Devin Mesoraco is having an excellent season. Though the Cincinnati Reds catcher has received just 390 plate appearances, he is tied for 4th among all catchers in fWAR at 4.2. With 23 home runs he leads all catchers. Along with Evan Gattis and Mike Zunino, he's one of three catchers with an ISO above .200, and Mesoraco's .260 mark trumps them both. His 151 wRC+ is also the highest among catchers, and it ranks 9th among all positions players with at least 300 plate appearances.
Things haven't always gone this well for Mesoraco, who was the 15th overall pick back in 2007. While he generally had his way with minor league pitching, he received only sporadic playing time between 2011-13. Over that time he tallied just under 600 plate appearances in which he produced a .225/.282/.359 slash line for a 70 wRC+. His ISO of .134 was approximately half of what it is this season. That level of production was worth just 0.2 fWAR, which could easily be characterized as replacement-level.
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Mesoraco has emerged as a very good offensive player. In the expansion era, just four other catchers have hit at least 22 home runs while receiving 400 or fewer plate appearances. One of those seasons came from 28 year-old Ivan Rodriguez, who ripped 27 home runs in 2000. Todd Hundley slammed 24 long balls that same year. Gattis qualifies for this list, as does Lance Parrish, who hit 22 home runs in 1986.
Mesoraco has been far more productive, and he's done so by selling out for power. Here's a table demonstrating the changes he's made.
His contact rate is markedly lower, but the drop has come largely from contact on pitches outside of the zone. Contact on those sorts of pitches is typically of a less authoritative variety. Meanwhile, Mesoraco is hitting more balls in the air and pulling more balls, which has not surprisingly led to more home runs. After posting terrible numbers on balls hit to the opposite field, he's focused on his strength, pulling the ball.
This season has been a huge breakout for Mesoraco. When it's put in historical context, we find that very few catchers have done what he has to this point. He's likely playing over his head, as is almost every hitter that is posting a wRC+ north of 150. But, going into 2015, he looks like one of the premier catchers in baseball. His ZiPS projection carries a very optimistic .265/.335/.472 line, which grades out to a 122 wRC+. While Steamer isn't quite so high on the Reds catcher, a .248/.316/.435 line is still a 107 wRC+, which is very good for a catcher.
It took some time for Devin Mesoraco to put his game together. After three seasons of having his feet stuck in the mud he's blossomed this year. The Reds are out of playoff contention, but the emergence of Mesoraco has been a bright spot in a year that has been largely disappointing.
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Stats courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference
Chris Moran is a former college baseball player at Wheaton College and current third-year law student at Washington University in St. Louis. He's also an assistant baseball coach at Wash U. In addition to Beyond The Box Score, he contributes at Gammons Daily. He went to his first baseball game at age two. Follow him on Twitter@hangingslurves