In the midst of heavy disappointment, Devin Mesoraco was one of the few bright lights on the team. And yet: even this revelation was colored with more than a little gray, as Mesoraco's two separate DL stints served to ever so slightly downgrade what could have been an all-timer of a season.
Nonetheless, it makes sense to focus on the positives when it comes to Mesoraco for one simple reason: prior to this season, Mesoraco was a former prospect who had not yet produced at the major league level. Now, and forevermore, the Reds' catcher boasts a 149 OPS+ season with above-average defense. Is he that good in a Real Baseline sense? Would the rate numbers have come down if he had played in 30 more games? To some extent, the answer to both questions is "It doesn't matter". The demonstration of elite production over a sustained period is enough to change the outlook going forward.
One possible objection to the canonization of Devin's 2014 campaign is that it was heavily front-loaded; on May 18, after having logged just 15 games for the year, Mesoraco was hitting .500 with an OPS of 1411. He did not sustain the pace. Over the remainder of the season, Mesoraco batted just .236 with an 809 OPS. This is a reasonable counterbalancing point to any potential OMGolem hysteria, and leaves us with a few resulting conclusions:
1) A catcher who hits for an OPS of 809 in this environment is still a plus asset.
2) Mesoraco's likely not a high batting average candidate, and since the last 100 games of the 2014 season saw his average in line with past career marks, we can probably say with conviction that this year marks the highest batting average we'll ever see from him.
3) His power output was impressive and fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. He's likely a legitimate and serious power threat for a good number of years hereafter, and we should probably expect a run at 30+ dingers given sufficient playing time and good fortune.
Defense is a vexing topic in most occasions, but for catchers it's nearly incomprehensible. We know that Mesoraco scored slightly above average in the sabermetric defensive stats. We also know that he's extremely unlikely to be a Gold Glove candidate anytime soon. We also know that he was the primary staff-handler, and while the pitching was worse than in prior years, it doesn't appear to have been Mesoraco's fault. For one thing, Johnny Cueto still managed to be pretty awesome when he threw to Devin instead of his usual catcher. For another, Alfredo Simon was really awesome when pitching to Mesoraco and then he wasn't. Maybe there's a way to parse out the credit for these things, but I don't think we're there yet.
Moving forward, the Reds are going to be at their best if their catcher isn't leading the way, offensively. But there is absolutely a note of optimism to be found in the suspicion that the backstop will be a very strong supporting element when the team's stars re-find their sea legs.
Devin Mesoraco has appeared in 289 games for the Reds and owns a batting line of .245/.315/.432 for an OPS+ of 105. He debuts on the Honorable Mention list at #203.