As a West Coast squad, the Oakland Athletics are at a disadvantage, from a publicity standpoint. Moreover, the A’s are at something of a disadvantage because of their small market tendencies and lack of a true superstar on the roster, outside of Yoenis Cespedes. As a result, Oakland has one of the very best players at one position this year that is garnering the minimum amount of attention. That player is Derek Norris.
Much of the attention that Derek Norris has actually managed to draw this season has been due to his excellent beard/mullet combination. However, what he has done at the plate this year has been outstanding and should be grabbing much more attention around the mainstream baseball world than it actually is. Part of the reason that he’s been limited in attracting viewers is that he’s stuck in a platoon with left-handed catcher Jason Jaso.
Norris has quietly managed to do some outstanding things with the stick this year. Of course, he’s working with a relatively small sample size compared to the rest of the starting backstops in the league, thanks to the platoon situation he’s faced with. Nonetheless, Norris is slashing .379/.438/.569/1.006 through his first 64 plate appearances of the year. His ISO, which measures his ability to hit for extra bases, is at .190 on the year, easily the best mark of his career.
Of course, not all of these numbers are sustainable. Norris can’t be expected to record a .417 BABIP for the remainder of the year. Even so, his strikeout numbers are down, almost cut in half from his strikeout percentage from last season. He has a pair of home runs to his credit and a dozen RBIs, while already reaching a 0.7 WAR for the year. His WAR at the end of the 2013 season was at 2.0.
Norris’ last nine starts featured a 13-for-27 stretch, including five straight games in which he recorded at least two hits. He had a seven-game hit streak prior to going hitless in his only at bat on Friday night. The thing about his success is that it doesn’t indicate much disparity between facing right-handers and lefties. He’s hitting .355 against lefties this year and .407 against righties. By comparison, his platoon partner Jaso is hitting just .273 off of righties.
It’s unlikely to think that the A’s are going to throw away their platoon situation altogether. They’ve found success with the Norris-Jaso combination to this point. At the same time, though, it’s important to acknowledge the success that Derek Norris has found against both left and right-handed pitchers and perhaps get him some more at bats both ways. At the very least, that would give Norris an opportunity to demonstrate whether or not this early season stretch is something to be taken seriously.