Dispelling myths about J.P. Arencibia’s defense


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

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.