2017 Reds

The Catching Situation: What Happens with Tucker Barnhart?

Editor’s Note: I hope you will join me in welcoming Ashley Davis to the Redleg Nation family. This is actually not Ashley’s first piece for RN; she wrote this piece six years ago (!) about Joey Votto and Yonder Alonso. I’m really excited that she’s joining us at RN for the 2017 season. Please make her feel welcome! — Chad Dotson

On Monday, Reds manager Bryan Price told the Cincinnati media the Reds will carry no more than two catchers when they break camp at the end of March. Ideally, he would like it to be Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart. Yes, there are still questions about the health of Mesoraco, but for the first time since 2013, when Mesoraco and Ryan Hanigan split time behind the plate, it seems the Reds’ catching situation is stable. A big reason for that is Barnhart has established himself as at least a solid MLB back-up catcher. But did he do enough in 2016 to prove he deserves a platoon situation?

In 115 games last season, Barnhart hit .257/.323/.379, with an OPS of .702. He had 97 hits and drove in 51 runs. His numbers weren’t eye-popping, but the stats show he had a solid season for a player who was thrust into the role of everyday catcher in just his third season in the big leagues. Barnhart’s walk and strikeout percentages weren’t horrible, at 8.6% and 17.1%, respectively. He tends to hit more line drives than pop-ups or fly balls, as evidenced by his .299 BABIP and only seven home runs in 377 at-bats.

Barnhart can also make plays behind the plate with his arm. In 2016, he threw out 34 of 102 runners, for a 33% caught stealing percentage. This was six percentage points higher than the league average of 27%. Despite his lack of power, Barnhart has certain strengths and defense looks to be one.

At the risk of jinxing Mesoraco, he seems healthy going into 2017. He played in his first Cactus League game of the spring on Sunday and felt good. Reds fans haven’t seen him play regularly since 2014 when he was an All-Star. In fact, the last two years, Mesoraco has played in just 39 games. But, in 2014, it was a breakout year, and it showed the Reds what he is capable of when he is healthy.

In 2014, Mesoraco hit .273/.359/.534, with an OPS of .893. He showed his power by hitting 25 home runs and driving in 80 runs in 384 at-bats. He did hit a lot of groundballs (34%), but the percentage at which he hit fly balls was much higher at 43% to put his BABIP at .309. Mesoraco’s strikeout to walk ratio of 103-to-41 wasn’t the greatest in 2014, but you can’t have it all (unless you’re Joey Votto). Defensively, he threw out only 18 of 51 runners, but committed just three errors in 890 chances.

I would compare the tandem of Mesoraco and Barnhart to the combination of Ryan Hanigan and Mesoraco in 2012 and 2013. In both cases, there was a veteran catcher and a less experienced, but still capable catcher in the back-up role. However, this time around I believe the current tandem is the better one. Hanigan had a decent season in 2012, which is probably one of the reasons the Reds were so good that year, but in 2013, his production went way down. His OPS went from .703 to .567, and nearly every statistical category had a huge drop. It’s probably too early in his career to tell if Barnhart will be the same way, but early returns are good.

If both catchers can stay healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them split time behind the plate, at least early in the season as the Reds ease Mesoraco back into the game. Barnhart has the stronger arm, but the offense that a healthy Mesoraco brings makes up for that. Barnhart proved he can perform at an MLB level last season, but didn’t quite prove he has an edge over Mesoraco, given Mesoraco’s 2014 performance.

63 thoughts on “The Catching Situation: What Happens with Tucker Barnhart?

  1. Welcome Ashley! If Price has already said the Reds will only have two catchers in Cincinnati I’ll take that as very good news regarding Mesoraco’s health. If he can eventually catch three games out of five by the end of the year that would be a big boost for the Reds offense, but I for one am fine giving 40-50% of starts to Barnhart. This year. My short term concerns are Devin’s durability and Price’s management and use of the two catchers to keep them both healthy if not fresh. In the long term I hope the front office recognizes the need to develop (or acquire) the catcher(s) of the future. It’s hard to picture Mesoraco being a fixture behind the plate for more than a couple of years. Okey perhaps? For now all eyes are on Devin Mesoraco.

    • Thanks for the welcome! Yes, I agree that Mesoraco’s durability is a question. I think Price will platoon Mesoraco and Barnhart more so at the beginning of the year because they do want to ease Meditation back into it. Long term, Okey could be an option, but I think the Reds are thinking Tyler Stephenson could be an everyday catcher. He was on the DL with Dayton last year, so we probably won’t see him for at least a couple of years.

  2. So Why not Turner of Barnhardt? Just playing devil’s advocate here. Seems like Turner’s defense could be substantial. But then again is a catcher’s defensive skill over rated?

    • Because Barnhart is good, proven, and cheap. Turner has had a solid spring, but trusting that over Barnhart’s actual MLB production would be foolish.

  3. The reds eventually ended up with Disco by way of Alonso, and made a disaster out of the left field situation for a few years……anyway, I feel we should lobby for the DH in the NL, it would be perfect for Mes, seriously tho, I’d be happy if he can start 50% of the time and be productive. I really have my doubts he will and feel there will be another catcher on the roster by June. Crossing my fingers I’m wrong.

  4. I think the smart move is to start Mesoraco in slowly with a rehab assignment at Louisviille. Go with Turner and Barnhardt. After Mes finishes rehab assignment we find an excuse to put one of the other 2 on the DL. We keep 3 all year by always rotating one to the DL. Don’t tell me it can be done. The DL rules are shady to begin with. Might as well exploit it.

  5. Welcome back, Ashley!

    Have you been actively commenting on the site between your last article and this one? If so, what was your handle? If you don’t want to say, that’s ok, too!

    • Hi! Happy to be here! I’ve been an active reader, but not an active commenter, up until now. Definitely going to get more involved with commenting from here on out

  6. Welcome to Redleg Nation Ashley. Nice article. My fear is that we return Turner to the Twins, and then Mes isn’t able to catch a sizeable number of games. Who would our back up catcher be this year. Wallack? I like him for a bench bat, but don’t think he has developed enough as a catcher to be the back up.

  7. I wish the Old Cossack could lay claim to a rather creative ‘option’, but due credit to Reaganspad.

    Apparently Barnhart has an option let in the tank. Barnhart has proven himself as a capable MLB catcher and an asset for the Reds and certainly deserves to go northeast on the 25-man roster after spring training, but the best and most deserving players don’t always make the 25-man roster after spring training (see Frazier, Todd).

    Stuart Turner has been impressive this spring, and I’m not working under some delusion that he’s suddenly and all star catcher and future hall-of-famer with a 1.200 OPS after putting up a .659 OPS in 749 PA over 2 seasons in AA. Turner has lived up to his billing as an outstanding defensive catcher with very good plate discipline. Turner was also drafted by the Reds in the rule 5 draft during the off season. The selection was made ostensibly for cost-effective insurance for a backup catcher at the major league level if Mesoraco was unable to begin the regular season on the 25-man roster.

    Turner also has an option available, but the Reds can’t excercise that option unless they work out a trade with the Twins to retain Turner without keeping him on the 25-man roster. If Mesoraco is healthy (and he certainly appears healthy, just rusty), then having Turner available during the 2017 season isn’t so critical. The issue comes down the road after Mesoraco’s contract is up after the 2018 season. The ONLY viable catching prospects in the Reds minor league system are Okey and Stephenson, but neither prospect has established themself as a serious, legitimate MLB prospect at this point who will be ready by 2019. With Mesoraco’s injury and concussion history, I can’t see the Reds offering the 31-year-old catcher an extention on his current contract. By 2019, Turner could be an excellent platoon option with Barnhart at catcher, providing two solid (if not excellent) defensive catchers with excellent plate discipline. Tucker hits RH and Barnhart maintains a serious platoon split advantage when hitting LH.

    • I agree 100%. 2017 is about getting ready for 2018 and beyond. Keeping Turner is worth the hassle of juggling the 25 man roster to keep him, even if it costs us a game or two this year. And that’s without factoring in Mesoraco’s potential fragility and the likelihood of a catcher getting hurt at some point in a given season.

      • Also agree. Ease Mes back into every-day playing. Why push this? From the reports that he looks stiff at the plate, there can’t be a reason to hurry him back. He will not return to his 2014 form for at least 2-3 weeks – if ever.

        Seems that a 3rd MLB ready catcher is a smart option and the reason Turner was picked up to begin with!

    • I don’t think optioning Barnhart is really an option (see what I did there)… I think, if the Reds want to retain Turner, they will need to work out something with the Twins to trade for him after officially offering him back. It can’t just be straight MiLB filler, as the Twins can simply pay the cash to get him back and send him to the minors. I don’t believe they need to free up a 40-man spot. I think something reasonable should be easy to work out between the Reds and Twins though, where they wouldn’t have to give up too much.

  8. Not to nitpick, but throwing out “only 18 out of 51” runners is 35%, which is higher than the percentage you cite for Barnhart, so that shouldn’t be a knock on Mesoraco’s defense when making the comparison.

    • I don’t think Mesoraco is as good defensively as Barnhart, but I also think he gets a bum rap as a poor defensive catcher. Mesoraco handles himself more than adequately behind the dish. Combine those defensive skills with his 2014 offensive production and Mesoraco becomes a force as a catcher. Of course his durability and health factor into that equation and his superior offensive production comes from a relatively small sample size.

      Personally, I’m not that concerned about his hip surgeries as they impact his ability to catch. I’m also not concerned about his shoulder surgery as it impacts his ability to catch. I am concerned about how his shoulder impacts his offensive production, especially his power output, and his propensity for concussions is a serious concern for a catcher.

      • People simply put way too much emphasis on the % thrown out. There are way too many variables. Remember when Hanigan got to catch Cueto and Mesoraco got to catch Bailey and/or Latos? Talk about feeding into a false narrative against Mesoraco.

      • I respectfully disagree. To my eyes, Mes is below avg defensively. Not very good a pitch framing, and blocking balls in the dirt. And overall he seems to fumble a lot. Regular balls seem to pop out of his glove on many occasions.

        • I see some of what you see, though I don’t think he’s well below average. His pitch framing is marginal and he isn’t great at moving laterally, therefore blocking balls. As for balls popping out of his mitt, this seems to happen more often than it should but some of that is already taken into account by his rather marginal pitch-framing metrics. My take is that he isn’t a butcher back there but he isn’t a particularly good defensive catcher and isn’t as good back there as Barnhart.

  9. With Mesoraco’s catching limitations but apparent ability to hit, it seems like this would be the year to start out the year carrying 3 catchers to allow the use of Devin as a PH during games he doesn’t catch. That combined with the lack of high minor league depth at C, has me wondering why they made this decision public so soon.

    • I think Price’s proclamation is indicative of his inability to think outside his very narrow, limited comfort zone. It will be interesting and telling to see what DW does at the end of the 2017 season regarding the Reds manager position.

      • Agree with this. I suppose the cynic says Price can only keep 2 catchers because a third catcher is one less pitcher he can carry. Also, I wonder why he felt compelled to make that announcement now.

    • This is a good point. The Reds have been very careful to ease Mesoraco back into catching. It probably would make more sense to carry 3 catchers, at least at the beginning of the year.

  10. I feel its time for Devin to step up and get healthy I know you can’t control injuries but one must question his off field commitment to address his injury situation putting Tucker in limbo every year is not fair to Tucker or the Reds is it time to produce or cut bait with Devin?

    • You should have stopped after “I know you can’t control injuries”

      • true you can’t control injuries but you can control adding players to the 25 man roster that are injury prone. Between his knees, shoulders, hips and concussions one has to wonder what his true value is if his medical expenses, missed availability, playing through injuries are tacked on to his salary. I suspect that that Tucker is the better catcher for the value but I will admit that I do not have any data to substantiate that other than Tucker has suited up for more games than Devin.

        • Every player is one injury away from being injury-prone. Players get injured in baseball, and it’s not always–or often–predictable who they will be, unless they are pitchers(who all get injured sooner or later).

        • Money is guaranteed in MLB. So, I guess the question I’d ask you is, would you give up on Mes and release him, knowing that you still need to pay him through 2018? I understand that there are arguments about rather he should have been extended in the first place, but that can’t be undone now.

          • I wouldn’t release Mesoraco because 1) the Reds are paying him through next year and 2) because of the season he had in 2014. He’s not even 30 yet (will be 29 in June). The potential is there if he can stay healthy. And if the Reds end up being competitive in 2018 (which I think they will), I can see him being a part of that.

          • I don’t release him if I were GM either. You can’t just flush that money, especially for a player who is young enough that he may be able to overcome his injuries and help this team win ballgames.

    • I’d be curious for your input on my question to Simon Cowell below as well.

  11. Nice article Ashley, welcome to RN! There is so much to like about Tucker Barnhart. If Mesoraco can stay healthy and be even a shell of himself in 2014, the Reds are well off from the catcher position with Barnhart catching maybe 25% of the games. Barnhart’s .702 OPS was actually exactly the MLB average for catchers in 2016. I’ll take that plus good defense out of a backup any year!

      • Devin will be given every opportunity to regain his form. He makes a bunch of money and his ceiling is much higher then anyone we have on the roster,

      • Simon, WHEN Mes is healthy you’ll be right there cheering with the rest of us when he starts mashing Home runs. Don’t play like you hate him. You can say anything you want in denial of this fact but I’ll know the truth.

    • The average MLB hitter put up a .255/.321/.417/.739 slash line last season, where the average MLB C produced at .242/.309/.392/.701. Catcher happens to be the worst hitting position in baseball. Tucker Barnhart hit at a .257/.323/.379/.702 rate last year which is about dead on average for a catcher. More is always better, but taken in perspective, he’s not a liability for his position.

        • If it were easy to find great hitting catchers, then every team would have a Buster Posey. Catcher is one of the hardest positions to find in baseball, and the bust rate is higher than most any other position drafted.

    • The sample size on Mes is pretty small, but Barnhart was the better framer. That said, the metrics weren’t really impressed with his framing ability either. I have a few reservations about pitch-framing metrics that I’ve discussed elsewhere but that’s what they say.

  12. Seems to me Barnhart is one of the most important players on the Reds right now. He is the only catcher on the 40 man roster with substantial MLB experience who is also healthy enough and game ready to pull a full workload behind the plate.

    Check out this article which went up on the Enquirer site Monday evening. The Reds seems to be laying the foundation to announce that Mesoraco will start the season on DL to allow him to work on becoming game ready in the minors. Thankfully, at least it seems like his health is not at issue. He simply needs more time to clear the rust and get up to speed from essentially two consecutive seasons on the sidelines.

    http://www.cincinnati.com/story/sports/mlb/reds/2017/03/20/devin-mesoraco-progressing-but-could-miss-opening-day/99429698/

    • Smart move. Glad they listened to me. By the time Devin is ready to play the Reds can fake a injury to one of the other 2 catchers and move them down to the DL.

  13. It seems to me that people will go to great lengths to justify keeping players with average or little offense (Tucker/Hamilton) just bcuz they may be good or even great defensively. I understand that good or great defense is nice and helpful. But I don’t believe we should accept or settle for average offense.

    • Average offense plus good/great defense is an above-average player.

      I’ll take above-average players on my team. Especially at catcher/center field.

      • Billy Hamilton has never come close to playing a productive full major league season…his last 2 seasons were aborted due to injuries at 120 games…He is already missing spring training games due to a less than 100% Achilles. Leg injuries to a player who’s entire game is speed is a bad thingb
        I know everyone wants to anoint him as the greatest thing ever….But I would argue Bham has more to prove than any core position player on the roster. Can he play 155-160 games and stay on the field for those dog days in August? Can he maintain a productive approach at the plate that minimizes fly balls and gets him obp at a 32-33% clip. If he can’t do these 2 things….Then he isn’t the player everyone has fast forwarded him to be.

    • Fielding a team in which everyone is above average offensively and defensively would require the greatest farm system ever or a payroll of 1 billion. Both are unlikely for the Reds.

      You seem to have a hard time understanding that few players are above average offensively. That scarcity makes them difficult to find and/or acquire. I suppose Geronimo and Concepcion were worthless.

      • Chuck, the Reds whole deal has been to find hopefully elite, young talent for cheap. That’s what scouts are for. You’re telling me that the best our scouts could come up with is a bunch of kids who’re average offensively? Maybe need better scouts. I know they’ve recently beefed up this department so maybe it’s only a matter of time. Hopefully the new scouts are better at identifying talent. IF, average offensive plyrs are all the lower or beginning levels are producing, then maybe we need better coaches at those levels or something. I don’t know. Anything so teams don’t have to settle for average offense. Anyway, my first point is my best point I believe, and that being that the Reds have been trying to find young cheap talent. I believe they can do better. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic. But you like to throw history up in my face, don’t you? It’s like you’re trying to bait me into saying these beloved Reds historical figures weren’t all that great. Ok, I’ll bite, maybe they weren’t. I don’t know. I wasn’t alive when some of them guys played and too young to remember or care about the others. All I can do is focus on the here and now.

        • Most players are just not special. There will be lots of Jay Bruce level players in the majors over the next 10 years. He was special to us because he was on the Reds. But there are very few unique snowflakes. The Reds just need to keep working and eventual there will be teams with more good than bad. Keep the faith.

        • Sandman: Senzel and Trammel, from the last draft, may well prove to considerably above average offensively. It’s not certain what very young players will be. Also, the Reds, for better or worse, have been concentrating on pitching, so there’s that. I know you feel some anguish at starting at square one, as the Reds seem to be doing, but we may all be pleasantly surprised in a few years.

          • Greenmtred, I don’t doubt that this group of players will win (eventually) and I’ll be right there cheering the Reds on (not any individual player). I’ll be happy we are winning (whenever that happens) but, again, I stress that I don’t have to care about the players we do it with.

          • I get what you’re saying, Sandman. I remember being devastated when the Indians traded Rocky Colavito many years ago. I still find individual players compelling, but age and disappointment keep me from getting completely invested in anybody(wife, kids, grandkids and friends excepted, of course. Dogs, too.) The end of the reserve clause is much more equitable for the players than was the old way, but it does make it harder or, at least, remove a dimension of loyalty for the fans.

  14. Fielding a team in which everyone is above average offensively and defensively ….

    I’d guess the Reds would have to relocate to Lake Woebegone to be able to pull this off. 😉

  15. Greenmtred, thanks for understanding. I don’t understand anymore why fans get attached and fall in love with certain players when they know that they’ll eventually be traded. I was just trying to save people some heartache. But, most people can handle such disappointment, so…you know…whatever! There are even some who can still fall in love with a player(s) and still not get crushed when that player(s) get traded. I REALLY don’t understand those types of people. But, to each his own, I guess.

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