The Dodgers are preparing to enter the 2018 season with another season of a Yasmani Grandal and Austin Barnes catching tandem. That’s a good thing because both backstops are young talented catchers. If healthy Grandal should see the lion’s share of the playing time with Barnes serving as the backup again. But with Grandal’s history of injuries Barnes could see extra playing time in 2018.
The switch-hitting Grandal had a bit of a down year offensively but still held his own with the stick. Power is obviously his strength. Yaz blasted 22 home runs and drove in 58 runs in 482 plate appearances last season. His ISO power metric measured at .212 during the 2017 season. Of course those power marks dipped a bit from 2016 when he hit 27 home runs, drove in 72 and posted a .249 ISO mark. We can probably contribute that to injuries. Grandal caught 117 games in 2017 and we can likely expect him to catch about the same amount this year as well.
Grandal also does well at getting on base thanks to his above average plate discipline. However we also saw a decline in that category as well in 2017. Grandal slashed .247/.308/.459 and drew just 40 walks compared to his 64 free passes in 2016. Overall Grandal’s batting and on-base skills were roughly average (100 OPS+) in his 2017 campaign. His BB% dropped from 14.0% in 2016 to just 8.3% in 2017. His wRC+ also fell from 121 in 2016 to 102 in 2017. Grandal was just league average with the bat while displaying above average power.
Austin Barnes on the other hand had a breakout year in 2017. Barnes soared and the Dodgers rewarded his hard work by using him exclusively throughout their World Series run last October when various injuries namely hand bruise derailed Grandal’s playing time. Barnes played in 102 games, catching 55 of them. He also saw some time at second base as well.
The 28-year old posted a .289/.408/.486 slash line in 262 plate appearances. He hit 8 home runs and drew 39 walks while only striking out 43 times. Barnes posted an .895 OPS and a 137 OPS+ while also posting a 142 wRC+ in 2017. He was very productive and really came into his own last season. Unfortunately Barnes struggled during the postseason, but did go 4 for 8 with a home run in the NLDS against Arizona.
Both men have above average throwing arms. Grandal threw out opposing base runners at a 32% clip while Barnes tossed out would be base-stealers at a 23% mark last year. Grandal recorded three pick-offs as well.
Where Grandal truly shines is in his pitch framing abilities. As a matter of fact both catchers are two of the best at this in baseball. According to statcorner, a web site that calculates pitch-framing, Grandal was ranked as the second best pitch-framer in MLB. Grandal recorded 10.7% called strike percentage and picked-up an extra 142 calls last season. Hs RAA (Runs above average) rating is 18.9. Barnes ranked seventh with an 8.3 rating and 10.5% (ranked third) strike percentage.
Both catchers do come with some warts. Grandal is unable to stay healthy for an entire season. His batting skills have declined and he has trouble blocking the plate. Grandal led the National league with 16 passed balls. Barnes is inexperienced.
The catching depth behind Grandal and Barnes is not that great to be honest. The Dodgers do have a couple of young catchers that are still developing, like rookie Kyle Farmer. The youngster performed well in a brief September call-up, but might need some extra seasoning in the minors. Keibert Ruiz is highly rated and Will Smith seems to be climbing up the pipeline. After Grandal and Barnes, Farmer is the only other catcher on the 40-man roster.
The duo isn’t perfect, but their strengths far out-weigh their weaknesses. The Dodgers have two of the better catchers in the National League. If the Dodgers manage Grandal’s health closely and get him regular rest then they should get another strong productive year from both catchers behind the dish.