Curt Casali was acquired from Tampa Bay this May to fill the backup catcher spot that was left empty when Mesoraco was traded to the Mets. Not much was made of the deal at the time considering Barnhart was off to a great start CasaliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s career numbers did not inspire much discussion. Fast forward to now and Casali has put together a very impressive 104 plate appearances with the Reds, slashing .322/.398/.533 to the tune of a 148 wRC+. Add in slight positive defensive value and that is nearly 1 fWAR in 36 games for a backup backstop. Not too shabby.
The question I find myself asking as I look through CasaliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Fangraphs page is Ã¢â‚¬Å“where is this coming from and can he sustain it?Ã¢â‚¬Â A perfectly reasonable assumption would be random variance that is not indicative of CasaliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ability and will not last much longer. However, the Reds have had success finding relatively unwanted players who have become key contributors, so maybe there is something more.
The first place to start is the lack of experience that Casali has accumulated. Despite playing in five different seasons, he only has about one seasonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worth of playing time to his name. That makes drawing any conclusions about improvements or changes he has made throughout his career really tough to do.
The first thing that jumps out is that in the two previous years in which is played the most, he had one really strong year and one not-so-strong year. In 2015, Casali struck out a lot but hit a lot of fly balls and hit for a ton of power, posting a .594 SLG and .356 ISO. In 2016, he struck out even more and saw huge drops in batting average in power. Obviously not a good combination, leading to a 67 wRC+ for half a season of at-bats.
This year he has gained back some of his power and a lot of batting average. Part of this is due to less fly balls and more line drives, which are inflating his batting average and BABIP (.362). While that is very high and may seem like he is getting lucky, he has also significantly cut down on strikeouts, down from 30% and 32% in 2015/2016 to 17% this year.
Adding in the Statcast data helps to paint a slightly clearer picture. Even in 2015 when Casali was raking with a much lower BABIP, his xSLG and xwOBA were .420 and .308, respectively. Compare that to this year with a .436 and .349 and there is some merit to his improvements. There is certainly room for some regression from his .396 wOBA, but it may not be as much as originally thought.
Put everything together and CasaliÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s one season worth of data adds up to a respectable .221/.306/.412 for a 96 wRC+. Any team would happily take that production from backup catcher, especially coupled with strong defense. Ã‚Â Considering he is team-controlled for three more seasons through his age 32 campaign, this could prove to be another savy move by the Reds front office.