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July 19, 2013

Mid-Season Outliers

Catchers, Designated Hitters, and Relievers

by Baseball Prospectus

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Adam Dunn
DOB: 11/9/1979
Age: 33
Height/Weight: 6'6" 285 lbs.
Bats/Throws: L/R
Chicago White Sox

While it may not be possible to hit a truly "empty" 40 bombs, let alone drive in an "empty" 100 runs, if anyone could it would be Dunn. The Big Donkey adopted a more aggressive plate approach early in the season with disastrous results, but bounced back to post a .274/.402/.589 June line. We've seen these streaks from him before, however, and one hot month doesn't change the fact that Dunn remains a burden in the field and on the basepaths, is helpless against lefties, and has grown unproductive away from The Cell. His value is limited to launching the occasional moonshot and drawing an ever-diminishing number of walks between his ever-present strikeouts. This is Dunn's new normal, so expect more of the same until his contract mercifully runs out after 2014. —Ken Funck

Tyler Flowers
DOB: 1/24/1986
Age: 27
Height/Weight: 6'4" 245 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Chicago White Sox

The offensive bar for catchers is often set ridiculously low, but Flowers continues to find a way to limbo beneath it. Once considered a bat-first backstop with questionable defense, the organization now seems happy with his catch-and-throw skills, but his bat has turned into a limp noodle. While Flowers can still hit the occasional fastball a country mile, he strikes out in almost a third of his plate appearances and rarely walks, making him one of the league's most consistent out-makers. He's already 27, so time is running short to turn things around at the plate. If he can't, fans may soon be deprived of the joy of hearing Don Cooper refer to him as "T-Flow." —Ken Funck

Evan Gattis
DOB: 8/18/1986
Age: 26
Height/Weight: 6'4" 230 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Atlanta Braves

Of the first 50 players taken in the 2010 draft, 42 are still trying to get to the majors. But scroll down, down, down—keep scrolling—and in the 23rd round there's Evan Gattis, drafted two months before his 24th birthday after three years away from the game (pot, injuries, wandering) and one season in Division II. Gattis earned a roster spot in Atlanta this year by slugging .772 in spring training, after slugging .595 in the Venezuelan winter league and .607 in the minors in 2012. He's making a run at slugging .600 in the majors this year, thanks to four pinch-hit home runs—just 21 active players have more in their entire careers. His advanced age as a rookie certainly limits any hopes that he'll, say, make the Hall of Fame, but it's been three years since he missed a hittable pitch, at any level, against any competition. —Sam Miller

Victor Martinez
DOB: 12/23/1978
Age: 34
Height/Weight: 6'2" 210 lbs.
Bats/Throws: B/R
Detroit Tigers

If there was one stat on which the Tigers seemed almost certain to improve after being swept out of the World Series last season, it was the .687 OPS they received from the DH slot in the injured Martinez' absence. And through their first 94 games of 2013, with Martinez an everyday presence, they had upped that mark—all the way to .705. Prior to 2013, a healthy Martinez had never failed to hit, but he struggled mightily in April and May, raising concerns that having missed a full season after ACL surgery could prove more costly than expected for a 33-year-old former catcher. The good news: he hasn't missed more than a day due to injury, his plate discipline, walk, and strikeout rates show no real signs of erosion, and his bat—and his BABIP—began to pick up a bit as the weather warmed. —Ben Lindbergh

Jason Grilli
DOB: 11/11/1976
Age: 36
Height/Weight: 6'4" 225 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Pittsburgh Pirates

If Grilli is aware of what aging curves look like, he's not letting on. The former—and by former, we mean 1997—fourth overall pick saved all his success for his mid-30s, transforming from a failed starter and journeyman reliever into a back-of-the-bullpen force upon joining the Pirates. After missing 2010 with a knee injury suffered in spring training, Grilli arrived in Pittsburgh armed with a slider that moved over three inches more than it had previously. That upgraded off-speed offering, coupled with his mid-90s heat, has made Grilli one of baseball's best bat-missers at an age when most pitchers are lucky to be limping along. And this season, Grilli has added "established closer" to his major-league LinkedIn page, converting 29 of his first 30 save opportunities. The best part? The Pirates are paying Grilli less over two seasons than the Dodgers owe Brandon League for 2013 alone. —Ben Lindbergh

Brandon League
DOB: 03/16/1983
Age: 30
Height/Weight: 6'2" 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Los Angeles Dodgers

League's three-year, $22.5 million deal was roundly razzed as one of the worst of last winter, and it didn't take League long to prove the critics correct. Given how little predictive power even a full season of non-Rivera relieving has, it rightly raised red flags when Dodgers GM Ned Colletti cited League's "last two or three weeks" of effective pitching when anointing him as closer in October. Since converting his first four save chances, League's ERA is over 7.00, and he's long since ceded his spot at the back of the bullpen to Kenley Jansen. His sinker has lost a mile per hour on average for the second straight year, and while he still gets grounders, he's struck out a lower percentage of opponents than any other reliever with at least 30 innings pitched. Considering how poorly League has pitched to this point, Los Angeles would be lucky to salvage two-plus season of pricey replacement-level relief. —Ben Lindbergh

Carlos Marmol
DOB: 10/14/1982
Age: 30
Height/Weight: 6'2" 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Los Angeles Dodgers

A career-long lack of control has long kept Marmol on the razor's edge between dominance and combustibility, but this year it hasn't been the free passes that cost him his closer's gig. Instead, he's been giving up hits and home runs at a rate unheard of for one of the most contact-averse pitchers in history. His slider doesn't have quite the wiffleball action it once did, but he still has enough swing-and-miss stuff to generate hope. The atmosphere had grown poisonous for him at Wrigley, so a midseason trade to the Dodgers may be just what the doctor ordered. If Marmol can get enough batters to once again keep their bats on their shoulders in hope of a walk, he might become an asset in the L.A. bullpen. —Ken Funck

Mark Melancon
DOB: 3/28/1985
Age: 28
Height/Weight: 6'2" 215 lbs.
Bats/Throws: R/R
Pittsburgh Pirates

The Red Sox might have seen this coming if they had looked hard enough: Melancon, after a demotion in 2012, struck out 27 batters and walked three in a spectacular stint at Triple-A. But that was just Triple-A. Now he's doing it in the majors, with (through July 4th) the 12th-best FIP in history. This season he's very nearly a one-pitch pitcher, throwing a hard cutter—it's nearly as fast as his fastball—over 70 percent of the time, and 85 percent of the time when he's behind in the count. He almost never throws a ball with any of his pitches, and of the first 160 batters he faced, just 16 reached even a three-ball count. Lump him in with Sean Doolittle, Koji Uehara, and Edward Mujica for your trend piece on 71-percent strike throwers, a breed that basically didn't exist as recently as five years ago. —Sam Miller

Related Content:  Relievers,  Designated Hitters,  Catchers,  Outliers

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