Roster Review: Derek Norris

By Jason Wojciechowski on February 12, 2014 at 8:08 PM

I made you people a promise.

Okay, so since the last post in this series, Fan Fest has happened. I honestly don't know who said what about what, but it prompted one of the beats (I think Jane Lee) to say that it sounded like the A's were going to be carrying three catchers come Opening Day. This initially made me upset and frustrated and like I wanted to throw myself on the floor, but then I got talked off the ledge/floor by the notion that "three catchers" is either an incorrect beat reporter gloss on the idea of carrying

C: Derek Norris
C: Stephen Vogt
DH: John Jaso

or it's the A's being kind to Jaso and calling him a catcher but really thinking of their roster situation as

C: Derek Norris
C: Stephen Vogt
DH: John Jaso

This doesn't fully assuage me in a certain sense, that sense being that if Jaso is really not a catcher at all, it creates roster-jam problems and means that one of {John Jaso, Brandon Moss, Josh Reddick} has to face lefties, whereas if Jaso were the DH vs. righties and occasionally the backup catcher (against same), then you could carry two of {Michael Taylor, Daric Barton, Nate Freiman} rather than just one.

And yet it does kind of put the whole issue to rest, because if Jaso is just Not A Catcher, whether for injury reasons or defense, then I can quit blogging about it. He is what he is, and the roster takes shape around him regardless.

The nice thing about if Jaso is a catcher (and simultaneously a DH) is that it makes Derek Norris a full-time player rather than the short side of a platoon. Stephen Vogt seems lovely, but I believe in Derek Norris and I believe in his ability to be a full-time player (in the catcher sense), to defend behind the plate and to hit right-handed pitching. I have no objective basis for this belief beyond the fact that he was a good prospect a few years ago, and "can mash lefties as a mediocre defensive catcher" isn't the upside of someone who is a good prospect. I don't know if now is the time to give him his chance or whatever, but I'm not anywhere near as unimpressed with his defense as many people are.

By the Brooks Baseball metrics, Derek Norris has a good eye at the plate overall and a patient approach, which is a nice combination and a good reason why he finished in the top 10 percent of hitters with at least 150 PA in walk rate, though given his physique and his pedigree, you could hope for better than the 142nd (out of 399) best ISO in that same group, even after accounting for Oakland -- the park, after all, does more damage to lefties than righties, and, per StatCorner, actually inflates right-handed doubles/triples.

I'm out of substantive things to say about Norris. He'll either hit righties or he won't. A look at Norris' tables of pitches seen the last two years shows that righties go harder than usual on the fastballs when Norris is ahead and harder on the breaking stuff when they're ahead. Which is to say that pitchers are doing to Norris what pitchers do. Norris hasn't been able to turn that relative predictability (and note how rough a measure we're looking at here -- whether he sees fastballs says nothing about where those fastballs are located or how they're sequenced or anything else about anything) into production, and he'll have to.

I guess I wasn't out of substantive things to say about Norris. But now I really am, so it's time to point out that his entire hair/beard situation is glorious. I'm not entirely sure what state it's in these days, but here's hoping he never strays back to the (relatively) clean-cut days now that he's shown the ability to sprout significant amounts of fluff on what appears to be a moment's notice.

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