Things are going very well for the Dodgers right now. They have one of the best records in baseball (35-18) and have a 7 game lead in the National League west. They just came home after sweeping the Pittsburgh Pirates and seem to be headed for an easy cakewalk to their seventh consecutive National League Western division title. But let’s talk about the catching situation again.
That was somewhat of a hot topic during the slow offseason. The Dodgers offered a qualifying offer to Yasmani Grandal who rejected it. That enabled him to become an unrestricted free agent and he signed a one-year 18.25 million dollar pact with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Dodgers decided to go with Austin Barnes and trade acquired former catcher Russell Martin. The Dodgers have been using a combination of Barnes and veteran Martin behind the dish. If either of them are injured then they call up minor league journeyman and Mendoza line batting Rocky Gale.
The Dodgers do have two unproven catching prospects developing on the farm. Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz have yet to be considered for a promotion to the majors, leaving Gale the lone catcher with any MLB experience on the 40-man roster outside of Barnes and Martin. Recently Barnes had to leave Sunday’s game due to a strained left groin. With the Memorial Day holiday marking the quarter mark into the baseball season it’s a good time to review how the Dodger catching has been. Have the Dodger backstops been productive?
Barnes is slashing .231/.345/.393 with 4 home runs, 15 runs batted in and a 17/28 walk to strikeout ratio. Barnes turned in one of the worst seasons in recent memory for a Dodger catcher in 2018. This season he seems to be doing better. He’s raised his OPS+ from 72 in 2018 to almost league average (98) in 2019. That’s certainly an improvement and considering he hit only 4 home runs all of last year, his 4 home runs this season already means that he’s doing something right. He’s still not a great hitter but he can still get on base at a decent clip.
As for Martin, well he’s doing about as well as you could expect from a 35-year old aging veteran catcher with about a hundred thousand games on his body. He’s slashing .264/.397/.415 (14 for 53) with 2 home runs, and only 4 runs batted in. Martin has just 4 extra-base hits this season, but has walked 9 times and struck out only 14 in 68 plate appearances. That explains his sterling .397 OBP. Overall Martin has been pretty good without hitting for power or knocking in many runs. He can still give you some quality at-bats but don’t expect too much from him health-wise.
Overall the Dodger catchers (including limited time from Gale) rank tenth in MLB (in total WAR) 13th with a 98 wRC+, have registered a .232 batting average and have hit 6 home runs. They have one of the highest walk rates (11.7%) and rank at the top of the game in OBP.
The Dodger catchers are roughly average hitters with little power but can reach base via excellent plate discipline. That’s good, but how are they defensively? One of the main complaints about Grandal was his defensive issues behind the plate.
In defensive runs saved, the Dodgers rank eighth with 4. The Dodger catchers rank twelfth out of the 30 clubs in defensive efficiency. How are the Dodger catchers doing in the all important stat of framing? Barnes once a top-five framer has dipped to 16th this season. Russell Martin and Rocky Gale are way down on the list, but still in the top 75 or so. Meanwhile Grandal is still a top ten ranked framer. Overall the Dodger catchers are doing ok. They’re not super productive but they can get on base with superior plate patience and they’re defensive abilities and pitch framing are at least league average. I guess that’s about as good as we could have hoped for at the onset of the season. We’ll continue to keep an eye on the catchers and let’s hope for good health to all of them.