Should J.P. Arencibia remain Blue Jays starting catcher?

j.p. arencibia

Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia throws to second base on a stolen base attempt during the second inning at U.S. Cellular Field. Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been fairly obvious for some time now that the Toronto Blue Jays have three major areas that they need to improve – the rotation, catcher and second base. It seems that in theory it would be much easier to shore up what were black holes of production in the latter two areas but with some seemingly unmovable dead lumber sucking up the payroll (ahem… Ricky Romero) and a hole to fill at the top of the rotation the Blue Jays may not have the luxury of upgrading at two let alone all three positions. Trading or acquiring at catcher or second base, no matter how cheaply it can be done, still comes at a cost that may put further stress on what’s becoming a close to a tapped out farm system and payroll.

Catching is probably a bigger priority than second base and the Jays can’t afford to give J.P. Arencibia 497 plate appearances again next season. Based on recent comments from GM Alex Anthopoulos for whatever reason he doesn’t see Arencibia as a back-up option, which I think is a better fit for his skill set. I’m not sure if it’s a personality thing or not but I don’t understand why the Jays would limit themselves to starter-or-bust mentality with Arencibia. They could try to trade him (for what, I’m not sure) or even non-tender him but even as bad as Arencibia has been it’s basically unthinkable to let an under 30 catcher who played 138 games for your team last season walk for nothing.

j.p. arencibia

Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia goes after a foul pop up against the Baltimore Orioles at Rogers Centre. Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Many fans and critics may not like the idea but despite my earlier comments I have a feeling that the Jays will be forced to trot out Arencibia in some kind of role during 2014. There’s hope he can return to the one win player he was before last year’s debauchery, which Steamer actually projects from the soon-to-be 28-year-old catcher. A 1.0 fWAR would still would only put him 40th among 2014 catchers based on current projections but unless the Jays want to significantly overpay they can probably only afford to buy one more win this off-season behind the plate given assumed salary constraints. An added win is an added win but if ownership draws a hard-line in the sand adding even modest value at catcher could mean losing out on a three or four-win pitcher(s). And in my opinion the Jays could add potentially five to six wins with the right starting pitching acquisitions this off-season, which would be very expensive but ideally only one player would be a commitment of more than two years. Even one three-win pitcher would be a huge improvement over the replacement level players the Blue Jays were putting on the mound on a regular occurrence in 2013 to go along with improved back-end depth that I will get to shortly.

I may be reaching with my assumption that Arencibia will avoid being a negative WAR player and I completely understand the argument that he’s basically a replacement level player (or worse) that needs to go. But at $2.8 million, which is what MLBTR predicts his arbitrated salary to be, if he does provide you with a win behind the plate it’s not horrible value. The Jays could still choose to upgrade and still keep Arencibia on the roster if both parties were okay with the idea of having him as a back-up. Unless he’s historically awful two season in a row, which I admit could very well happen, he may not be the complete dead-weight that he was in 2013. Even if the Jays don’t make a move if they just give Arencibia less at bats and (reaching even further) if Josh Thole can pose at least some semblance of a major league baseball player the Jays could maybe even get two or three wins from the position next season (Steamer is predicting 1.8 from the pair). It’s not much but there’s probably only another extra win available on the free agent market and a trade for a catcher would most likely involve losing at least one prospect that could be needed later on to better the chance of acquiring a starting pitcher.

Arencibia has holes in his game without a doubt. But I personally feel that many of his failings are mental aspects of the game that can be corrected with time. He didn’t show it very often in 2013 but the talent is still there. If he learns how to keep the baseball in front of him, gets off his knees every time he throws to second, learns how to identify to better identify pitches to improve his approach and also learns how to call a better game he could still become a serviceable major leaguer. Yeah I know, it’s asking a lot but at the same time it’s not completely unfathomable he at least starts to make progress in some of those areas.

When it comes to the rotation the talent level is just not there. R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle had their rough patches but overall pitched tremendously in 2013 but after that there are serious question marks. The back-end looks good to go with Drew Hutchison, Kyle Drabek, Todd Redmond, Chad Jenkins, Esmil Rogers and J.A. Happ all capable of holding down the fifth spot (not to mention Marcus Stroman or Sean Nolin) but with question marks around Brandon Morrow the Jays still need major help with their top four.

None of this year’s free agent pitchers are perfect but the opportunity to improve the rotation to me trumps any value that could be added behind the plate. Even Scott Feldman who I didn’t give a whole lot to credit to the other day put up a 1.6 rWAR and made $6 million in 2013. Outside of Buehrle and Dickey, not one player in the Blue Jays rotation contributed more than a 0.6 rWAR last season and that was Redmond (followed by Jenkins at 0.5).

My point is that however tempting offers may be to improve other areas of the team Alex Anthopoulos needs to stay focused on adding as much starting pitching as possible to the Toronto Blue Jays. Obviously if the Jays could find room to add at both areas I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea, just as long as it doesn’t take away from acquiring arms up front. I’m hoping that Alex Anthopoulos’ patience will pay off with a big fish from the available pitching pool or at least a player or two that can contribute in positive ways for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014. If that means the Jays are forced to go with J.P. Arencibia as their starting catcher (with a more reasonable number of plate appearances) I guess that’s just the cost of doing business.

Should J.P. Arencibia remain the Blue Jays starting catcher?

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Topics: J.P. Arencibia, Toronto Blue Jays

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  • Justin Jay

    It would not surprise me in the least if JPA is our starter in 2014. I’m beginning to feel like Nostradamus…

  • Andrew van Laar

    I really hope he isn’t starting but I think they are going to give him one more shot with the new hitting coach. I think it would be great if the Jays brought in a Derosa type catcher to metor him and spell him on occasion. It’s all attitude for JP. I have the feeling he is a pride driven guy so someone needs to sit him down and say look, you were the worst catcher in all of baseball last year… no question about it. Figure your s**t out or we’ll figure it out for you.

    I’ve said this before but Morrow should not be counted on as anything more than a backend starter. He has had injury issues and before his 2012 season, never pitched anything like a front end starter should pitch like (in terms of consistancy. I know he has the stuff but could never put it all together). The jays NEED a #3 starter (why did they not get Vargas??? I didn’t even realize he was a FA! He’s exactly what they needed),

    • RyanMueller

      Andrew…also think that JPA will be starting for the jays in 2014 and I think that he will be better than 2013. I don’t think that a new hitting coach will effect JPA one bit.
      As for Morrow I could agree more; however, he will put it together one year and have a run of 2-3 years were he is a top 10 pitcher….let us hope he is still a Jay during this run. I could agree with you more about Vargas though. Vargas is a soft throwing guy that should be counted on to be a mid-rotation guy, especially at the Dome…err Rogers Centre.

      • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

        #SkyDome4Ever

        • RyanMueller

          Amen

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      Basically the muddled point I was trying to make is that I don’t buy into the belief that the Blue Jays are punting if they bring back Arencibia in 2014. He was very bad in 2013 yes, historically so to a degree. But if he can make a few minor improvements (eg. doubling his walk rate shouldn’t be that hard… he only had 18 all season!) and improve even modestly behind the plate he could be a 1 or 1.5 WAR player. It would be nice if the Jays could add someone else to help out behind the plate but I feel it would only add another win at a cost of $5-$8 million, which isn’t bad value but when you are up against the wall like the Jays are they may need to ride out the cheaper options in Arencibia/Thole. With so many replacement level starters you may only be able to add one pitcher via trade/free agency but that improvement could be a 3 win jump for the Jays compared to what they could possibly put out now. I just see more value in adding a pitcher, even if it does come at $15 million since it’s a lot hard to find an extra 3 wins than just one.

      • brad

        Michael,
        Counter muddled point(on an incredibly hard to measure idea): What effect can a sound defensive catcher have on pitchers’ WAR? Can this $5-$8 million catcher also add 2 WAR to the pitching staff(doesn’t seem a stretch to me…less than a half win on 5 rotation pitchers….plus any, likely small, gains in the pen)? If so then it’s a much cheaper 3 wins than a starter…. but infinitely more difficult to quantify

        • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

          hmm now you have me thinking… glad to see you’ve jumped in on the convo brad, figured the catching debate would be right up your alley

          • brad

            Andrew, Michael,

            Thinking about it a little harder, I think there’s 2 main components. The first would be the effect of potential loss of depth on breaking pitches(due to a lack of confidence that it will get blocked) and the second would be game calling. Checking on the effect of breaking ball depth could probably be done using pitch fx magic comparing to career norms… then relating that change to a change in war(hard….). while that would take forever, I think game calling is harder to quantify. Speaking in terms of pitchers war, it has no effect at all because game calling has minimal effect on fip(see my reply to Erik above). What kills me about war is that a catchers moat important job( game calling… probably the single most important component of fielding in all of baseball) isn’t represented at all…anywhere!! I think using some combination of babip and k/9 in comparison to career averages could give an accurate measure of game calling ability that could be fed back in to war(probably for the catcher rather than the pitcher).

            After all that, I guess the answer is that a solid defensive catcher probably has little effect on a pitchers war… but still a huge effect on his value due to what I believe to be the single biggest flaw in war.

        • Andrew van Laar

          Love that question! That would be really interesting to know if we can figure it out

  • Erik Trenouth

    There isn’t one shred of proof that JP is a bad game caller. Buehrle says he is good, the team has faith in his game calling ability, and the majority of the pitchers on the Jays roster outpitched their career FIP this year. Of all the things that JP was bad at this year, calling a game wasn’t one of them. The pitching staff was just a collection of overhyped, not good pitchers who needed career years for the Jays to compete, but for the most part only put up better than career average numbers.

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      I’ll take your word for it Erik. It’s definitely something that’s hard to judge. Specifically however I remember hating his approach with Johnson, not to say that he had anything to do with his poor performance but IMO he was too predictable calling him at times. But his framing ability is definitely something that was a plus. Especially with Buehrle I noticed that because of the vertical drop on his pitches it’s easy for them to look low if not caught properly. JPA showed the ability to keep the ball framed high enough in the strike zone for it to be called consistently as a strike.

      • Erik Trenouth

        Ya, I’m not sure if Johnson’s problems stemmed from disagreements with JP, or he was scared of throwing it in the dirt and watching it roll to the backstop.
        Defensively, if he can learn to block the ball better and get off his knees when throwing out runners, he has the ability to be a good defensive catcher. He just needs good coaching.

    • brad

      Not to try and shoot down anything you said(which is mostly true) but the idea of FIP is that it is focused on the pitcher’s “stuff”. A catcher is not going to continually call pitches over the heart of the plate, nor is he going to call for a ball when there are already 3(except for rare occasions when setting up an aggressive hitter to top a 3-1 pitch or whiff on a 3-2) so other than strikeouts(if you look at the rotation, every pitcher except Beuhrle was under their career K/9), game calling has very little effect on FIP. For the most part, a pitcher’s movement and control determine his HR/9 and BB/9(and thus FIP) while pitch selection determines things like GB/FB and BAA….. even BABIP(all of which were slightly worse than career averages for old man Beuhrle and substantially worse than career averages for everyone else JP caught in the rotation).

      The only real way to dissect game calling is to watch and analyze(as an ex NCAA catcher I like to think I do a reasonable job of it…… in my own mind anyways). JP is absolutely in love with the outside corner. The pitch low and away is probably the hardest to hit in baseball but it loses every bit of credibility when you do not a) throw at 100% effort and movement(probably a big part of the reason the bullpen fared so well) or b) do not show a willingness to pitch inside. What I find really interesting about JP is that for the pitcher in the rotation with the least credible fastball(Beuhrle) he wasn’t afraid to call inside(and did so quite effectively) but for people like JJ or Rogers who have a ton of juice, he didn’t really call inside at all….which resulted in a lot of leaning hitters and a lot of opposite field hits.

      You’re right in saying that JP has holes that are a lot worse than his game calling but game calling is probably a catcher’s most important job. I think it would be beneficial to pick up a reasonably good defensive catcher on his last legs(Ruiz would have been nice but Perzinski would be ok) so that JP has someone to learn the intricacies from for the next year or two before hopefully becoming a good starter.

      • Erik Trenouth

        All very good points. My wish at the beginning of the offseason for the catcher position was to pick up Ruiz for a couple years and have him catch no more than half of the games (depending more on JP’s progress than Chooch’s results) and that would be best for the team as whole. An entirely new catcher is just going to set the team back another year as the catcher learns the pitching staff, pretty much the same as getting a new manager would set the team back another year as well. And with the age and contracts we have, we can’t really wait another year. It is either succeed next year or tear it all down afterwards.

  • Bob Loblaw

    I agree that a lot of JP’s problems are not physical, but may very well stem from attitude issues, leading to a poor approach. I’ve heard people say that he just can’t recognize pitches, as if they’re in his head, but there’s no evidence of that, and there is evidence that he just doesn’t try to see pitches as much as a starter should. Any player who says “the strikeouts don’t matter” obviously has a flawed approach, and/or he’s defending himself. What really gets me is that, if he were patient and took some more walks, pitchers would have to pitch to him and he’d probably hit more, over the course of a season. The strikeouts matter! You’re an automatic out man!

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      He’s definitely over aggressive at the plate. The assumption that he has a poor eye comes from the notion that his chase rate (O-Swing%) of 39.9% is more than half of the rate of rate heswings inside the zone (Z-Swing%) of 71.4. Ideally a player will chase less than half as often as he swings at pitches in the zone. He doesn’t make great contact in the zone either but there’s a lot of great power hitters that are in the same boat. Overall he’s just far too aggressive and you could probably argue he just swings at everything so has no approach but the thinking is if you know it’s going to be a ball, why do you swing? I just assume he has no idea if it will be a strike or a ball most of time (or doesn’t care).

      • Bob Loblaw

        I guess I’m drawing my opinion from what he says in the public sphere, which could totally be defensive pandering. It really does seem like he doesn’t care.

  • Andrew van Laar

    Kottaras was DFAed… I think the Jays should pick him up for depth. I know he can’t hit to save his life but he knows how to get on base and play a solid defensive game plus he’s a good Canadian boy :P

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      He did have more walks than JP (24-18) in only 126 PAs so…. maybe??

      • Andrew van Laar

        At least just as depth. Our offense is pretty darn good so having him off the bench because of injury couldn’t hurt too bad. Plus it gives us another option if Sean Ochinko gets claimed

        • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

          I could probably live with it… better than Blanco.

  • David Ross

    Put morrow in the bullpen the amount of time he is on the disabled list looks like the bluejay will need 2 top 4 starters!

  • Andrew van Laar

    Carlos Perez was DFAed… Do you think the Jays should grab him again?

  • http://www.naidle.com/ naidle

    Playoff teams don’t start players as bad as JPA. So even though I agree with your priority list it doesn’t change the fact he’s one of the worst starting players in baseball and needs to be upgraded.

    The good news is finding a catcher who can put up 300 plate appearances with solid defense isn’t nearly as costly as a starting pitcher.

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      Thanks for the comment. I felt like I was talking out of both sides of my mouth at times during this post. I feel like upgrading at catcher shouldn’t come at the price of adding a pitcher but it’s also needed. Catch-22 I guess. But I’m not sure how much better at the position they can get especially on the open market. A trade is possible but to get anything of value you need to give something back, which in my opinion also hurts the Jays trade leverage for a potential starter. It just depends on how much an upgrade can be added for. I would think open market prices would probably require a deal at least in the $5 million range, which isn’t a bad price for an upgrade but with the Jays up against the wall with payroll it could still be too much. I’m waiting to see if AA can work some magic but it’s not a pretty situation.

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