2015 Fantasy Baseball Player Profile: Mike Zunino
Mike Zunino hit 22 homers last season, an elite number for a catcher, so why is is that no one seems overly interested in adding him to be their starting catcher in 2015?
Mike Zunino is an elite talent. In his last two seasons in college he hit .348 with 38 homers and 134 runs batted in over 138 games. That led to him being drafted third overall in 2012. He then proceeded to crush minor leaguers for two years, check out those numbers below, before being called up to the big leagues. He's flashed tons of power with the Mariners, but that's really been the only part of his game that has appeared in the majors. Can he put "it" together in 2015 or is he just a guy with power who wears the tools of ignorance.
2012: Zunino was drafted in the first round by the Mariners, third overall in the entire draft after playing at the University of Florida. In 63 games at Single-A, Double-A and the Arizona Fall League he hit .336 with 15 homers, 58 RBIs and 45 runs scored. Also posted a .413 OBP and .614 SLG.
2013: Ranked the 17thg best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America. Baseball Prospectus had him 33rd while MLB.com had him 23rd. Appeared in 52 games at Triple-A and hit a mere .227 though he did have a .478 SLG thanks to 11 homers and 12 doubles. Also drove in 43 runs while scoring 38 times.
TOTALS: .286/.360/.552 with 26 homers, 101 RBIs and 83 runs scored in 115 games
2013: Appeared in 52 games for the Mariners hitting just .214 with a .620 OPS. He hit five homers, drove in 14 runs, scored 22 times and struck out 49 times in 173 at-bats.
2014: Hit 22 homers while driving in 60 runs and scoring 51 times. He hit a mere .199 and struck out 158 times in 438 at-bats (131 games).
Let me restate what I tossed out there above.
His last two college seasons: .348-38-134 over 138 games
His minor league numbers: .286-26-101 over 115 games.
Taken 3rd overall in 2012 Entry Draft.
So what the hell has happened in the big leagues with his .203-27-74 line over 183 games?
The first thing you should notice is his elite power for the catcher's position. Last year Zunino hit 22 homers in 438 at-bats for the Mariners. The soon to be 24 year old was one behind Brian McCann for the AL lead amongst catchers and just three off Devin Mesoraco for the big league lead for those that wear the tools if ignorance. That's elite level production of course. Further, through 611 at-bats a total of 27 homers is pretty impressive for anyone, especially when that player has only 611 career at-bats at the big league level. Zunino owns a 46.2 percent fly ball ratio with the Mariners, more than 10 points above the league average as he certainly jacks the ball into the air. He also owns a 14.4 percent HR/F ratio that is well above the league average of 9-10 percent. The power is legit and a run to a 25 homer season in 2015 certainly cannot be ruled out.
It should also be noted that 74 RBIs and 73 runs scored are solid counting numbers for a catcher over 611 at-bats. Not All-Star worthy, but still, they will do.
The real issue with Zunino is his approach. Where has that gone? This is from my good friend Jason Collette of Rotowire.com during an email exchange. He pointed out how much Zunino appears to channel Pedro Cerrano of Major League Fame.
vs. 2-seam, 4-seam, cutters: .240/.316/.441 with a 25 percent K rate. Sample size = 1,535 pitches
vs. all other pitch types: .150/.184/.300 with a 40 percent K rate. Sample size = 1,001 pitches
Eighteen of his 27 homers have come against the fastballs. If we look at all batters that have seen at least 1,000 non-fastballs (sample size = 235) over the past two seasons, Zunino has the 5th worst average against, the worst OBP, and the 7th worst contact rate.
It's pretty clear that Zunino simply cannot hit a pitch that isn't a heater. Might we that think that others are taking note of that? As a rookie he saw the fastball 59.5 percent of the time. In year two the rate dipped to 53.5 percent. Have to think that number will come down in 2015 as well, until he proves he can handle the off-speed stuff.
It's not just that Zunino can't hit anything but a fastball, it's that he's not even hitting that pitch enough. Check out his BABIP (.254) and line drive rate (17.2 percent). Neither of those marks is even within hailing distance of the big league average. Hell, he's not hitting anything enough, not with a 30.9 percent K-rate that has led to a massive total of 207 strikeouts in 611 at-bats. That's more than one strikeout per three at-bats. You simply cannot have success doing that, at least not consistent success (hello J.P. Arencibia). It's why Mike has hit .203 as a big leaguer. He's compounded that swing and miss approach by taking a total of 33 walks over 669 plate appearances. The result is a 0.16 BB/K ratio for his young career, a mark that is less than half of the big league average.
So here's the review.
(1) His pedigree suggests he will have huge levels of success.
(2) He's powered the ball into the seats with the best of the best at the catchers position. He's also working on driving the ball the opposite way.
(3) His plate discipline is hideous.
(4) He strikeout out like he gets a five lbs block of parmigiano reggiano each time he whiffs.
(5) To this point he's been nothing but a power option as a big leaguer. While point #1 is still in the back of my mind, the fact is that he's simply been unable to do anything other than hit homers at the big league level, and there's little in his major league work to suggest that will change in 2015.
PLAYING TIME CONSIDERATIONS
As of now there is no impediment to Zunino's playing time. The current group of backstop backups include John Baker and Jesus Sucre. The once highly thought of prospect that is Jesus Montero is no longer a catcher.
If you don't want to pay big dollars for a backstop Zunino might be your man. He powers the ball as well as any catcher and figures to play every day for the Mariners. However, at this point a run to .250 would be akin to me learning that Dani Mathers wanted to go on a date with me. Neither is happening. Be that as it may, you have to decide if you need power at the catchers spot and if it's worth roster Zunino's power even if he's likely to crater your teams batting average.
10 team lg: In a two catcher league Zunino could be your second backstop. However, the shallower the league the more of an impact his batting average will have on your team since everyone in a league this thin is producing good batting averages. That makes Zunino tough to trust in this format.
12 team lg: As a low level second catcher I can bite here. Again, depends on the way you've constructed your roster of course. If you've already got guys like Nelson Cruz and Adam LaRoche on your team you w0uild likely me much better off going for a backstop who will boost your average, even if he doesn't have a lot of pop.
15 team lg: Most likely if you wait on a catcher you'll be left to pick through guys like Alex Avila, Carlos Ruiz and Jason Castro. If it gets that bad then Zunino would start to look awfully good would he not?
AL-only: You can take the batting average drain here, or at least you can if you roster your team properly. If Zunino goes 20-65-50 this season you should be willing to eat a .220 batting average if it comes to that.