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2015 was bad for Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino. The highly touted number three pick from the 2012 draft fell below an imaginary line even lower than the Mendoza line as he slashed .174/.230/.300 while striking out 34.2% of the time. Zunino had become the closest thing to an automatic out that the DH using AL could muster. Upon his arrival in Seattle, new GM Jerry Dipoto made it one of his stated goals to resurrect Mike Zunino’s career.

Zunino in 2015:

Zunino spent 79 games in Tacoma with the AAA Rainiers, where he hit .286/.376/.521 with 17 HR in just 386 PA. He cut his strike out rate down to 21.1% and improved his walk rate from 5.4% the previous season in Seattle to 10.7%. Called back up by the big league club in late June to fill in for then injured back-up catcher Mike Clevenger, Zunino has gotten into the lineup twelve times (as of August 4th) for 41 PA (very small sample size) and has hit .286/.390/.800 while striking out “just” 24.4% of the time and taking a walk on 12.2% of his AB.

Now clearly Zunino isn’t going to slug .800 for the season. Only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have ever produced +.800 slugging seasons. But the willingness to take a walk and get on base is a promising sign. Steamer projections are the most bullish on Zunino going forward and look for a slugging percentage closer to .400.

Caveats:

 

The early numbers are not all entirely rosy, however. His BABIP sits at .250, higher than the .239 of 2015, but well below the league average that tends to hover around .300. For some perspective, Zunino’s .248 BABIP of 2014 contributed to a .199/.254/.404 line over 131 games. It also may be the case, however, that catchers in general, who tend to be slower on the base paths, are just naturally going to put up lower BABIPs than the league average. That’s a research question for another day.

On the plus side, Zunino is swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone – 26.3% this year compared to 31.5% last season and 38.5% in 2014. His contact on pitches in the zone is up to 86.7% so far this year, compared to roughly 76.5% each of the previous two seasons. Also, his swing and miss percentage is down from 18.2% in 2014 and 16.1% in 2015 to 13.3% this season. Again, a small sample size, but an encouraging trend.

 

2015 was bad for Seattle Mariners catcher Mike Zunino. The highly touted number three pick from the 2012 draft fell below an imaginary line even lower than the Mendoza line as he slashed .174/.230/.300 while striking out 34.2% of the time. Zunino had become the closest thing to an automatic out that the DH using AL could muster. Upon his arrival in Seattle, new GM Jerry Dipoto made it one of his stated goals to resurrect Mike Zunino’s career.

Zunino in 2016 So Far:

Zunino spent 79 games in Tacoma with the AAA Rainiers, where he hit .286/.376/.521 with 17 HR in just 386 PA. He cut his strike out rate down to 21.1% and improved his walk rate from 5.4% the previous season in Seattle to 10.7%. Called back up by the big league club in late June to fill in for then injured back-up catcher Mike Clevenger, Zunino has gotten into the lineup twelve times (as of August 4th) for 41 PA (very small sample size) and has hit .286/.390/.800 while striking out “just” 24.4% of the time and taking a walk on 12.2% of his AB.

Now clearly Zunino isn’t going to slug .800 for the season. Only Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds have ever produced +.800 slugging seasons. But the willingness to take a walk and get on base is a promising sign. Steamer projections are the most bullish on Zunino going forward and look for a slugging percentage closer to .400.

Caveats:

The early numbers are not all entirely rosy, however. His BABIP sits at .250, higher than the .239 of 2015, but well below the league average that tends to hover around .300. For some perspective, Zunino’s .248 BABIP of 2014 contributed to a .199/.254/.404 line over 131 games. It also may be the case, however, that catchers in general, who tend to be slower on the base paths, are just naturally going to put up lower BABIPs than the league average. That’s a research question for another day.

On the plus side, Zunino is swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone – 26.3% this year compared to 31.5% last season and 38.5% in 2014. His contact on pitches in the zone is up to 86.7% so far this year, compared to roughly 76.5% each of the previous two seasons. Also, his swing and miss percentage is down from 18.2% in 2014 and 16.1% in 2015 to 13.3% this season. Again, a small sample size, but an encouraging trend.

Solid Player Behind the Plate:

Most teams in the major leagues aren’t necessarily looking for a Yogi Berra or a Johnny Bench behind the plate. It’s a bonus but not a pre-requisite. A good defensive catcher, who handles the pitching staff well and can occasionally contribute at the plate is what most clubs hope for. (Case in point – Yadier Molina’s early career. Go look at those numbers some time). What teams do not want is a strike out machine who is virtually a guaranteed out. Over the past two seasons, Mike Zunino had become what you don’t want. Early signs this season are that he has become what the Mariners do want.

Most teams in the major leagues aren’t necessarily looking for a Yogi Berra or a Johnny Bench behind the plate. It’s a bonus but not a pre-requisite. A good defensive catcher, who handles the pitching staff well and can occasionally contribute at the plate is what most clubs hope for. (Case in point – Yadier Molina’s early career. Go look at those numbers some time). What teams do not want is a strike out machine who is virtually a guaranteed out. Over the past two seasons, Mike Zunino had become what you don’t want. Early signs this season are that he has become what the Mariners do want.