You could pretty much say that about any player on any team at this point, seeing as Spring Training is in full swing, and reporters are full-on in justify-my-existence-to-my-employers mode, but there has been a wealth of stuff written about incumbent Jays starting catcher JP Arencibia over last week, and not all of it is terribly good– though it’s certainly not all bad, either.
Let’s have a quick review:
At FanGraphs they rolled out their firsta set of positional power rankings today, starting with backstops, placing the Jays Arencibia/Mathis duo in the bottom third, at number 21.
“The Blue Jays are in a tricky position as far as catchers go, as Arencibia is a starter with offensive limitations and d’Arnaud is the up-and-comer in need of some more minor league seasoning,” they write. “While Arencibia is certainly a useful starter, red flags are raised when no projection system thinks he is capable of OBP’ing over .300.”
They add that 2012 should be an interesting year of development at the position for the Jays, as Arencibia needs to take another step, both offensively and defensively, before he’s going to look like the long-term solution.
Specifically, on defense the refer to a prime piece of Ashby Bait, which is the inclusion of catcher pitch blocking stats– as based on some outstanding work from Bojan Koprivica at the Hardball Times- on the FanGraphs leaderboards, and Arencibia’s weak showing among his peers.
In RPP– a stat measuring the number of runs above or below average a catcher is at blocking pitches– Arencibia finished 34th out of 36 catchers with more than 500 innings caught in 2011, six runs below average.
But Arencibia insists that 2011 was just the beginning of his development as a big league catcher, and he’s confident that he can place himself among the best, if he isn’t there already, according to a Canadian Press article, as printed in the Globe and Mail.
“I see myself in it right now. I don’t care what anyone has to say,” he tells Noah Trister, referring to a TV in the clubhouse showing a program counting down the top ten catchers in the game. “Not a lot of catchers have done what I’ve done in my first year, and it’s only going to get better.”
“I would say defensively, you’ve got to learn your pitchers, you’ve got to learn the hitters in the league, so I think that’s the biggest adjustment,” Arencibia explained. “That experience — there’s nothing that takes the place of being able to have that experience. I think a year with the pitching staff, a year more around the league, is going to be beneficial.”
Back at FanGraphs, Bradley Woodrum wonders if maybe we’re got giving the 26-year-old enough credit– at least those of us who aren’t giving him anywhere fucking near the credit he gives himself.
“Not only has he shown some early promise, but he also comes with a solid pedigree,” Woodrum says, noting that Arencibia was the Jays’ number three prospect on the list Marc Hulet did for the site in 2011.
“A recent piece from Jeff Zimmerman (Effects of Intentional Walks on Non-Intentional Walks),” Woodrum writes, “got me thinking — with serious homerun power like Arencibia has, wouldn’t pitchers start tender-footing around him? Wouldn’t his 23 homer — if’n he can sustain that power in 2012 — encourage his walk rate to go up?”
He then takes a look at the rookies and second-year players since 1961 who hit more than 20 home runs while sporting a sub-.300 on-base, as Arencibia did. It’s a short and weak list– just ten players long, who averaged cumulatively a wRC+ of 96 for their career– and Arencibia is the only backstop among them.
“Since 1961, catchers have averaged an 88 wRC+, so 96 is actually 8 percentage points above the catcher average,” Woodrum later adds. But not before doing something perhaps more interesting: changing the criteria to, instead of rookies and second-year players, include simply all catchers who have posted 20 HR, sub-.300 OBP seasons. On this list, Arencibia suddenly finds himself in much better company.
Johnny Bench. Carlton Fisk. Gary Carter. Lance Parrish.
Obviously it’s a giant stretch to suggest that Hall of Fame heights are in store, but it certainly puts more of a shine on Arencibia’s offensive potential, doesn’t it? Expecting his OBP will at least improve somewhat on his rookie season, Woodrum points to his weakness for out-of-the-zone cutters and changeups, which he chased 38% and 39% of the time, respectively, in 2011, as the area where he most needs to improve.
“If he can master those changes and cutters — that is, just ignore them when they go flitting by for a ball — then he might somehow aspire to the heights of some of his more illustrious catching brethren. And then, no doubt, JPA would be cleared for takeoff.”
Of course, there’s no way anybody should be confused about the significance of picking out off-years of some of the greats (and Lance Parrish) and trying to read what their similarities tell us about what to expect from Arencibia. Still… those are the kinds of lists you want to see your young catcher on. And all the Arencibia-hopefuls will be quick to tell you, look at what he did the last time he repeated a level. Personally, I’ll believe he can do more when I see he can do more, but… fuck, it’s spring! How can you not at least be a little bit hopeful?