck and has a few more bloop hits and seeing-eye singles than usual.
- LD%: Line drive percentage measures what percentage of a player’s balls hit in play were deemed to be line drives. A high BABIP with a low line drive percentage indicates luck; however, an inflated line drive percentage with an inflated BABIP would imply a batter has made an adjustment allowing him to make better contact. The average line drive percentage for a major league hitter is about 20%.
- HR/FB: Home runs per fly ball simply takes the number of home runs a player has divided by the number of fly balls they’ve hit. A player whose HR/FB ratio is drastically higher than their career mark may suggest they have lucked into a few more wall-scraping homers than usual this season inflating their home run total.
Devin Mesoraco: .293 BA with 20 HR
- Mesoraco’s BABIP is .330 thus far in 2014, which exceeds every mark he’s put up in the majors up to this point in his career. This is his first season as a full-time starter and he did have 2010 and 2011 seasons in the minors where he sustained a BABIP in the .320’s. His LD% has increased during each of his seasons in the majors and now sits at 23.7%. If Mesoraco keeps a line drive rate above league average as he has this year, it seems he should be able to sustain an above-average BABIP and maintain a nice batting average throughout his prime.
- Mesoraco’s HR/FB rate in 2014 is currently 23.3%, which is 5% higher than any other catcher this season. His previous seasons with the Reds never saw this number above 11.1%. This statistic is not available for time spent in the minors although he did hit 28 home runs during his last full minor-league season and he plays half of his games in one of the easiest parks in the majors to hit homers. I still wouldn’t be surprised if 2014 marks Mesoraco’s career high for home runs in a season.
- Verdict: Even if his homers never exceed the total he puts up this season, Mesoraco will be an All-Star for years to come.
Yan Gomes: .285 BA and 16 HR
- Gomes’ BABIP in 2014 is .339, but he posted even higher BABIPs several times during full seasons in the minors. His line drive rate has increased during each of his three seasons in the majors and currently sits at 23.7%. Like Mesoraco, Gomes seems to make enough solid contact to be able to keep his BABIP high and, in effect, keep his batting average in a nice place.
- Gomes has a HR/FB of 15.1%. This mark does not differ greatly from his previous two seasons in the majors where Gomes put up HR/FB rates of 16% and 12.4%. If he ever moves to a home park better for right-handed power than Progressive Field, Gomes should be able to improve on his 2014 home run total.
- Verdict: Gomes will be an All-Star multiple times in the future.
Derek Norris: .299 BA and 10 HR
- Norris’ 2014 numbers earned him a spot on the AL’s All-Star roster in July. However, Norris is sporting a BABIP of .333 in 2014 and unlike Gomes and Mesoraco, Norris never replicated that number above class low-A in the minor leagues. A line drive rate of 20.8% puts him almost right at league average. These numbers suggest we’re looking at a career-high average out of Norris this season.
- Norris has a HR/FB rate of 13.5% in 2014 which isn’t far off his marks from 2012 (12.5%) and 2013 (10.7%). The decent pop he’s shown in his bat in a bad home park for homers seems to be legit.
- Verdict: This seems to be a John Buck-ish year from Norris and he’s made his lone trip to the All-Star Game.
If you’re a dynasty league player, hang on to Gomes and Mesoraco but cash in on Norris’ career year if you can find someone who believes in the 2014 batting average. As the 2014 season winds down, we’ll take a look at other positions around the diamond.