Thursday, July 15, 2010

Worried about Derek Norris? Don't be (yet).

Where has Derek Norris's power gone?

The catcher, regarded as one of the top hitting prospects in the Nationals organization has been having his struggles this year in Class A Potomac. Some are worried that his budding star has dimmed slightly with his struggles. I'm here to tell you that there's no reason to worry just yet.

Norris, who underwent surgery on the hamate bone in his left hand in October of 2009 is off to a slow start this year thanks in part to recovery on his hand as well as a myriad of other injuries that have slowed his progress.

On the year, Norris is hitting .229/.413/.366/.779 with only 5 HR's in 153 AB's. To the casual observer, Norris appears to be struggling. After all, someone that is hitting .229 and slugging less than his OBP certainly isn't having a banner year. But look closer and you might see that Norris really isn't struggling all that much; and when he is, it’s mostly due to the loss of power that is associated with recovery of a broken hamate bone.

In 2009, Norris's big breakout season, Derek posted an OBP of .416, and that's with a batting average of .289. Flash forward a year and Norris has an OBP of .413 while only hitting .229. Obviously, Norris has greatly improved his batting eye. In 2009, Norris walked a respectable 16.4% of the time, in 2010, he's at an outstanding 22%.

On the other end of the spectrum, Norris struck out 26.5% of the time in 2009, and is striking out 27.7% in 2010... not that big of a difference.

Higher walk percentage with a similar strikeout percentage? Nice!

What's killing Norris is the lack of power he's showing. This can be directly attributed to the recovery from the broken hamate bone.

Taking a look at the fly balls Norris has hit the past two years, there's a noticeable difference in what he was doing in 2009, and what he was doing in 2010.

Norris's ISO on fly balls in 2009 - .504

Norris's ISO on fly balls in 2010 - .295

Pretty obvious that his power has been temporarily (hopefully) sapped due to the surgery and recovery.

Norris has also increased his fly ball % this year to 64.3% (44.2% in 2009). When you increase your fly ball % but lower you ISO on the fly balls, you're going to have problems, and not surprisingly, Norris is struggling in the power department. Next year will be the real test for Norris, I fully expect him to come back healthy and for him to continue on his track as Nationals catcher of the future. I'm not worried about his power being gone for good as this article from Baseball America explains just how long it takes for the player to return to his former self.

So, to summarize, don't worry about Derek Norris. He's becoming more selective at the plate and hitting the ball in the air at a high clip... thus, more fly balls = more homeruns. The only thing holding him back is a full recovery from his broken hamate bone.

I'm not much of a betting man, but I'd certainly put my money on Norris coming back in 2011 with a breakout year in AA, and possibly even a cup of coffee with the Nats that September.

Photo courtesy of BeGreen90

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