Let’s be honest, Austin Barnes has become a negative in the batting order. What is frustrating for all of us, and probably for Barnes himself is how good he was in 2017. For the 2017 season he slashed .289/.408/.486 (AVG/OBP/SLG) while playing good defense.
There was a lot of hope he would continue his excellence in 2018 but he was slowed down in Spring Training due to issues with his throwing arm. In 2018 he slashed .205/.329/.290 and in 2019, he’s at .214/.315/.364 as of June 26. His value is clearly his framing and blocking abilities behind the plate. It also seems that he handles the pitching staff well. Given all that, should he be getting the bulk of the playing time?
Overview on Advanced Statistics
- BB% – walk percentage
- K% – strikeout percentage
- wRAA – weighted runs above average, league average is 0
- wOBA – weighted on base average
- Excellent – .400
- Great – .370
- Above Average – .340
- Average – .320
- Below Average – .310
- Poor – .300
- Awful – .290
- wRC+: weighted run created plus, league average is 100
- O-Swing% – swings on pitches outside the strike zone
- Contact% – the percentage of swings that make contact
- Swinging Strike % – the percentage of strikes that were swings with no contact
- XBA – expected batting average
- XSLG – expected slugging percentage
- XWOBA – expected wOBA
Almost all of the numbers in the above table are trending in the wrong direction. In the area of wOBA Barnes is graded as “Awful” and that isn’t a surprise. Some might say that it is just a slump but it seems the small glimpses of good are the outlier. See below for his statistics on a month by month basis.
Some of his statistics compared to the rest of the league are illustrated below.
The strengths of Austin Barnes includes pitch framing, blocking, good speed and some defensive versatility. According to FanGraphs.com he is 10th in pitch framing, tied for 4th in defensive runs saved and 8th in overall defensive rating. These are obviously skills the Dodgers value along with what they see in possible offensive value.
Start Will Smith
Given how the Dodgers are using some time to try things out such as Joc Pederson, why don’t they see how Will Smith works out? We’ve already seen what Andrew Friedman thinks about Smith’s defense:
Friedman on #Dodgers catching prospect Will Smith: "I think he could contend for a Gold Glove defensively. It's just about getting him to that point offensively where there's more consistency that we think is in there."
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) February 13, 2019
In terms of offense Smith has gone from slashing .233/322/.455 in 2018 to .291/.397/.609 along with .269/.345/.654 in his brief 9 games with the Dodgers. I don’t expect him to be a dominant bat with the Dodgers but he is a threat at the plate. Barnes is not a threat at all as he is one of the worst offensive players in the league. If the Dodgers want better offense in the playoffs then let’s roll the dice with Smith.
Alternatives for Barnes
Phantom Injured List
As I spoke about trying to get Chris Taylor unlock in April I concluded that he should go on the Injured List and use the time to work with the hitting coaches while not hurting the team. This would also allow Will Smith to take over as the starting catcher while Barnes is on the IL. It would also allow the Dodgers to keep Russell Martin as a backup and mentor to Smith.
Hide Martin and Make Barnes a Backup
This option allows Barnes to stay at the MLB level and still start Smith. It basically is saying to keep Barnes over Martin is the right call. Personally, I’d rather keep Martin as he has better offensive numbers than Barnes at .255/.361/.343 vs. .214/.315/.364. It also benefits Martin to just start 2-3 times per week, maximum.
Send Barnes to AAA
Instead of the fake IL path Austin Barnes does have one more option that can be used to spend him to AAA. According to MiLB he’s only been optioned in 2015 and 2016. Although this is possible I doubt it occurs. However, the Dodgers did send down Yasiel Puig in 2016 and Joc Pederson in 2017, so there is a precedent.
We can all acknowledge that Will Smith is the new “flavor of the month” after his performance so far. However, he is already 24 years old and has shown, in his limited time with the Dodgers, that he is a ready for the Major Leagues. He’s done everything he needed to do in AAA and has excellent defensive skills. I believe the only thing holding him back is that Barnes has the trust of the starting staff and that is a big deal.
But I ask, why not now? As of this writing they are 12 games ahead in the division. Bring him up, start him and let the pitchers gain trust in Smith. When they see he provides some extra offense and throws more runners out, while still providing the other skills Barnes has, maybe the pitchers will see Smith is the best option.
For Austin Barnes, he’s had a season and a half to prove that he can be a decent offensive player. As we have seen, he is one of the worst offensive players in the league. In 2017 he was very good on offense and maybe it can be re-discovered. However, it should not be at the Major League level. The only options that make sense at this point are the phantom IL or being optioned to AAA. I think the games before the All-Star Break will be a factor in what they end up doing in the second half of the season. Just like Alex Verdugo, Will Smith will find his way into the regular lineup. He’s better good and better than the alternatives.