When the Miami Marlins signed Casey McGehee to be their everyday third baseman this offseason, their expectations had to be somewhat low. After all, McGehee had been exiled to Japan in 2013 after a dismal 2012 that saw him hit just .217, get traded mid-season and then non-tendered at the end of the season. He made the most of his year with the Rakuten Eagles posting a .289/.317/.512 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line with 27 home runs. Even with the impressive 2013, however, the offers to return to the majors appear to have been limited. Consider that the $1.1 million contract he received from the Marlins was about $2 million less than Eric Chavez received to be a bench player for the Diamondbacks and $3 million less than his old team in Japan paid for Kevin Youkilis to replace him.
A month into the 2014 season, McGehee has been quite impressive for the Fish with a .297/.368/.376 slash line to go along with 16 RBI, second best on the team. McGehee has produced 0.6 WAR through April or the equivalent of $3.3 million in value, using the generally accepted value of each Win Above Replacement (WAR) on the free agent market being about $5 million. Essentially, the Marlins have already received a 300% return on their investment. An excellent investment by any measure, but how did McGehee turn things around?
In a piece for MLB.com earlier this season, McGehee credits his time in Japan for this change:
In Japan, McGehee established a better approach, and he learned patience seeing so many forkballs and off-speed pitches.
Sometimes players say things that are not really supported by the actual stats, so let’s see if McGehee’s success so far in 2014 has anything to do with improved hitting on “off-speed pitches.” I will interpret that to mean that he learned to hit pitches other than fastballs. Brooksbaseball.net is an excellent resource to examine just this type of question. First here are McGehee’s numbers against pitches by category for his time in the majors from 2009 to 2012:
Clearly, he was a much better hitter on fastballs (hard) than anything else, most significantly when compared to breaking pitches. His .265 batting average and .427 slugging percentage on fastballs are drastically better than the paltry .209 BA and .309 slugging he managed against breaking pitches. Now let’s look at his 2014 numbers:
Well, McGehee is definitely backing up his words to this point. He’s been 70 points better batting average wise on breaking pitches than on fastballs, though a .533 Batting Average On Balls In Play (BABIP) suggests some of that success has been luck driven and will likely regress eventually. Still, even if he is able to just match his batting average on fastballs, it would be a fantastic improvement from what he was doing against breaking pitches before heading to Japan. Maybe his year in the Far East did teach McGehee the Zen of hitting a curveball.
Can McGehee be more than just a one year stop gap at third base for the Marlins? Will he be able to continue his impressive hitting throughout the season? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section.