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The Red Report 2020 - Tucker Barnhart

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The starting catcher.

Oakland Athletics v Cincinnati Reds
#WearAMask
Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

Fast Facts

  • Born January 7, 1991 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
  • No one good has every lived in Indianapolis. It’s true. Look it up.
  • Attended Brownsburg High School in neighboring Brownsburg, Indiana.
  • Was on the Brownsburg HS tennis team with Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward. I use this fact every year for Tucker, because I think it’s hilarious.
  • Was Indiana’s number one rated baseball prep back in 2009, when he graced the cover of ESPN’s RISE Magazine, which I assure you was a thing I knew about for a long time, uh huh.
  • Throws: Right Bats: Switch (well, maybe. Kinda, more on that in a bit).

Organizational History

  • Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 10th round of the 2009 amateur draft.
  • Made MLB debut for the Reds on April 3, 2014.
  • Signed a four year (2018-2021, 16 million dollar contract with the Reds in September of 2017. The deal includes a club option for 2022, valued at 7.5 million dollars.

Career Stats

Scouting Report


Source: FanGraphs

Source: FanGraphs

Source: FanGraphs
baseballsavant.mlb.com

Trucker Barnfart

AP

Projections

Fangraphs

Outlook

2020 is going to be weird for catchers.

I mean, it’s going to be weird for everyone. And “weird” is a relative term, of course, because it could mean anything from “messing up my routine” to “messing up my entire life” to “actually dying.”

But, in a normal baseball season, a catcher playing 60 games wouldn’t be nothing, even in the normal course of, you know, being a catcher. Which I can only imagine kind of sucks. I mean, of course a guy is going to need a day off here and there, even over 60 games. But that’s not going to wear on you like it would over 162 from March to September (and, hopefully more).

Barnhart played in 138 games in 2018.

But in the world of a pandemic and 60 game seasons and a universal DH and expanded rosters... things are just different. And it’ll be interesting to see how the Reds handle that. Given good health for both, Barnhart and Casali are able and willing to get the job done over the sprint of a short season.

The Tucker Barnhart that we see, however, is the biggest question. He’s the starting catcher. I don’t think there’s anyone on the team that doesn’t agree that he’s “The Guy” in that position group. He’s the best defensive catcher on the team (either by a lot, looking at his 2017 Gold Glove and dWAR, or a little, based on Fangraphs rating).

But, since his offensive breakout in 2017 (and the Gold Glove defense that earned him an extension), the Tucker Barnhart we’ve seen since is basically the same dude, and it’s been less than that.

I asked last year: could Barnhart shake off 2018 and get back to his 2017 ways? And the answer was a definitive no. Despite his AVG/OBP/SLG line looking pretty god damn similar, the relative league scores did him no favors. He finished 8 points worse in wRC+ and 6 points worse in OPS+. Relative to the league and a jumpy baseball, he had his worst offensive season as a regular.

Part of the reason is due to an oblique injury that cost him a month of the season (and borked his line for who knows how long before that). He went on the DL after a game against the Brewers on June 22, at which point he was hitting .200/.296/.321.

He came back July 26, against the Rockies, a changed hitter. The batting stance looked way different, in ways that we’ve seen with other Reds hitters (Aristides Aquino, most notably). In the 177 PA to end the season, Barnhart batted .273/.367/.448, a huge improvement than what he managed to begin the season.

He also ditched switch hitting in that time, deciding to focus primarily on being a left handed hitting batter. The decision, on paper, makes him less “versatile”, but it’s not like he made a ton of hay out of hitting LHP from the right side. He was, generally, not very good at it.

And that’s where this short, weird season comes into play. Curt Casali, a right handed batter, hits LHP at nearly a .800 OPS clip. With the “runner on 2nd” rule in extras, the universal DH, the expanded rosters, and the short season, there’s not a ton of reasons why the catcher has to be the last bat off the bench. These guys can be interchanged fairly easily and quickly in ways that maybe they couldn’t be in years past.

The time off to get healthy, the new swing, and the short season to let it all hang out may let Barnhart succeed in a way that he hasn’t since 2017. Let’s just hope we all get to see it.