A Catching Conundrum

Ron Washington in 2014 has been given a completely new lineup structure from what he had to work with in 2013. Last year’s struggles with driving in runs was well documented and it’s safe to say that it has been properly addressed during this off-season. It has been written and talked about at length this winter about the increased power we will see in Arlington this summer, but one position that is usually left out of the conversation among local media are the catchers. 
J.P. Arencibia and Geovany Soto will share the catching duties to start the 2014 season and both are among the league worst at contact percentage. The swing and miss is a big part of their game at the plate and it is something of a major concern for Ron Washington. Being a baseball coach in this area allows me at times to hear some phenomenal speakers talk about the great game and this past winter was no different. I had the opportunity to hear Mike Maddux break down the process him and his staff goes through when preparing for upcoming opponents and he used several hitters to illustrate the process. Using heat maps and other graphics, Maddux showed us how he would prepare a scouting report for several hitters around the league. One of those hitters he discussed was recently acquired (at that time) catcher J.P. Arencibia. Maddux showed us some graphics that highlighted Arencibia’s inability to hit pitches off the plate away and his penchant for swinging at breaking pitches down in the count. The meat of the scouting report from Maddux was that Arencibia was a guy who could hit the ball a long ways, but the swing and miss was such a big part of his game the pitchers primary job was to just keep it out of the middle of the plate or in and they would be fine. When discussing Soto the past few years everyone points to his 1998 season and wonders when he will return to that form. He had what I guess you could call a bounce back year in 2013, but he still has yet to show the overall game he displayed as a rookie in 1998 with the Chicago Cubs that helped him land the Rookie of the Year honors that season.

Since 2010 among all qualified catchers, Arencibia (3rd) and Soto (5th) are in the bottom five of 27 catchers in both leagues in contact percentage at the plate. Arencibia has made contact only 72.9% of the time with Soto only connecting at 74.8 percent. This number alone isn’t a concern as long as the hitter is able to maximize the contact when they do connect. Say what you want about the legitimacy of BABIP (Batting Average for Balls in Play), but if you have a low contact percentage it’s imperative that when the hitter does make contact something productive happens. Using the same group, from 2010-2013 the lowest BABIP among qualified catchers from both leagues belongs to J.P. Arencibia (.250). Geovany Soto is ninth with a BABIP of .281, which is just slightly below former Ranger catcher A.J. Pierzynski (.285). If you need another number to make you leery of our catching platoon this season, Arencibia leads that same group of catchers in strikeout percentage from ’10-’13 with a 30.1% and Soto is fifth at 24.4%. So, Arencibia and Soto don’t make a lot of contact when they swing and Arencibia doesn’t do much with it when he does make contact AND they strike out a bunch. Why in the world are the Rangers going with these guys this season then?

Arencibia has the ability to hit the ball a long, long ways. Much like Mike Napoli, he will swing and miss (Mike Napoli has the most strikeouts among qualified catchers since 2010) a bunch, but Arencibia also has the ability to drive in runs via the long ball. J.P. has hit 64 homeruns since 2010 (5th among all catchers) and with what the Rangers have done this off-season in addressing their lack of power in 2013, it makes perfect sense why Arencibia fits for this season. Soto has hit 54 homers during the same stretch and is 12th of 27 qualified catchers. Much like we got used to the Ian Kinsler pop up, it appears that Rangers fans better get used to the J.P. Arencibia and Soto strikeout, but hopefully their ability to drive the ball out of the park on occasion will be enough to give this lineup what it needs to be a contender in 2014.

Jeff Johnson

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