Is This Jake Fox’s Break-out?

Jake Fox has been hitting really well this Spring; leading the majors with 9 home runs. This has led some people to propose giving Fox a more prominent role on the team going into the season. Is the offensive barrage a sign of things to come, and should the Orioles take advantage of it by giving Fox some plate appearances in the majors?

First off, Fox leading the majors in Spring home runs is nice, but he’s also tied with legendary masher Mike Morse for that distinction. Having 9 home runs in 71 PA is a relatively strong showing, but the pitchers he’s taken deep are Scott Baker, Andy Sonnastine, Ross Ohlendorf, Scott Olsen, Sergio Mitre, Matt Fox, Al Alburquerque (awesome name), Joe Beimel, and Aneury Rodriguez. I’ve heard of most of these guys, but it’s not exactly Halladay-Lee-Oswalt-Hamels.

Additionally, knocking the ball over the fence is the one thing we knew Fox could do. He’s hit 18 longballs in 467 career major league PA, and 29 in 422 PA in Triple-A. Overall – like this Spring – the issue has been everything else. Fox rarely walks (4.9% career, 1.4% in Spring Training) and strikes out a fair bit (22.9 % career, 18.6% in ST), so his batting average and OBP are sub-par. If he had a (still impressive) 6 home runs in ST, he’d be hitting closer to .257/.268/.629 given his 1 walk and .250 BABIP (.260 career).

Chances are, facing major league pitching on a more consistent basis and a normal regression of his crazy home run rate (his HR/FB has to be around 30%, if not a fair bit higher – which is a “tops in the majors” type of number) would drop the power figure and leave Fox around where he’s always been – .236/.285/.423. So even if it’s been exciting to watch Fox hit the last month, it’s not something that’ll continue into April, May, etc.

As to whether or not he deserves a spot on the team, I’m mostly ambivalent. If the team is going with a 13 man pitching staff (which I definitely think is excessive), then there’s only one spot for a back-up catcher – and that would need to be either Tatum or Fox. The difference between the two offensively over 200 PA is around 2-3 runs. It’s not crazy to think the difference defensively could be at least as big – say, Tatum at +2-4 runs over a full season and Fox at -3 to -6 run. I’d think it’s less than that though, which means making Fox the primary back-up catcher could net the team a couple runs. Plus, it would add some flexibility to the bench, if it is indeed short. If they’re going with a 12 man staff, letting Fox get the last bunch spot over, say, Nolan Reimold makes some sense since it’s probably better for the latter to play more often.

So seeing Jake Fox in Baltimore as a bench player is fine, but I wouldn’t be expecting too much more than replacement level production.

Stats: BB% & K%, HR/FB%, BABIP, wRAA, WAR