As we continue to look back at the 2019 season, we’re going to take a look at the season for catcher Tucker Barnhart.
The Preseason Projection
Tucker Barnhart was entering the 2019 season in what was supposed to be his prime offensive years. Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projection system, however, projected him to basically put up his career triple-slash line
The 2019 Season
The ZiPS projection was pretty accurate for Tucker Barnhart in 2019 – at least from an on-base and slugging percentage basis. His on-base percentage was only off by 3 points, and his slugging percentage was only off by one point. That’s pretty darn accurate.
With that said, Tucker Barnhart’s season was very interesting to look at. In the first half of the season he really struggled at the plate. On June 22nd he was hitting just .191/.290/.315 and had 50 strikeouts in 187 plate appearances. That’s a 27% strikeout rate. His strikeout rate had never been higher than 18.4% in his career before 2019 rolled around.
On June 28th the Reds made the move to placed Barnhart on the injured list. His oblique injury kept him out of action for a month, with his return coming on July 26th. When he came off of the injured list he came out swinging, and was a vastly different hitter than the one he was when he hit the injured list. In the second half he had 177 plate appearances – just 10 fewer than he had in the first half. He hit .273/.367/.448 in those second half games and cut his strikeout rate down to 18.6% – essentially what he did in the 2018 season, and a huge improvement over what he had done in the first half. Late in the year he also decided to give up switch hitting – focusing only on his left-handed swing.
As noted above, the strikeout rate, particularly in the first half, was a big problem. He corrected that in the second half, but for the season his strikeout rate was easily the worst of his career. Combine that with the juiced baseball in 2019, his OPS+ wound up being 82 – which was his lowest since the 2015 season when he was still a rookie. During the second half his OP+ was 109, which would have easily been the best of his career for an entire season. But during the first half it was just 54, which would have easily have been the worst of his career. Let’s take a quick look at how things really broke down:
In the second half of the year, Tucker Barnhart was one of the better hitting catchers in the entire game, falling just behind Yasmani Grandal, JT Realmuto, and Mitch Garver (who put up an insane 1.015 OPS in the second half for the Twins last year) in OPS+ during the second half among catchers during 2019.
What’s to come?
It seemed like the Reds were looking to upgrade the position during the offseason. But the actual number of true upgrades were small, and after losing out on Yasmani Grandal in free agency, it seemed Cincinnati took a look at a few other options but didn’t get too far down that rabbit hole. That leaves them with what feels like a Tucker Barnhart led platoon of sorts with Curt Casali again in 2020.
When it comes specifically to Tucker Barnhart, the 2020 season will be interesting. If he’s a lot more of the hitter that showed up in the second half of 2019, that’s going to be a very good thing for both Barnhart and for the Reds. Especially given that he’s a strong defender who also improved his framing behind the plate during the season, too. There’s a long track record for him that suggests he’s probably not that kind of hitter over the long haul of a full season – but he’s also still in that “prime years” range, too, so it wouldn’t be outlandish for him to have taken a step forward. That could especially be true given that giving up switch hitting will allow him to spend a little more time tuning in his natural left-handed swing.
Barnhart’s actually good behind the plate, and his (or perhaps the coaches’) decision to solely focus on left-handed batting may be a practical application.
A great post, anyway, Eric. Have some more coffee, and let’s all remember Mr. Swanson’s principle.
I think it’s a bit unfair these days to say Tucker isn’t producing, and then compare him to the best in the game.
There are a lot of teams who don’t have the best catchers in the game, and I bet what they do have is someone as good or worse than Tucker, without looking at the numbers. Otherwise, we would be hearing about them too.
Just take a look at Weiters…once elite, now barely hits over 200 and isn’t known behind the plate for much more than blocking.
I’ll take Tucker and Casali behind the plate and maybe an eventual call up of Stephenson to form this half of the battery.
I hope Tucker improves as he concentrates solely on his left-handed hitting. Solid abilities behind the dish generate significant value, so if he can get into the range of an average hitter (wRC+ of 100, which is higher than the average catcher; only about one quarter of them exceed that number), he would be a more valuable than average catcher. Given that he could essentially platoon with Casali, who hits left-handers better than average and is also solid behind the plate, the Reds would have better than average production from the position, and maybe could get into the top third of the league at the position – not amazing, but solid.
Important note: while his second half numbers were good, they were based upon a hot streak in July/August as he returned to the field. By September his hitting production was back in the dumps (wRC+ of 64).
Oblique injuries are really tough. Might be me, but they seem like they take a long time to calm done, heal and rehab.
No, you’re right. Very often oblique injuries are a 6 week minimum. Rehab must have been good for him Tucker though.
I am Ok with a platoon of Barnhart and Casali at catcher, but we still need to upgrade at SS. The Reds went into the offseason with three areas they needed to up grade 2B, SS and catcher. So far only 1 for 3. I think they have done well this year in improving the roster. I like the fact that they are signing a lot of relievers to minor league contracts, especially the number of left handers. Signing relief pitchers is about as much as a roll of the dice than any other position on the roster. I like the fact that they signed Miley as a left hander in the rotation. That they signed Akiyama to give depth to the OF, but we need to fill one more place in the lineup or once again, the 7’th, 8’th and ninety spots will just be black holes.
.708 OPS is not all-star level, but it’s not a black hole either. Galvis had a .734. I think we should be fair. A couple of years ago when the Reds had Hamilton and Peraza in the lineup, there was a problem. This is not that.
I understand what you are saying but Galvis’ 734 OPS was was 59 points above his career average. His BA was 260 and his OBP was only 296. I have no issue with Barnhart being the #8 hitter. He has consistently put together a decent OBP but his overall BA is iffy. The issue comes down to the times over the past couple years where he gets moved to the 5 or 6 hole. Having OK hitters in those spots is Ok if we are not planning on contending but for me this is the time when just OK is not OK.
Also agree. He was previously abysmal in the framing department, but he clearly worked and improved in that area. I wouldn’t yet call him good at it, but he is not the liability that he once was. I am sure our pitchers appreciated the strides he made, and their numbers are positively correlated with that improvement. I see the focus on left-handed hitting as a positive for him as well.
I’m in Indy and Tucker is on sports radio all the time here. Great guy, but don’t get why he’s just penciled in as a starter every year? Its like he’s the Andy Dalton of mlb.
if it turns out Tucker is our catcher and Galvis is our shortstop I think you almost have to bite the bullet and put one of them in the 2 hole and maybe move Joey down to the 7 or 8 hole, just to give us some pop at the end of the lineup
I like the Barnhart/Casali team as a predecessor to Stephenson. The current number one on the starting eight should be an upgrade at shortstop and then stability in centerfield.