HQ on Zunino
Good News, Bad News Dept.


Here's an LL article on Mike Zunino with the essential evaluation, "will the real Mike Zunino please stand up?"  The idea is that in 2018 we'll find out whether Zuumball is going to be a good player in the majors or whether he isn't.  Not wishing to be harsh, the Mainframe considers this a rather facile position, a rather widespread position, and the 'Frame disagrees with conviction.  To Dr. D, Mike Zunino is now a .500'ish SLGger in the big leagues until proven otherwise.  

Diderot asked us not to overlook the Zuumball comparables in HQ's draft-day cheat sheet giving players with these two qualities:

1.  Top PX (Power Index, "true" power based on exit velocity and actual in-game results towards SLG), PLUS

2.  Lousy CT (less than 70% of at-bats ending in contact, meaning very high strikeout rate).

Diderot's point is that some VERY good players fall into this category.  Zuumball has the #6 PX in all of baseball on this cheat sheet -- and in his player summary HQ's position is "Power Index is now firmly elite."  So we're not talking about Will The Real Zunino Please Stand Up.  He stood up last year, and his blast rate was earth-busting.

A few notches above Zunino on the PX + Lo CT scale were Gallo and Judge at 1-2.  Giancarlo Stanton was #4 on this sheet, with Miguel Sano below him at #10.  Diderot can fill in other names off the list.

This is precisely the type of player we talked about last week -- short path to the ball, mesmerizingly easy power, high fly ball rate, lots of garbage strikes.  We pointed out:

HI - Giancarlo Stanton

MID - Edwin Encarnacion

LO - Mark Trumbo

It's hard to buy into based on our previous aversion therapy.  That is to say, we've been electroshocked with so much unpleasantness during Zuumball at-bats that we'll want to see about 2,000 productive ABs before we buy in.  (Anybody sold on Justin Smoak yet?)



Here's the ONLY real bad news in context.  Catchers don't play 150 games.  

:- ) Which raises the interesting question, if Zunino were to freakishly hit his UPside -- last year's .270/.349/.571 post-promotion line IN SAFECO -- do you move him off catcher to max his bat, in Carlos Delgado fashion?  Help me out here, amigos - you can rattle off half-a-dozen catchers who were moved to 1B or DH to do their thing with the bat.  Trust me, if Zunino is slugging .570 next August, the question is going to become very widespread.  (*Carlos Delgado was a tremendous hitter well beyond Zuumball's UPside.  But the current Joe Mauer isn't, and there are plenty where he came from.)



Objectively speaking, I've got to set Mike Zunino's floor now at Mark Trumbo levels.  It's just too easy for him to do damage (crazy, >Boomstick 186 PX) and it's too easy for him to do it (46:32 flyball ratio with 24% homer-per-fly rate).

In terms of getting out-smarted, his fish rate last year was exactly league average, 30%.  Contrast his fire rate when he saw a strike, way above average, and Zuumball had a superior separation between his OOZ% and his Z-Swing rate.

It might feel like Zunino has some things to prove, but it says here that he does not.  Shandler's got his 50th-percentile slash line at .250/.325/.500 and that'll do for me too.  Encarnacion's career line:  .265/.355/.500.  Zunino hasn't yet had the 30 HR, 85 RBI season in 125 games as a catcher, but SSI Denizens don't need to see that facile calendar-year black ink before they process what's going on.


Dr D



So Zunino has been a good to very good hitter for two years running.

in '16 he OPS'ed 113, you will remember (homer fueled, average was only .195).  In '17 it Zuuuumed to 123.

But even at the AAA level he was demonstrating real skills.  In '16 his half-a-season Tacoma line was .286-.376-.521.  Last season it was .293-.356-.707 (albeit in just 12 games).  Between AAA and MLB, he has hit 59 homers the past two seasons.  THe guy is pretty good.

He may name his first male child Edgarstiltskin.  


No reason to be on the fence here, unless you're an opposing outfielder trying to keep him in the yard. Even the low should be tantalizing.  Mark Trumbo who can call a good game, frame pitches, throw out some runners and be a clubhouse + even if not elite in any of those areas?  And if he is elite in more than one?  Even hits the mid?  I think he will at least for a few years.

Those are the numbers, Moe.  Our starting catcher had OPS in MLB of .787 and .840 the last 2 years.  Minimum 600 PA between 16-17 at C there's Gary Sanchez, Wilson Contreras then Mike Zunino atop the WRC+ board.  Buster Posey is right there and eeks above Mike in wOBA.  None of them have the "most recently" numbers to compete with the last 40 games from Zuum.  .328/.418/.639.  Yes, a 1.058 OPS.  Sanchez and Contreras both ended their seasons on strong stretches as well.  Hmm, the 2 catchers with fuller seasons clearly stronger offensively went to the playoffs.  Coincidence?  A full year of Zunino is going to help. 

For me I'm already just hoping to see a healthy career, reupping and sticking around the Sound.  His skills are HoF.  His career still can be.  His hit tool is being underrated by nearly everyone I can find who will put a number to it.  Like this superficial dive;


Sorry if you read that.  I guess it gives a glimpse of early 90's assessment of a current player.  Really, trying to blame the player for their lack of RBI?  "In comparison to his college numbers..."  That's something you could say about several HoFers.  Frank Thomas never lived up to his hype if you compare MLB #s directly to college.  Then they list Johjima as a disappointment.  They do get it half right in the end.  This guy could still be Bench.  Couldn't possibly be Clement anymore though.  Anyway...

I do recall Churchill liking his overall hitting abilities, but haven't read anything lately.  I was in total agreement with the SodoMojo suggestion of extending the man now.


Zunino for DH on off days?  Unless you find a better defensive catcher that can hit a bit.  Then Zunino 1b/DH/C

Bahm1's picture

It did take a .355 BABIP to hit .251 last year though. My bet is he goes back in the .220/.230 range next year, which is obviously still great with the power and improving BB%. I'm still leaning heavy on the Trumbo outcome.


is a long-term asset to any team that doesn't have Gary Sanchez on the roster.  That's a player who's worth 2 WAR on a DOWN year, and 5 WAR on an UP year.

But I'm leaning with Doc.  Zunino got all kinds of attention from writers at places like FanGraphs with his late season heroics, so it's not like everyone looks at him and sees a pumpkin.  It's *always* 'safer' to bet the under on a performance, which is why all the projection models (like Steamer) pull EVERY great performance down, going so far as to essentially ignore it if that great performance only lasted a single year.

But when you can look at a player's performance and see real, concrete reasons why that player leapt a plateau, you've got a foothold for staking out the over position as a worthy one.  Zunino's BABIP is indeed worrisome, but not incredibly so.  Giancarlo Stanton, another pure PWR guy, carries a lifetime .317 BABIP--a number which is weighed down by the last three seasons' average of ~.290.  Heck, Ryan Howard's BABIP for the earliest of his seasons reads like this:










So it's not impossible for a guy with ~80 power and sky-high K-rates to end up with eye-popping BABIP's.  Even Mike Cameron's BABIP back in his M's career was over .300 year-in, year-out.

The question, to my mind, is more 'Do you believe Zunino is now, after the 2017 campaign, in that rare ~80 PWR territory?'  If the answer is 'yes'...well then his most recent BABIP numbers are the most valuable in assessing what he'll produce going forward.  If the answer is 'no,' then you comfortably take the 'under' on his projections going forward because, really, even Mark Trumbo with a + C mitt is a serious asset and immediate upgrade to just about any team in baseball.


Shandler's list of top power/contact under 70% goes like this:

  1. Gallo
  2. Judge
  3. Schimpf
  4. Stanton
  5. Story
  6. Zunino
  7. Thames
  8. Schwarber
  9. K. Davis
  10. Sano

For the record, top power/contact over 70%

  1. Trout
  2. Freeman
  3. Donaldson
  4. Harper
  5. Sanchez

So...vive le difference

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