The Musical Catchers: Barnhart Takes Two Years with the Cubs

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone wants a new hunter this holiday season. Between the free agency and the trading market, more than a third of the teams in the league have added to their catcher mix this off-season, and most of these moves have occurred in the past few weeks. Catchers are finding new homes so fast that my colleague Leo Morgenstern reported yesterday that the Mets had signed Omar Narváez and sold James McCann to Baltimore and Austin Hedges had signed a one-year deal with Pittsburgh, and then two more backstops that afternoon. signed. At Cincinnati, the Reds announced a deal with Curt Casali (and first goalie/outfielder Wil Myers) appointing Mike Moustakas for the task in the process. And elsewhere on NL Central, former Red and Tiger Tucker Barnhart continued their closest teams tour to his hometown of Indianapolis, joining the Chicago Cubs on a two-year, $6.5 million contract with a player option. season. Two-time Gold Glover will form a catch-up team with Yan Gomes after losing three-time All-Star Willson Contreras to rival Cardinals during the Cubs free agency era.

Barnhart has been successful in securing him a two-year warranty with a choice of players from Contreras (five years), Christian Vázquez (three), Narváez (two) and Barnhart, the eight free agent hunters who have signed major league deals this season. We’ve earned multi-year commitments. The other three are much more substantial add-ons, as reflected in their significantly higher overall contract values. But Barnhart may have had the extra motivation to lock down his second year—a few months on top of eight years of service, he enters that contract, reaching the 10-year service threshold that the Gamers Guild calls “the holy grail for gamers.” Of course, while money is guaranteed, uptime isn’t, but if Barnhart can stay healthy and productive enough to reach 10 years of service, his MLB pension will be fully deserved and hit an enviable milestone. This option adds another layer to the player friendliness – if Barnhart returns from a bad year 2022, he’ll have a chance to retest free agency next winter, when, to be fair, the catcher market can be busy once again.

For the Cubs, Barnhart is just one small piece of the puzzle in a busy off-season. The 31-year-old doesn’t offer much on the plate. In a team role for the Tigers, he has returned to the keystroke after hitting only the left side for more than two years, declaring career lows of .253 wOBA and 63 wRC+ this season. He’s always hit right-handed shots more adequately – 86 career wRC+ compared to 57 against lefties – so he fits comfortably on a team with right-handed Gomes. In a typical year, his defense is strong enough to offset his weak club – in 2021, for example, he was worth a career-high 1.2 WAR in 116 games despite wRC+ 80. Per year, Steamer forecasts 76 wRC+ and 0.9 WAR out of 78 games, predicting some regression to the average in 2023.


Year Games Crime Defense total war
2014 21 -4.4 1.5 -0.1
2015 81 -9.5 7.7 0.7
2016 115 -15.8 7.6 0.5
2017 121 -8.9 5.2 1.1
2018 138 -11.5 -8.4 -0.4
2019 114 -14 8.1 0.6
2020 38 -3.5 5.9 0.7
2021 116 -10.1 8.6 1.2
2022 94 -14.6 2.4 -0.2

In fact, most of its value comes not from standing behind the plate, but from crouching behind it. Barnhart’s defensive value throughout his career came mostly from three components: stolen base protection; rated by the rGFP metric, which measures above-average recorded runs in good field games, including field blocking; and perhaps most interestingly, in the narrative of his career, his field framing. In 2018, Barnhart was second-to-last among all major league hunters at -14.5 frame runs (FRM) above average. The Reds realized the situation and got to work together. “I’ve heard some things that I’m not a very good framer, but I wasn’t sure where my number was,” Barnhart said. AthleticC. Trent Rosencrans. “When I speak [Reds catching coach] JR [House] We came up with a game plan to get me in the top 10 in the frame, and I laughed a little and said, ‘This is going to be a big leap.’”

Barnhart hesitated to make the top 10, but finished 16th in the majors with an above-average 4.1 runs, an impressive year-over-year improvement by any measure. Measurements of Fielding Bible’s rSZ and Statcast’s catcher framing runs showed similarly dramatic improvements. It stayed well above average in 2020 and 21 before declining marginally last year, but in the better frame years, the impact on its overall value is clear – if Barnhart and Cubs can figure out how to make their improvements sustainable, it will pay off. all staff.

Tucker Barnhart’s Framing Metrics

Year FRM rSZ Catcher Framing Studies
2014 -1.8 -one
2015 1.9 0 one
2016 -3.4 -2 -4
2017 -9.7 -9 -10
2018 -14.5 -9 -18
2019 4.1 2 2
2020 1.6 2 one
2021 2.4 2 5
2022 -2.3 -5 -3

SOURCE: FanGraphs, Baseball Information Solutions, Statcast

Here are some of the Barnhart post-transition goodies, from Opening Day 2019, the first major league game after working on framing:

Barnhart has also been a skilled defender against stolen bases – as of 2016 alone JT Realmuto has cut more than 140 base stealers from Barnhart, with a steal percentage of 29.4% since the 2020 season, ninth out of 51 catchers . At least 800 hits were caught. Interestingly, his ability to kick out runners seems to come more from a 0.68-second changeover time, not a particularly good pop time (32 percent in 2022) or strength of his arm (61st among 84 eligible catchers this year). Ranked 11th in the qualifiers. The Cubs allowed the third most-played bases in baseball in 2022 – we can expect this to evolve as Barnhart teams up with Gomes, who is quite similar to Barnhart in this skill set.

Chicago Cubs Stolen Base Prevention

actor Arm barter Pop Time (2D) CS % (since 2020)
Tucker Barnhart 79.3 0.68 1.99 29.4%
Yan Gomes 79.4 0.68 1.97 29.5%

SOURCE: Statistics

Statistical metrics using the 2022 average.

Earlier this week, the Cubs hosted a press conference promoting Dansby Swanson as their short stop for the foreseeable future. In the previous two weeks, they’ve added the middle of the rotation arm to Jameson Taillon (although the front of the rotation remains a concern), re-signed Drew Smyly, got a flyer for Cody Bellinger in the center, and bolstered a weak bullfight. Brad Boxberger. As a result, they’ve invested over a quarter billion dollars this month in improvements, and as of Thursday night, they’ve added 9.3 projected WARS to their 2023 club, including Barnhart’s 0.9 – the fourth-most team this summer season.

Despite a strong second half last season and an impressive and expensive off-season, the Cubs still don’t look ready to compete for a league title. In our depth charts estimates, the Cubs starting players are 23rd and the arena is 28th, they still have some major issues with corner home positions and a pretty significant drop from a Barnhart/Gomes platoon, Contreras and Gomes. But hey, that level of spending suggests Jed Hoyer (and the Ricketts) are intent on turning the ship after their first double-losing season since the 2016 World Series. And now we live in three Wild Card worlds – a few things go wrong and the Cubs could definitely find themselves playing for one of those spots.

In the meantime, if you’re in line to get a catcher this season, stay tuned! Remarkably, there are still catchers, including Gary Sanchez, Roberto Perez, Jorge Alfaro, and the surprising Phillies postseason influencer Kevin Plawecki. While the Blue Jays theoretically have the surplus to trade with Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno, they may have decided that the market was too saturated to get the returns they wanted. Arizona’s Daulton Varsho has been a popular name at the mill of trade rumors, but after leading all baseball with 18 outfield OAAs last year – starting 18 games a bowl back – most of his catch-up days may be over. The catcher carousel may be slowing down soon, but there are deals yet to be made.

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