Jun 28, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz (34) is tagged out at home plate by Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia (9) during the third inning at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Dispelling myths about J.P. Arencibia's defense

When I started this post it was intended to be Sunday’s Blue Jays Morning Brew, which is for those of you not familiar our daily digest with shared stories about the best news and rumours about the Jays. But I guess due to the return of the Maple Leafs to Hockey Night in Canada last night it would appear as if most of the mainstream media here in Toronto took the day of covering the Blue Jays.

However the lack of content won’t be enough to stop us. Instead I’m going to (briefly) look at one article from another blog (not specific to the Blue Jays) that irked me enough to do some counter-research of my own.

Thom Tsang at Rants Sports (sorry Thom) asked his readers yesterday if it would be a good idea for the Blue Jays to bring John Buck back to Toronto. The articles states that the 33-year-old Buck would “more than likely be a significant defensive upgrade” compared to current Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, which I have a difficult time agreeing with.

Tsang writes that Buck has “never put together a below-replacement season” but if you isolate the more advanced defensive metrics (which admittedly aren’t great for catchers) Buck has had more negative dWAR season than positive ones. Arencibia led the league with 13 passed balls this year and has a total of 34 in the past three so his problems are relatively obvious. But if you look beyond the passed ball numbers, the relatively athletic Arencibia has a big-time edge over Buck in defensive runs saves (DRS), which is as Baseball-References states “is the most sophisticated public system available.” According to Baseball Info Solutions, Arencibia was worth two defensive runs above average while Buck was ten runs below average. It should also be noted that passed balls are more heavily weighted in FanGraphs definition of WAR as they do not use the more favourable DRS, which adds things like bunt fielding, pitch framing and SB/CS data tweaked by the pitchers caught to the equation. Neither player has a cannon for an arm and career-wise have both thrown out about a quarter of the players that have attempted to run.

I’m not trying to say that by any means Arencibia is a good defensive player. He’s made his fair share mistakes in the field (the worst probably being this Little League defense) and doesn’t do a very good job protecting home plate from base runners. But it wasn’t all bad from J.P. on defense – Mop Up Duty reported earlier in 2013 that Arencibia was turning more balls into strikes than any other catcher in baseball.

Where Arencibia really hurt the Blue Jays was at the plate, not behind it. Only three players (Alcides Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, and Darwin Barney) had as many plate appearances as J.P. and put up a worse wRAA. Buck gets more base more frequently than Arencibia (like every other player in MLB) but for the most part they are very much the same player – right-handed hitting catchers with big pop and poor contact but neither is great defensively. Plus JPA is younger, cheaper and still under team control at least for now.

Do the Toronto Blue Jays need more production from behind the plate next season? Absolutely. But would John Buck be a “significant defensive upgrade?” When you take into consideration all of the factors that make for a good defensive catcher I would probably argue to Blue Jays would be worse off with John Buck in 2014.

*Side note: Gregg Zaun led MLB in RPP during 2009 but didn’t catch enough total innings to qualify. RPP is a stat used by FanGraphs to calculate how many runs above or below average a catcher is a blocking pitches. So although Zaunie couldn’t throw anybody out stealing second, he sure was good at keeping the ball in front of him.

All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com.

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Tags: J.P. Arencibia Toronto Blue Jays

  • Justin Jay

    There’s really no defense for JPA’s defense. Bringing Buck back would be like having another JPA. It’s funny, because when JPA was coming up through the Jays farm system, he reminded me a lot of Buck back when he was coming up throught the Astros farm. Check out those numbers some time.

    Fact is, JPA’s arm wasn’t as “awful” as everyone says… it’s, like you said, not good enough to merit him to be a starter with the offensive woes that plague him. Combine that with not being able to receive the ball well, he’s either a back-up catcher at best right now, or not a catcher at all and 1B or DH is in his future if the bat comes around.

  • brad

    The difference is in the game calling. John Buck is a much better game caller than Arencebia is. I know DRS takes that into account but it also heavily weights cockamamie stats like pitch framing and bunt fielding(Arencebia had 49 assists all year. If he is 300% better than Buck at fielding bunts/squibs that’s still only 30 singles over a full season….in other words, not significant in the least).

    John Buck is a superior game caller and pitch blocker. Being a former catcher myself, I spend a lot of time trying to figure out just what catchers are doing while watching games(generally thinking I do a reasonably good job at it…. subject to the usual variations)…. and my conclusions on JP this season from the armchair were less than flattering. I think the reason he leads(or was leading at least) in “stolen” strikes is because he won’t move the glove off the outside corner. I would bet the house that JP was thrown the most “frame-able” pitches in the MLB this year….by a lot. You get a lot more chances to frame when a pitcher is trying to paint and to his credit, JP is reasonably proficient at it (using the sway and turning his wrist and rather than “yanking” the ball)…. but Jays pitcher were ALWAYS trying to paint this year. The outside corner is the most effective place to pitch but if you go there too much, 2 things happen: 1) hitters who can’t normally hit that pitch look for it and start to hit it better and 2) pitchers fall behind in the count because you aren’t attacking the zone…. which means a lot of walks and a lot of juicy 3-1 and 2-0 pitches that the hitter knows are coming. It’s no coincidence that blue jays starters were bad with both walks and HRs.

    You can’t pin a rotation’s under performance on the catcher but don’t be fooled into thinking that JP wasn’t also one of the worst defensive catchers in the game. When a good catcher’s pitcher gets in trouble he pulls him through it. Look at Gray for Oakland last night. he looked like he was in trouble in the top of the 5th. He lost his fastball command because it was moving too much on him. Vogt went out and talked to him, told him where his ball was moving and started putting his glove where the pitches break-point should be rather than where the ball should end up. Gray’s command did not get any better but his catcher put the glove in the right spot to get his fastball to the corner. Result? got out of the 5th and 3 more scoreless. Series tied 1-1.

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      Great point about game-calling, one that I failed to address. Watching I would agree that JPA fell into a predictable pattern calling games and it certainly didn’t help the pitching staff.

      • brad

        Yeah. Compared to what he does at the plate he’s a genius behind it though….. which is a sad commentary in itself…

  • Bob Loblaw

    I really think JPA’s ceiling is higher than he’s shown. I posted over at bluebirdbanter that a defensive catcher is required, but really what I should have said was a defensive upgrade who can get on base. Someone who can call a good game, let the pitchers feel confident in who they’re working with, and throw out the odd base runner, as opposed to next to none.

    From where I stand, not all, but some of JP’s troubles start with bad judgment calls. He has things to work on, ie plate discipline, and he can take the whole 2014 season to do that in the minors. Send him a message. The strikeouts matter.