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Dear Dodgers: Keep Austin Barnes Behind the Plate for the Rest of the World Series

The answer to the catcher for the rest of the postseason should be obvious.



Right off the bat, let’s address something. This is not a diss on Will Smith.

The Dodgers have gone through some interesting issues at catcher over the last few seasons. In 2017 Yasmani Grandal lost his job to Austin Barnes as he struggled in the final weeks of the season. It was later revealed that Grandal’s head might not have been all-in as he and his wife were enduring issues involving their unborn son.

Barnes ended up catching most of that postseason after he slashed .289/.408/.486 (AVG/OBP/SLG) in the regular season.

Then in 2018 Grandal was having issues catching the ball and Barnes once again stepped in the get the bulk of the work in October, despite having a horrible season at the plate. In 2019 Barnes was supposed to be the starting catcher but again, he could not hit and was even sent to the minors (which I advocated for) and was not on the postseason roster with Will Smith taking over as the number one catcher.

For the 2020 season, Smith remained the number one catcher and he crushed the ball all season. At the same time, Barnes had bottomed out on August 8 with a slash of .091/.167/.091. He was clearly lost at the plate but still doing good defensive work playing two games out of every five. By this time it was well established that Clayton Kershaw wanted Austin Barnes behind the plate.

Around early August it turns out that Mookie Betts was working with Barnes on his hitting. It turns out Mookie was a big help as Barnes started to hit. He got hot for a while and ended the season with a respectable slash of .244/.353/.314. But he did end the season with his numbers heading south again. The plan going into the postseason was for Barnes to catch Kershaw with Will Smith starting the rest of the games.

Related: Mookie Betts Fixed Austin Barnes

The Playoffs

The playoffs went as expected at the catching position. However, there were a few stand out instances where it looked like Smith was not blocking the balls in the dirt very well. As I started working on a different and unpublished article that spoke about the Dodgers defense I noticed that Smith’s defensive numbers were poor when ranked amongst catchers. He was at the bottom while Barnes was in the upper-middle.

Then in NLCS game 6 versus the Braves, Dave Roberts opted to start Barnes behind the plate with Walker Buehler on the mound. After that game, Buehler pointed to Austin for guiding him through his best outing of the 2020 postseason to that point.

Then it happened again on Friday night in game 3 of the World Series. 

With the Dodgers 2 wins away from a championship, should Roberts keep Barnes behind the plate full time? First let’s look at some numbers.

Defensive Numbers

In digging into some advanced defensive numbers from FanGraphs, it is clear that Will Smith took a bit of a dip from 2019 (403 innings) to 2020 (276.2 innings).

  • Strike Zone Runs Saved – from 3 to -1
  • Defensive Runs Saved – from 4 to -2
  • Framing – 0 to -4.5
  • Overall defensive score – 3.4 to -1

Barnes far exceeded all of Smith’s numbers in 2020.

Moving Forward For The Rest Of The World Series

We already know that Austin Barnes will catch if Kershaw or Buehler pitches. My suggestion is that he also catches Julio Urías and whatever happens in game 6. It’s clear (and still surprising) that Barnes is also hitting well enough to not be a black hole in the line. He’s slashing .350/.381/.500 in the playoffs while providing better defensive at catcher.

So, let’s put Will Smith at DH for the rest of the series and leave Barnes calling balls and strikes.

The young pitchers will benefit from his game calling and his handling of pitches in the dirt. Smith does have a better arm, but the other benefits give Barnes a clear defensive edge.

Since Barnes is hitting a bit, it seems worth keeping him in the lineup over some other DH options. It’s better to potentially save runs on defense than maybe adding a hit or two with the bat. At this point, we’ve seen some of the young pitching struggle, so let’s give them the best option behind the plate, Austin Barnes.

Final Thoughts

Will Smith has proven that he is one of the best young catchers in the game. Losing the growth of a full and real Spring Training might have played some role in his defensive decline And the shortened 60 game regular season over 162 is another lost growth opportunity. However, by not being worn out by a whole season of catching, his bat has been strong for the postseason. Most years, the catchers in the postseason are exhausted from the long season and their playoff numbers take a hit.

There is no doubt that Will Smith is the starting catcher going into 2021 and he will improve defensively. For now, there are two more games to win in 2020 and the defense needs to take precedence. A lineup with Austin Barnes at catcher and Will Smith at DH is the best one for the rest of 2020.

NEXT: LA Takes Game 3 Behind Walker Buehler’s Dominant Outing

Written by Tim Rogers

A fan of the Dodgers since 1973 since I got my first baseball cards while living in Long Beach. I came to San Diego for college and never left nor did I ever switch my Dodgers' allegiance. Some know me as the "sweater guy". #ProspectHugger

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  1. Completely agree and have been saying this since playoffs began. Smith better hitter but not comfortable with him calling a game

  2. Of course Barnes should be catching with Smith at the DH for the rest of the WS. We’re already doing that. Hopefully the DH disappears for the NL (along with Manfred) in 2021. If it does the Dodgers will again be strong and deep at the catcher spot. Unless you have an iron horse like Yadier Molina, it takes two catchers to be successful through the postseason. These guys take a physical beating over the course of a season. They need more days off than the other everyday players. Check the declining batting average of Mike Piazza over the course of the seasons he caught for the Dodgers. He always started out on fire and fizzled at the end of the season. That’s fatigue. When Steve Yeager was catching for the Dodgers he was given days off when Joe Ferguson came in from the outfield. Guys like Bench and Posey were given days off by playing games at first base to keep their bats in the game. The Dodgers are in a really good place right now. They have gone from being very weak at catcher (offensively) in 2019 to strong in 2020. Two catchers with adequate rest for both is the way to go.

    • Funny but I said this before and of season and some idiots preferred Smith’s bat.At catcher you need your best defensive catchers and Urias deserves to be catched by Barnes too.He makes pitchers better by calling a better game also you can sit muncie for Rios and keep joc in cause pollock isn’t doing anything.

  3. Have to admit that I was really down on Barnes last year. So many called 3rd strikes on him. But the one thing I noticed this year is that when he was catching, all the pitchers seemed more comfortable with him as opposed to Smith. Smith will eventually become a great defensive catcher but this season and especially the playoffs, Austin has been calling a great game for the pitchers. Hats off to Austin for coming around offensively as well and if Betts is partially responsible for helping, more power to Betts. Pitcher-catcher relationship is often overlooked. With Smith being able to DH, the Dodgers has best of both worlds. Just 2 more wins!

  4. Tim, Great article on Barnesie. I agree with every word even getting sent down. Let me go back a bit. My Grandfather was a faithful fan at Ebbets Field and my family has had tickets since 62. My first game was 68 in the LF Pavilion. A then 30 minute Drive from Montclair while my grandfather said we hate the Giants, you only listen to Vin Scully on the radio even at home and regardless of what’s going on, you’re always bleeding blue. I can still see myself asking my Gpa, whos #24? He said” That’s Willie Mays”. So being from the IE,we’re proud of Austin since his days at Poly. Although he was a SS, he was a hard worker. But nothing against Will who will be the next Dodger superstar, hes a kid. You have a tested Veteran who has been in the WS TWICE and gets praises by 2 pretty good pitchers. In a series with a DH, this decision is as easy as NOT bringing in Kenley in a 1 run game. Sorry Kenley but when my wife walks past the TV and says” Isnt a cutter supposed to cut ??”, its getting near the end. Buy a beach property in Barbados

  5. This article and recommendation are spot on in light of Game 4 painful results. Smith has been gold with good at bats and Barnes behind the plate makes our pitchers shine.

  6. When a catcher is going to tag a runner it is a most that he has to put his hand in his glove to hold the ball. I think the dodgers should find another catcher for 2021. About the pitchers; i guess they don’t want to follow orders from the team manager.

  7. Tim, Thanks for recognizing Barnes and his experience, hard work and team player attitude. Let’s get in the Delorean. My G pa was a regular at Ebbets Field. My parents have owned tickets at Dodger Stadium since 62. In 68, on a then 30 minute drive from Montclair, my Grandfather said” we hate the Giants, no matter what happens, you always bleed blue and you listen to Vin Scully on the radio even if hes on the tv”. That’s what he passed down to me. Sitting in the LF pavilion with my dad and Grandpa, I asked him, ” who is #24? He smiled and although he was a Giant, there was respect from the elder generations, thats Willie Mays 🙂 Wow, I can hear his voice right now. So living in the IE, we support Austin and always want our local kids to do well. I also have screamed at the TV a couple of times when he was posing for a New Maruichi bat or his Gorilla hair gel so when Smith was burning up OKC, I said, send him down and get his head out. But !!! One thing is Undeniable, he is experienced, he has caught high pressure games and pitchers, he has been recognized by a future 1st ballot Hall of Famer, the next Pitching superstar, the 2 games won this year have had BARNES calling pitches. Also, let me mention something that NOBODY is talking about. Arozarena, 9th inning, 1-2 pitch on the black. Smith holds it there for a second, ball 2. Put Barnes in the game, he frames that pitch as usual and ballgame. Dodgers 3-1. Keep Barnes behind the plate !!

  8. Seems like pitching has been more of the key this WS as both teams can hit. That said, Barnes framing skills can take legit balls, turn them into strikes (framing). He’s a top-three framer in MLB. Barnes has more scouting experience calling the game vs Smith, pitchers rarely shake their head no, on a Barnes call, they trust him. Most pitchers would prefer to throw to Barnes. Pitchers are more confident, more comfortable, and more relaxed on the mound with Barnes receiving. I’ve also noticed Barnes can stop more wild pitches than most catchers in the league. Also, take a look at how little Barnes’s body moves at the plate. He’s like a statue, never distracting the pitcher. His target is a rock. IMO he really does a better job controlling the game, and lately, his bat has been good. Yes, Smith has an overall better bat and arm, but Barnes is better everywhere else (areas that are more critical IMO). As it’s going today, Barnes has caught games 1, 3, and 5 tonight (Kershaw), and 6 on Tuesday (Buehler), therefore catching the majority of the WS. There are 20+ teams that would love to have Barnes as their “starting” catcher. Many think he should be the Dodgers starting catcher. Dodgers are fortunate to have Barnes backup Smith. BTW, Barnes plays more than any other backup catcher in the league. This World Series is a pitchers game, or is it a Pitcher/Catcher combo game?

    Barnes behind the plate and Smith as DH is the right combo.

  9. On Magot’s attempted steal of home tonight, Kershaw made a good play but Barnes made a great play. Ketshaw’s throw was high and on the first base side. Barnes had to extend up and to his right to catch the ball THEN swing down and to his left to tag out Margot who was coming in HOT. Good on Kershaw but how about some love for Austin Barnes. And, oh yeah, let’s keep him starting.

  10. you nailed. Very people seemed to take note of just how rock steady like he is behind the dish, he gives a great target where it most others are wiggling like weebles

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