The Dodgers’ current roster has two spots reserved for catchers. Yasmani Grandal being the headliner, and Austin Barnes being the backup/utility catcher. While being rather different forms of catchers, they both break some conventional rules of their position. The differences they have may come to be long-term benefits for the Dodgers as they will likely grant manager Dave Roberts flexibility in writing up the lineups every day. However, one point of interest and value that they share, something that won’t be lost regardless of who’s penned in, is in their pitch framing.
|Yasmani Grandal||Framing Chances||Framing Runs|
|2016 (MLB + AAA)||6902||25.8|
|Austin Barnes||Framing Chances||Framing Runs|
|2016 (MLB + AAA)||4799||18.4|
In 2016, Grandal claimed the 2nd spot in saving runs with his pitch-framing behind Giants’ catcher Buster Posey, who has saved 26.5 runs for San Francisco. Not that there is anything wrong with falling right behind Posey, but Grandal also had over 800 fewer chances. This means he was on pace to have possibly provided more value in his framing than any other catcher in the majors.
Similarly, Austin Barnes, despite almost all of his playing time being in AAA, performed even better than Grandal in this aspect. While pitch framing can be a fickle and finicky thing, dependent on the umpire’s eyes and mood, these numbers speak clearly. In literally thousands of chances, the Dodgers’ catchers have shown their strengths in pitch framing to be evident. At 28 and 27 years of age respectively, Grandal and Barnes still have quite a few years to provide this talent, a talent that will not likely decline with age.
Now, for how these players set themselves apart from each other and the archetypal catcher.
It’s often been said that catchers are defensive players and are generally not expected to provide much value offensively. While at first glance that seems to be true for Grandal, a look into more advanced metrics shows his value not found in his batting average.
|Offensive Stats||MLB Career Totals|
|On Base Percentage||.348|
While his BA is lower than most would consider ideal, every other number listed there is well-above league average. In other words, he doesn’t hit for average particularly well, but he definitely provides offensive value with his ability to work counts and earn walks, as well as with his power. In 2016, the switch-hitting catcher led National League catchers with 27 home runs, second in the majors to Evan Gattis, who spent about half the year as a DH. As mentioned above, Grandal is a switch-hitter (a relatively unique trait of his) but in 2016 almost all of his power came from him hitting left-handed. Of his 27 homers, only 4 of them came from the right side of the plate. During the last offseason, he worked to improve his production as a right-handed bat. So far in this young season, he has homered twice. Both home runs coming on Opening Day, one from each side of the plate.
While Grandal leads MLB catchers with his power, Austin Barnes does not boast such power. He hit his first MLB home run on April 15th of this season. It has thus far remained his sole homer as a big-leaguer in a total of 94 plate appearances. That said, Barnes does have a few aspects to his playing that most catchers, including Grandal, lack. While the stereotypical catcher has bad knees from all the kneeling and beatings they deal with behind the plate and, by extension, they can’t run fast, Austin Barnes is a particularly speedy runner for the position he plays. According to FanGraphs, Barnes has a Speed score (SPD) of 6.8 in his limited time in the majors. This falls just shy of the top tier “excellent” marking at 7.0.
While speed may not help too much in the normal duties of a catcher, it does help greatly on the basepaths and in other defensive positions. It just so happens that Barnes can play other positions. His defensive versatility, another thing that sets him apart from most catchers, can serve as a great asset to the Dodgers. While they have no shortage of infield depth, Dave Roberts and co. may choose to play Barnes at 2B or 3B occasionally, as they have before. Though his extremely limited playing time in those positions gives next to no hint as to what his value there is, he can be considered a potential option for added infield depth.
The catchers on the Dodgers’ roster wield a handful of unique and valuable talents and traits that can help them to stand out and make their mark this season with the Dodgers.