I say Nomar Mazara is a top-5 MVP candidate for 2018. Agree or disagree?
— Bill James Online (@billjamesonline) November 23, 2017
I saw this tweet as I lackadaisically scrolled through my Twitter on Thanksgiving day, patiently waiting for noon so that I could crack a beer and not be judged for drinking in the AM. Bill James is one of, if not the, pioneer that kickstarted baseball’s statistical revolution back in the late 1970’s, and still remains one of the game’s best and most respected minds. But when it comes to Mazara, I think James is a bit off-base; I’m not sure that a top-5 MVP season is in the cards for Mazara next season. For somewhere down the road, however, Mazara is making impressive strides to becoming a better and more well-rounded hitter.
When Mazara debuted on April 10th, 2016, he was a mere 20 years old. His scouting report from Baseball America called Mazara, “one of the top offensive prospects in baseball, who draws praise for both his power and hitting ability.” Now 22, Mazara has produced a triple slash of .259/.322/.421 with 40 HR through his first 2 Major League seasons, an offensive output that is scarily similar to the league average triple slash of .255/.322/.417 over those 2 years. And sometimes, with a prospect as highly touted as Mazara, 2 straight years of average can seem underwhelming, especially with other top prospects around the league already rising to stardom. But for a player who debuted in the league before he could legally drink, and one who is still younger than a reasonable amount of prospects around the country, average is perfectly fine. In fact, as long as Mazara showed improvement from one year to the next, I would even argue it as a positive. But has Mazara improved?
In 2016, Mazara hit .266/.320/.419 with 20 HR and 36 XBH in 568 PA. Then, in 2017, Mazara hit .253/.323/.422 with 20 HR with 52 XBH in 616 PA. His walk rate increased from 6.9% to 8.9% and his ISO increased from .153 to .170. However, his wOBA decreased slightly, his wRC+ decreased slightly, and his K% increased slightly. It seems, overall, Mazara didn’t get much better from one year to the other, depending on which metrics you’re a fan of… until you dig a bit deeper.
Mazara has long struggled against left handed pitching. In 2015, the season before Mazara became a full-time starter in Texas, he had just a .694 OPS v LHP (compared to a .842 v RHP) in his time between AA and AAA. That hasn’t changed since Mazara has been up, pumping out an atrocious .577 OPS in his MLB career and single handedly sapping any offensive value he could have. But from 2016 to 2017, Mazara’s improvements vs. lefties was very noticeable:
|2016 (vs. LHP)||2017 (vs. LHP)||% Improvement||2018 (Projected)|
Now, take these improvements as you will. Some are are slight, some are decent size, but almost all important metrics improved. The 2018 projections are just for fun and follow a linear improvement from 2017 to 2018 based on 2016-2017, an admittedly extremely incomplete method. But if you want use them as a (very) rough prediction, you’re looking at a 2018 wOBA and wRC+ vs lefties extremely similar to Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi, who Mazara is still 9+ months younger than.
Nomar Mazara’s improvements are a bit masked, but they were quite impressive for a 22 year old in his second professional season. Fellow lefty Freddie Freeman was a .246/.313/.408 hitter against LHP through his first 2 seasons (ages 21-22), before he hit .287/.367/.397 vs. LHP in 2013 and catapulting himself into MVP discussions by 2016. I don’t think Bill James expectations of Mazara for 2018 are all that realistic; he’s a bad baserunner and a bad overall outfielder outside of his arm. As a negative contributor in those categories, Mazara would have to be a .300/.400/.550 hitter at the bare minimum to even be in the MVP conversation against Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa, and others, a jump that I don’t think he can make in one year. But Mazara has a very bright future ahead of him, and if his improvements against left handed pitchers continue, that .300/.400/.550, MVP offensive ceiling may not be totally out of the question.
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