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.