Fixing J.P. Arencibia | Baseball | CBC Sports

MLBFixing J.P. Arencibia

Posted: Friday, June 14, 2013 | 02:02 PM

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Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia strikes out in about a third of his plate appearances, and makes an out in three of every four trips to the dish. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press) Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia strikes out in about a third of his plate appearances, and makes an out in three of every four trips to the dish. (Kathy Willens/Associated Press)

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After a flawed-but-promising rookie season in 2011, it was easy to think that, with a few adjustments, J.P. Arencibia could become a star. It hasn't happened. Instead of progressing, Arencibia seems to be getting worse.
I've always liked J.P. Arencibia. Guys with power are easy to like. Catchers with power are that much better, since it's a position where there aren't a lot of great offensive players.

In his rookie season in 2011, the Toronto Blue Jays catcher hit .219/.282/.438 (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) with 23 home runs in 129 games. It was easy to think that, with normal progression, as he learned the pitchers in the majors, as he learned to take a few more walks and bring the batting average up, that he could one day become an All-Star.

It hasn't happened. Instead of progressing, in most areas, Arencibia seems to be getting worse.

At the moment, he ranks second from the bottom among major-league catchers with a 0.0 WAR (wins above replacement). More worrisome is that his walk rate keeps dropping. In his rookie season of 2010, he walked 7.4 per cent of the time, pretty close to the league average of 8.5 per cent. Last year his walk rate dropped to 4.8 per cent. This season, it's 2.5 per cent. That's the second-lowest walk rate in the major leagues, among players with 200 or more plate appearances. It's unacceptable.

The problem with walking that little is that opposing pitchers know you won't take a walk, so why should they throw you something over the plate when they know you are willing to chase unhittable pitches? Pitchers will make mistakes and leave hittable pitches out over the plate occasionally, which has helped Arencibia to hit 12 home runs this season, but if you show you won't chase, pitchers will have to throw over the plate more and give you more pitches you can hit.

Yet, Arencibia seems to wear the "I don't walk" label with pride. He tells us that he doesn't need to walk, that he is an RBI guy. The trouble is that if you chase pitches and strike out, you can't drive in runs.

Hit and miss

This season Arencibia has swung at 38.9 per cent of pitches outside of the strike zone, compared to a league average of 29.2 per cent. He has made contact with these pitches 53.9 per cent of the time, compared to a league average of 63.3 per cent. So he swings at pitches off the plate far more often than most players, and he misses those pitches more often as well. Not a good combination.

Arencibia's strikeout rate is also climbing. In his rookie season he struck out 27.4 per cent of the time, much higher than the league average of 17.5, but with a power hitter we expect some strikeouts. Last year his strikeout rate was 29.0 per cent, and this year 32.2 per cent.

Getting on base is important. Arencibia's on base percentage in his rookie year was .282, well below the league average of .327, but he was a rookie and we expected improvement. Last year it was .275. This year he's at .233, dead last in the majors among players with at least 200 plate appearances. That means he makes an out 77 per cent of the time he comes to the plate.

How about defensively? This season, Fangraphs rates him as the worst defensive catcher in the game, among full-timers. I'm always a bit skeptical of defensive rating systems for catchers, but the eye test tells us much the same story. Arencibia hasn't thrown out a lot of base stealers this season. He doesn't look the smoothest behind the plate. It's a small thing, but far too many times we've seen him crossed up by a pitch, where it seemed like he thought a different pitch was coming and he whiffed on the catch. That shouldn't be happening at this level. And he isn't great at blocking pitches in the dirt.

Pitch calling? Handing pitchers? That's tough to judge. I have no problems with his pitch calling. And apparently he has become better at framing pitches. His pitchers are getting more strike calls on borderline pitches than they have in the past. But, watching him, I really don't see the improvement. Far too often, he still has his glove moving at the moment he catches the ball.

What should Alex do?

Is there anything the Jays can do, besides hoping that Arencibia suddenly gets better?

When Henry Blanco was the backup catcher, he was so bad offensively that Arencibia had to play every day, except when knuckleballer R.A. Dickey started. Now that Josh Thole is the backup, I'd like to see the Jays go to more of a 50/50 usage at catcher. Thole, a left-handed batter, has shown an OK bat in the past with the Mets and looks to be a pretty good defensive catcher. He should play against most right-handed pitchers.

The other thing Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos could consider is sending Arencibia down to the minors to work on his swing. The Jays have had amazing results doing that with Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion. Both were so bad that the Jays exposed them to waivers. Any team in baseball could have picked them up for free, and no one did. Now they're important parts of the team.

Maybe it's time to do the same with Arencibia. Try some tough love. Tell him to go down to the minors, fix his swing, learn not to chase pitches off the plate, and then he can come back.

I don't know if that's the answer, but Arencibia has to improve. Otherwise, the Jays must look at making a change behind the plate if they hope to contend.

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