Last Friday’s game against the Texas Rangers did not start well for Curt Casali behind the plate. First, he had a passed ball that allowed runners on first and second to move into scoring position. Then, he missed a tag on Elvis Andrus trying to steal home. Andrus was initially ruled out, but the call was reversed on the review. Although the Reds would go on to lose the game 7-1, the precedence was set in that first inning and those defensive gaffes contributed to it.

During last Saturday’s game, with the Reds losing 4-2 to the Rangers in the bottom of the seventh, Tucker Barnhart pinch hit for Tanner Roark with a runner on first and no outs. After fouling off the first pitch, he swung and missed at the next two pitches. The Reds would end up going down in order after that strikeout, on their way to a 4-3 loss.

These two situations are not related in the slightest, but it does show what most Reds fans think they see when they watch the Reds catchers. One has an edge at the plate, while the other has an edge in the field. Lately, the question could be asked, however, if the two are closer in these respective categories than people realize, and if so, is it worth it to continue platooning them?

Offense

Barnhart has had a season to forget offensively through the first two months of 2019. He’s hitting .200/.298/.329 with five home runs, 18 RBI, 18 runs scored, and a .627 OPS in 155 at-bats. His wRC+ is a career low of 62. Casali, meanwhile, has hit .280/.345/.458 with four home runs, 18 RBI, 14 runs scored, and a .825 OPS in 107 at-bats. His wRC+ stands at 106.

In the last month, Barnhart hasn’t actually been dreadful. His OPS is at .733 with 12 hits in 45 at-bats. During that same time span, however, Casali has been much better, hitting .333/.405/.722 with four home runs and an OPS of 1.127 in 36 at-bats. Both players have cooled down in the last 14 days, but even then, Casali is still hitting far better than Barnhart. His OPS sits at 1.056, while Barnhart’s OPS has dropped off dramatically, to .570.

If you’re comparing just the offensive stats between the two catchers, Casali is the clear winner. But what about the other aspect of a catcher’s game?

Defense

With a 2017 Gold Glove on his shelf, Barnhart should be the clear winner in this area. But, it’s not as clear cut as most would think.

It’s no secret defense is hard to measure, especially catcher defense. Fangraphs divides it into five categories: stolen base prevention, regular fielding, blocking, framing, and game management. We’re going to focus on three of these categories for the purpose of this piece. DRS (defensive runs saved) measures regular fielding, and Casali has Barnhart beat thus far in 2019. His DRS is at 3, while Barnhart’s sits at 0. To put that number into perspective, during his Gold Glove season in 2017, it was 11.

Barnhart continues to be one of the best catchers at blocking not just on his own team, but in the entire league. According to Baseball Prospectus, he is third in MLB in blocking runs (2.8). In 2018, he was the best in the league at blocking runs (3.6). Casali, on the other hand, is 28th at 0.4 this season.

And then there’s pitch framing, the popular concept in analytics among catchers currently. The Reds haven’t had good pitch framers in recent history. Most of that could be attributed to the fact that they were behind other teams in analytics. In 2018, Barnhart was third worst in MLB at -11.5 in framing runs. This season, with a more analytically minded front office and managerial staff, Barnhart has moved to seventh in MLB (5.8). Casali, meanwhile, is 20th in the league in framing runs at 1.7. It’s not where the Reds would like to be in this area, but it’s definitely improving.

While Casali has 144 less innings than Barnhart behind the plate, he has shown to be adequate defensively. Barnhart is still better, but is sacrificing Casali’s offense to get Barnhart’s defense in the lineup worth it, especially when the team has struggled to manufacture runs?

To Platoon or Not?

Recently, manager David Bell started platooning the two catchers more than he did early in the season. In April, Barnhart started 20 games compared to Casali’s nine. But in the last month, Barnhart has started 12 games and Casali has started 10. Each player has started six games in the last 14 days. Yes, Barnhart has more at-bats than Casali, but that’s because he played much more than Casali in April.

Bell plays Barnhart more against right-handed pitchers, likely to get him playing time since his stats are terrible against left-handed pitchers. It makes sense that he doesn’t play Barnhart against left-handers, as Barnhart’s slash line is .167/.318/.222 with a .540 OPS. Even in only 18 at-bats, those numbers are rough. Against right-handed pitchers, Barnhart’s hitting .206/.297/.346 with a .642 OPS in 136 at-bats.

Maybe it’s because Bell wants to keep Barnhart loose to help try to get him into a rhythm, but other than that, it’s baffling as to why Casali isn’t getting more starts than Barnhart at this point. Casali’s stats are very good against right-handers (.346/.424/.471, 1.001 OPS) and a little below average against left-handers (.231/.281/.365, .646 OPS).

Bell is likely looking at Barnhart’s career stats against right-handers instead of just two and a half months of terrible hitting. In his career, Barnhart hits .255/.330/.381 with an OPS of .711 in 1,324 at-bats against right-handed pitchers. That’s more of the hitter that Barnhart is–he just hasn’t shown it yet this season. The combination of Barnhart’s defense and his career numbers against right-handed pitchers must be enough for Bell to keep playing Barnhart half the time, even when Casali is outplaying the fan favorite right now.

51 Responses

  1. Steve Schoenbaechler

    I would have to say, till we get more offense from the places we should be getting it from, I would have to play Casali more. Or, until Barnhardt gets his bat back, I would have to play Casali more.

    Sorry, Tucker. But, just like at any level, if you aren’t performing, you shouldn’t be playing.

  2. Sliotar

    “That’s more of the hitter that Barnhart is–he just hasn’t shown it yet this season. ”

    Rhetorical question – what is it with the RLN writers and the bias towards Barnhart? Wes wrote a piece a few weeks ago, trying to compare Barnhart to Cervelli and Contreras (yikes. really?)

    Barnhart is a prime example of the “Lovable Loser” brand the Reds have become, and desperately needs to change. Enough of “Good Guy Tuck”…..get difference makers.

    Since 2015, he has never had a wRC+ above 90, and has a total of 1.6 WAR
    (0.0 this season).

    He is signed so cheap through 2022, and the Reds may develop enough offense to overcome his “contributions”…. but I doubt many teams would say, “we need him.”

    • Steve Mancuso

      More accurate to say “some” RLN writers … There’s no common, official viewpoint.

  3. Pete

    Maybe it’s as simple as they brought Tucker into this world and he is going to leave it with them. Because it certainly is baffling.

  4. Seat101

    Here are less sarcastic and less transcendental explanation:

    Tucker Barnhart handles the pitchers very well. Tucker Bernhardt is working with the pitching coach in ways that really help the pictures but don’t particularly help his stats. Pitchers prefer Tucker.

    Because Sally had hip surgery during the off-season and perhaps he is limited to the number of games he can play for the season.

    I think these hold a little more water than the fact that the front office gave birth to Tucker

    • Seat101

      If only the manager used advanced analytics make these decisions. And then shared them with everyone

    • Pete

      Of course I was speaking metaphorically. Actually, I think my argument holds more water than yours. Do you have any statistical data to back up your analysis? Objectively, do the pitchers actually have better numbers with Tucker?

    • greenmtred

      You raise an interesting question to which I have no answer: I think it is fair to say that a catcher’s effect (good and bad) on a pitching staff is hard to quantify. Comparing performances (catchers on same team with same pitchers) has the huge variable of the pitchers being part of the equation, and pitchers aren’t necessarily the same from one game to another. The Reds’ pitching has been surprisingly excellent this year. Mightn’t Tucker have something to do with that? If so, it might negate his bat.

      • Pete

        Hypothetically speaking, the empirical data gathered since the two have been the Reds back stops, may or may not, show there is a negligible affect on the quality of pitching. If this is the only evidence we can analyze, we must assume that neither has an advantage over the other. This does not mean what you bring up isn’t true but just can’t be proven by the evidence available. Until we reach this point, I would suggest that we start the catcher who is more productive offensively.

  5. Mark Lang

    His last at bat in yesterday’s game was just about the most pathetic AB for the situation as you’ll see this year. That alone should earn him a day on the bench to pause and reflect.

    • Seat101

      Let me get this straight, you think the manager should punish mistakes?

      • Mark

        A mistake is when you try to do something and fail. He never even tried to do the right thing. He didn’t attempt a bunt – he didn’t attempt to hit to the right side… So, yes – the manager should punish people for not knowing/doing their job. Just like not running out a grounder.

      • Wayne nabors

        Amen greenmted,that at bat was pathetic

    • DB

      Casali was the only Red who has NOT struck out against Hader. He should have hit for Barnhart in the 9th. Thank you for nothing David Bell.

  6. docproc

    I don’t have any stats on this, but I have watched Barnhart botch throws to the plate numerous times in his career. I was at the game yesterday and when Casali caught that (great) throw from Winker and put the tag on the runner, I turned to my wife and said, “Barnhart would have whiffed on that play.”

    And speaking of whiffs, I groaned loudly when Tucker pinch hit for Casali and fanned quickly to nearly kill the game-winning rally.

    It’s no contest for me. I hope Casali gets 2/3 of the catching duties the rest of the season.

    • docproc

      BTW, Tucker is hitting .176 with RISP this season. That’s down from a mere .207 last year. He is the VERY LAST player I want to see coming to the plate in key situations.

      • daytonnati

        He sometimes appears like he can’t get back to the dugout fast enough.

    • Seat101

      I had the same thoughts. Ever since the new rule came in about catchers and blocking the plate – Tucker has looked lost on those plays.

      Jim Walker has mentioned this as well. My question is though how many plays are there like that in a season? Not that many I’d wager, but they’ll be more this year I think because of our new rate field

    • Jim Walker

      Think the same on the catch and gtag play Wednesday. Based on past observations, my immediate thought was that Barnhart doesn’t make that play b/c I’ve seen him not make too many almost routine catch and tag plays.

  7. Big Tony

    Hindsight being 20/20, Trammell(plus like vlad and tucker) for Realmunto would have been a golden deal. Who would have thought our offense would be the weak point this year though.

  8. C Holbert

    I would think the pitching has been the best and most consistent part of this team. I am not sure who is catching has been that important. As offensively challenged as this team has been, I would think they would look to get any threat they can towards the bottom of the order. When Jose Ig is batting sixth, no offense, there are very few teams feeling threatened.

    • greenmtred

      Jose would be justified in feeling offended. He’s a long way from being the worst hitter on the team.

      • RojoBenjy

        He got his Joses mixed up I bet.

  9. Seat101

    @Mark Let’s assume our new window let Tucker had the green light When he was at bat. So heading into a double play is the same as not running out a grounder? Are you saying Tucker didn’t make a complete effort to get to first on That play.

    It just so happens I agree that Tucker should’ve taken the first pitch. Yet I am pretty sure that Tucker went up to that at bat with a specific strategy in mind. It didn’t work. It’s not the same as not running out of ground or

      • Pete

        One man’s arguing is another’s debating….

    • Mark

      You’re not talking about his last AB. He didn’t hit into a double play. He took one full swing (and not so it’d go to the right side) in the AB and took two strikes looking.

      Votto followed with taking his 3rd strike right down the middle of the plate… if the strike zone was a postage stamp in size, it would have been a strike.

      • Seat101

        Got it. So he should be benched for striking out?

        It was a lousy at bat but it’s not the same is not running out to ground her

      • Mark

        Wrong – he should be benched for making ZERO attempt at moving a runner on 2nd, with no outs in the bottom of the 9th down by a run, over to 3rd. To not even attempt it.

        Really? This is somehow a controversial thing for you?

      • RojoBenjy

        @Mark-
        Why wasn’t Tucker’s manager asking him to bunt Peraza to 3rd?

        That is the real question and head-scratcher.

      • Steve Mancuso

        Successful bunt *lowers* the expectation of scoring a run or more. The out is worth more than the base, even in that circumstance. (So that’s why.) On the other hand, Tucker Barnhart has one hit against fastballs 97+ mph in the past three years. So sending him up there, even with a LH split, wasn’t much better than a pitcher, which is an argument for having him bunt or using a better pinch hitter.

        All of this is discussed in the recap Matt Habel did at Reds Content Plus, for those interested in more detail. https://www.patreon.com/posts/27759502

      • RojoBenjy

        @Steve

        Thanks for the data.

        You touched on really what I was getting at—if he sends Tucker up there it should only be to bunt in that situation. Otherwise he was just as well off sending Casali back up to take his hacks. As shown above, Casali still has better splits against RHP.

  10. Klugo

    Easy. Casali. Tucker seems like a nice guy and all but the truth is he came up as a replacement level catcher, did enough to beat out an oft-injured Meseraco and has played back to his billing.
    The problem is we’ve signed him to an extension and I’m not sure anyone else would want to trade for him. Without really knowing the details of their deals, having Casali and him would probably demand letting Casali go to get a true upgrade at that position which there aren’t that many great available catchers out there anyways.. So we keep them both I guess.

    • Curt

      Klugo, what are the details of Tucker’s extension? Thx

      • Rich H

        4 million per year, free agent in 2023. Very team friendly.

      • Pete

        $4 million a year doesn’t buy what it used to… Casali at less than a mil is a great value. If the Reds could pocket the $3 and help extend Winker or Senzel, this would be team friendly. I just don’t see TB as worth $4M/yr.

  11. Seat101

    @Pete

    Arguendo means “for the sake of argument”

    • Pete

      Ha! My Spanish is horrible in fact it doesn’t exist. Thank you for the clarification.

      • Papi

        It’s Latin, and almost exclusively used in legal briefs to anticipate counter points. Rarely used when discussing playoff chances in sports

  12. Brian S Jolley

    They are both nice back up catchers. We need a starter. How is Farmer defensively? He would be an upgrade offensively over Barnhart for sure.

    • RojoBenjy

      A question worth answering. How is Farmer as a catcher defensively?

      DB always talks about being able to get the guy more PT.

      • Ashley Davis

        Kyle Farmer has caught 9.0 innings at the major leagues in the last two years.
        I don’t think he’s a better option than Casali at this point. The Reds would get more out of him as they’ve been using him–an utility infielder.

      • Curt

        Farmer caught 29 games last year in AAA so he must be ok defensively but I can’t say for sure as I didn’t witness it.

  13. HoF13

    There is an issue here that applies to catchers that doesn’t apply to any other non-pitching position. Catchers need rest. If you want to give Casali 60 – 70% of starts, I’m all for it, but I wouldn’t go higher than that. Overall it wouldn’t be that much change in number of AB’s.

    One other thing, it’s a fickle crowd here sometimes. In some cases, people say, “that’s too small sample size” (think Winker vs lefties) and then the next day (or close to it), they say make a change, even though it’s a small sample size (Barnhart).

  14. Jeremy

    If tucker has any minor league options left, I would just send him down to triple a so that he can figure out his hitting woes down on the farm instead of wasting at bats and hurting his team in the majors.

    • RojoBenjy

      Then you have to figure out who to replace him with. That’s why we are wondering about how Farmer would do as the actual backup .

  15. Old-school

    There’s no help in AAA.
    Louisville has a 30 yo catcher in Juan Graterol and Stuart Turner at 27 hitting .175.
    Louisville has to be the oldest AAA team in baseball.

    • RojoBenjy

      Think they could beat the Marlins or the Orioles? Lol

  16. TomN

    What about packaging Blandino or Ervin and maybe a top 15 prospect off to another MLB team (say Seattle) with Tucker for Narvaez? Seattle looks to be going nowhere – maybe throw in a prospect (Sira?).