Toronto Blue Jays v. Texas Rangers

Let’s all agree on one thing: J.P. Arencibia is a divisive figure among Blue Jays fans. He’s a fan favorite for what some might call the “wrong” reasons. His popularity outstrips his productivity by most measures, but the popularity game is not always won on the field of play.

Arencibia is off to a…strange start to 2013. Hitting for power like never before, currently sitting second in the AL with nine home runs. He’s also making outs like never before – quite an accomplishment for a man who entered 2013 with a .275 on base percentage. More than anything, Arencibia is a frustrating player to watch. The power is nice — using all fields is a welcome offensive adjustment as noted by Mop Up Duty earlier this year — but the approach, the complete inability to draw a walk, is troubling. Two walks against 42 strikeouts? That is downright unpleasant.

Somewhere north of unpleasant was J.P. Arencibia striking the big blow in last night’s epic comeback against the Rays, smacking the go-ahead home run in the ninth off Fernando Rodney. That was nice and not the first big hit by Aaron Cibia this season. After his heroics in the 9th, it is easy to forget that J.P. Arencibia didn’t start last night’s game, he was on the bench in favor of backup Henry Blanco.

Manager John Gibbons said the move was made in an attempt to “get (Mark) Buehrle going” which is a totally loaded statement for somebody with an agenda (such as myself). It isn’t fair to infer that Gibby believes Blanco is the superior defensive catcher to Arencibia. It is also not crazy and possibly not wrong.

At first blush, this hasn’t been a great year for Arencibia behind the plate. Nobody came off worse during the Opening Day fiasco than Aaron Cibia, allowing passed balls while trying to contend with the knuckleball. He appears crossed up more often than the starting catcher of a big league team should, struggling to get on the same page with the million or so pitchers he’s caught already this year. This is a guy who lacks a sterling defensive reputation to begin with.

There are many facets to the catcher’s defensive game: throwing, blocking balls, pitch framing, whatever. Anecdotally, Arencibia struggles in this realm. Most refer to him as a “poor” defensive catcher, including the Fangraphs defensive metric which views him negatively early in 2013. Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus does a weekly pitch framing wrap-up, noting that “Arencibia rates as a very poor receiver” due to his technique.

The BP post includes the below GIF, featuring Arencibia butchering a ball he clearly expected to behave differently than it did. Crossed up, we can safely say.

Courtesy of Baseball Prospectus

The post also includes another GIF of Arenciba beautifully receiving and framing a borderline pitch, getting the strike call he desperately needed (I assume.) While the ugly miscues stand out when JPA is behind the plate, is there a chance he isn’t so bad as a pitch framer?

ESPN Stats & Info complies reams of data, and it says maybe Arencibia is redeemable as a pitch framer yet. Though he doesn’t rate on Lindbergh’s leaderboard, the Blue Jays as a staff actually fair well in some measures we could attribute to receiving skills.

As a staff, the Toronto Blue Jays rank fourth among all 30 teams for called strikes on pitches thrown outside the zone. Only the Rays, Brewers, and Red Sox have strikes called outside the zone at a greater rate. The Rays and Brewers employ Jose Molina and Jonathan Lucroy, two of the most acclaimed pitch framers in the biz. As a group, Jays pitchers see their pitches inside the zone called for strikes at the league average rate and get calls on the black at a league average rate.

If we include last season as well, the Jays are still above-average but only slightly. In 2013, Casey Janssen is the most frequent recipient of borderline calls, with Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle receiving the most calls overall.

Does it mean anything? Maybe not. All I know is J.P Arencibia is the man behind the plate for the bulk of these calls so, just maybe, J.P. Arencibia isn’t the worst pitch framer in the business. Maybe he’s good? It isn’t to say there isn’t much work to do on his defense nor does mean he’s any easier to figure out. He’s bad, but maybe not that bad? He’s maybe not so bad that he and his prodigious power can’t play every day on a good team?

These aren’t bad questions to ask of the Jays starting C, as the Jays commitment to the University of Tennessee product suggests he isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Might as well do what we can to figure out exactly what he is and what he isn’t while he’s here.

Comments (63)

  1. Wasn’t it Gibby who said this about J.P. Arencibia after the game?….

    Hey, man, you don’t talk to J.P. Arencibia. You listen to him. The man’s enlarged my mind. He’s a poet-warrior in the classic sense.

    I mean, sometimes he’ll, uh, well, you’ll say “Hello” to him, right? And he’ll just walk right by you, and he won’t even notice you. And suddenly he’ll grab you, and he’ll throw you in a corner, and he’ll say “Do you know that ‘if’ is the middle word in life? ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you’…

    • The heads. You’re looking at the heads. I, uh – sometimes he goes too far, you know – he’s the first one to admit it!

  2. He’s THAT bad defensively, but the HRs and clutch production are enough to say he deserves a heavy workload considering what the Jays have in their system at C.

    That being said, if I could convince another team to look at that shiny HR total and give me a talented young player in return I wouldn’t hesitate, provided I had a solid defensive C in the system or up my sleeve via trade to replace him.

  3. Not a fan of this guy at all. Totally overrated by the fanbase and media (he is buds w them after all, right blair?). Doesnt walk, k’s a ton, has poor ABs, poor pitch framing. His only two assets are power and strong arm. Shitty ballplayer.

  4. I noticed this at the beginning of this year, and a little bit last year too. Arencibia has a reputation for being horrible defensively, but he really isn’t that bad. He’s got a decent arm, he’s gotten much better at framing pitches, he’s not terrible at blocking pitches in the dirt (he’s gotten less lazy as he’s matured)….and he totally fucking blows at catching throws from the outfield but oh well.

    Also, Rays have Molina, Brewers have Lucroy, and Red Sox have Ross/Fenway Park’s strike zone. Fourth is pretty good.

    • He either has poor fundamentals or poor concentration or both. He makes too many elementary mistakes. He somehow hasn’t learned how to properly take throws at home plate to tag out baserunners, as the Sean Rodriguez play demonstrated so perfectly. He makes too many mistakes of the type that a competent Little League coach drills out of kids by the time they turn 14.

  5. I always remember what he costs when I think about him. He costs about 1/40th of what Buehrle costs.

    I also try to think about our history at catcher. JP is on pace to more than double the former record for HR by a Jays catcher. And how many truly great catchers have we ever produced from within our system (that spent any significant time with us)?

    And you can ask for more walks, but AA shut down Hayhurst pretty quickly when he was asking him about it: he said that expecting a guy to change his approach and get walks here at the major league level, when he has never really done that before is a waste of time. And let’s face it – if he did manage to get more walks it would probably be at the expense of his home runs.

    • He also costs you a better player in that roster spot, so it’s not entirely about the dollar vacuum. And AA is right that you probably can’t completely rework a guy to take more walks at this point, but that’s not exactly a point in his favour.

      • Okay, this is 90% probably impossible, but this approach would improve JPA’s game exponentially – only swing at complete meatballs. See a breaking ball going away but think you can get to it? Let it go, young man. See a fastball coming low at the knees? Later, alligator. Don’t hack at it unless you staring at a curveball starting off at chin level.

        It’s like an extreme version of the Lyle Overbay approach to hitting. Take almost every pitch until you get to two strikes, but then go ahead and keep taking pitches unless you see one you can blast. No singles allowed for JP anymore.

    • ” if he did manage to get more walks it would probably be at the expense of his home runs.”

      I don’t see how they correlate. If anything, if he drew more walks they’d be at the expense of striking out.

      • Would you trade the 9 homeruns for 9 walks?

        • Which do you think would be more sustainable, nine home runs per month or nine walks?

          • Neither goal is probably attainable with JP. That being said, I’d rather not have him clogging the bases batting 7th. Who is going to drive him in? Try and be happy with what he brings to the plate. If you want walks, bring up Thole. I’ll gladly trade one homerun for five walks from JP any dayof the week.

        • Any day. Twice on Sunday if JP could handle it

    • If AA said that, that is by far the DUMBEST thing I have ever heard. I don’t care if he never took walks before. It doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t now. But you’re right, as long as he hits homeruns! Who cares what his walks, K’s and OBP are!

      • Of all the fundamental offensive statistical categories, OBP correlates the most with runs scored (for teams). That’s why we care. Getting on base is “the clock”, and the more you get on base, the more you “slow down the clock”. It’s really that simple.

        Arencibia has to keep up this HR pace to remain a slightly above-average offensive performer, chiefly due to his low OBP. He won’t. That’s the problem.

  6. it’s not just his glove…. his pitch calling has also been terrible

    • While I want to agree, what expertise are you basing this on exactly? Most people that say this don’t even know what pitches most of the jays pitchers even throw. I would have to assume that guys like Buehrle, Johnson and Morrow aren’t being forced into throwing a pitch they dont want to.

      • Actually Buehrle depends on his catcher 100% for pitch selection. Never shakes the catcher off. Doesn’t watch video or read scouting reports. Just the way he does it.

      • I dont know how much of a game the catcher truly calls vs the pitcher (via shaking off the catcher and what not) but a perfect example of how it seems as though JPA isnt a great game caller was last week vs boston. Napoli was taking some massive swings at outside fastballs (from morrow I believe) and was running up the pitch count for his at bat. It was Jack morris..and apparently me, that morrow only needed to come inside one time and napoli would be meat. No..JPA continues to call outside pitches and napoli keeps fouling them off and barely missing them.

        finally JPA calls another outside pitch and morrow says “fuck it, im throwing it in anyway.: and napoli is meat.

      • I didn’t see JP call a single outside fastball 6 inches off the plate to a lefty hitter when Mike Everitt was umpiring. I wanted to strangle him.

  7. Seems to me there are two separate issues here. His failure to take walks and his defence. I assume his ability to hit the ball out of the park was made clear to his coaches at an early date and they emphasized ripping it over pitch selection. He’s hitting the ball hard and far, so for me I’m not as exercised over his inability to hold up as I am over Rasmus. Who cannot seem to stop himself flailing at every pitch anywhere near the plate and seems to make contact less often than JPA does. As far as defence is concerned, he’s not terrific or even particularly good. But at his position there is a lot to learn and I do have confidence that he’ll learn it. Or at least enough of it. I’m not gonna ding him for the Dickey Disaster. He’d never caught a knuckle-baller and I don’t think he should have been out there on Opening Day catching that one.

    • Rasmus has been impeccable defensively though.

      • Rasmus is excellent defensively. But he’s turning into Brad Fullmer at the plate and it’s a shame because he could be so much better if he hit selectively and didn’t try to get a home run every at-bat.

  8. McCown is literally talking about this right now. You scooped him, Drew!

  9. Chances blanco gets released soon?

  10. JPA is not going to have a 2% walk rate for the entire year.

    It’ll probably go to between 4-6% as per his history, while that slugging will likely come down somewhat and he’ll still strike out a lot. I’ve seen him take a least 2-3 borderline pitches at 3-2 for strikes already in the limited games I’ve watched – which would’ve increase his walk rate a few points in such a small sample size. I think he’s gotten unlucky and is not THIS bad in terms of plate discipline.

    I think he could improve on his offensive stats overall from the past two years, as many people in their third year of service have done before him. I think that pitches outside the zone called for strikes stat is pretty important, maybe he’s a somewhat-average and not-so-terrible receiver after all.

    If those two hypotheses of mine hold, 1) not being as terrible as frequently mentioned, 2) getting walk rate to 5-6% – and he maintains his power thus far at a decent rate – that is justification to maintain a fulltime (4/5 time) roster spot at least for a year or two.

    Not a guy who is going to get you into the playoffs, but I don’t think he’s one who’ll keep you from doing so.

  11. McCann is a free agent. If he can stay healthy, would be an interesting signing. JP would have to learn a little 1st, and DH, splitting duties with Edwin. This would likely end Linds tenure as a Jay, as McCann would replace his left handed bat. I’m just not sold on JP’s long term status behind the plate. He makes borderline pitches look horrible on a regular basis, and that hasn’t help the clubs pitching staff this year one bit.

    • McCann is a free agent at the end of the year.

    • Arencibia does not hit anywhere close to well enough to play first base or DH, though. He’ll hit a few mistakes out per year, and is otherwise absolutely awful.

      • This came up last year – while he doesn’t hit enough to be a GOOD DH, but he does provide offense at a minimal salary, so if there aren’t better alternatives it’s something you have to consider.

        • It’s not. He’s awful.

          • If your options are Arencibia at DH versus Mark DeRosa or Maicier Izturis at DH, it’s something you have to consider.

            But on the whole, yes, I’d probably rather trade pennies for some retread a la Hafner or Morales than make JPA an everyday DH.

          • 9 HRs. Not awful at all. And yes, that alone is enough to make him not awful, despite the lack of walks, all the strike-outs, etc. He is a better hitter than Adam Lind, our current DH. When he cools off, okay, fine, but for now, he’s hot as shit and he’s got 9 HRs! Enjoy it.

        • He’s an ok hitter for a catcher (sometimes) but would be a below replacement level DH

      • I know the Jays were looking to the future, but it would have been nice to have retained Jose Molina. Obviously he isn’t known for his bat, but as one of the best catchers in the game. JP is a catcher who weakness is his defense, but he is wildly inconsistent at the plate (watches two down the middle than lunges at a pitch a foot off the plate). If his bat, besides the homeruns and some timely clutch hitting, he is playing a position that is historically defence first, any offence is gravy, can we be a legit contender with that weakness behind the plate?

        • Ignore the “If his bat” part, kids wrecked my train of thought for a moment. McCann could demand good money, but he brings power, better framing skills, walks more, and has never struck out 100 times in a season. Try to trade JP for something useful.

      • If the statement “Arencibia should play first or dh” comes from someone in a baseball conversation, it’s at that point you should probably just be polite and stop arguing with them….

        I would be curious to see how his numbers would change (if at all) from going from catcher to a less energy taxing position… I am however, no where near curious enough to want to actually see it happen…

        • Who’s arguing, I was thinking out loud. He obviously isn’t a great option behind the plate.

      • I agree he has no business playing 1B or DH, but you keep circling back to the notion he is a mistake pitch hitter. What are you basing this off of?

  12. You don’t even need a byline, the comma splices alone tell me this is a Drew article.

    This is actually a huge issue: how does Arencibia affect the pitching staff? If there’s even a kernel of truth to the notion that the pitching staff needs a better caller/receiver, then I think you have to seriously consider it, no matter how much production Arencibia offers. That said, JP has made it clear that he has no interest in taking a backseat as far as catching goes, both in the media and in the clubhouse, and one gets the sense that if the Jays came and offered him a DH job there were be major fireworks.

    Anyways, at least he’s not Kevin Ahrens.

  13. Jays are 22nd in wOBA- last 14 days 15th. 28th in FIP -last fourteen days dead last.
    Rightly or wrongly, Walker is going to feeling some major heat if the rotation can’t get it’s shit together real quick. Romero wasn’t his fault, Dickey and Johnson are having physical issues and that’s not his fault either; however, you still can’t have your pitching staff bottom of the league for too long with a competitive team and keep your job long- you have to find a way or someone else will get a shot at it. Good luck, Pete!

    Catching is the least of the problems.

  14. Watching JP catch is painful.
    Balls bounce off his chest, chin and mitt like he’s in a Jenna Jamison movie.

    I like the power, I can accept what he is, though I’d like him to only catch the pitchers who aren’t struggling.

    Unfortunately right now, they’re all struggling.

    • I saw that as a catcher.

      Framing and game calling are so underrated. And they are things you don’t pick up on, on tv. There’s a reason guys loved throwing to Varitek even when he couldn’t hit a ball out of the batters box.

  15. Also,

    I used to eat Elmers Glue in high school. My family doctor told me I needed to quit it or I’d become an idiot. I said “like Forrest Gump stupid?”

    He replied “think Steve Simmons.”

    I never touched another drop.

  16. Let’s trade JPA for something….anything. There are a whole lot more catching stats that relect his lack of prowess, but the big one is that none of the Starters like him.

  17. Stoeten, aren’t you the guy that believes that making anecdotal observations about a guys play is for morons? There is hardly a reliable defensive metric for catchers ability to affect a pitching staff however, thereby making all of us commenters morons for having discussed this.

  18. JPA certainly is a divisive player for Jays fans – perhaps because there aren’t any catchers quite like him in MLB, so he’s hard to evaluate in totality.

    I think his crazy stats are due for some regression in both directions – he won’t slug like this all year, but hopefully he’ll get on base just a touch more. Would a .290 OBP and .460 SLUG be too much to hope for?

    My oversimplified opinion: Defensively, he’s not as bad as he *looks*, and offensively, he’s not as good as he looks. But in aggregate I’d call him adecent/average catcher, but no All Star. (JPA haters – can you name more than 8 AL catchers you’d rather have for 2013?)

  19. There’s actually a very simple way for the Jays to improve their catching.

    Trade JPA and platoon Josh Thole and Henry Blanco. Though it would be preferable to acquire someone like Kelly Shoppach to platoon with Thole.

    Thole appears to have done as much as he can in AAA to show he has recovered from the concussion he suffered last year. Hence, there really isn’t a good reason for JPA to be the everyday catcher anymore.

    Thole isn’t a great option by any stretch. But that just shows how useless JPA really is.

  20. JP behind the plate is what we used to call a Cluster. There, he can’t keep the ball infront of him.. cast in point the curve ball that just went by him.

  21. Overall there aren’t a ton of guys that wouldn’t benefit from some extra work. I’d like to see the Jays bring someone in to help JPA out behind the plate.

    My concern with the passed balls and the strikeouts is this: at which point do they undo his only current usefulness, that being hitting homeruns? Let’s get real – a power hitter is a feared hitter, and pitchers pitch around them. If he becomes patient, he’ll be a far better hitter. Somehow, they have to get through to him that sometimes, the best outcome in an at-bat might just be a walk, and he’d do well to take it.

  22. I really loved your blog.Thanks Again. Fantastic.

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