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Dodgers: What Are The Options For Austin Barnes?

Barnes has struggled at the plate since the beginning of 2018.

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 1: Austin Barnes #15 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws his bat in frustration after lining out against the St. Louis Cardinals to end the game at Busch Stadium on June 1, 2017 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

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

A highly suggested read on advanced stats comes from our Blake Williams. You can check it out here.

  • 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

Awful Offense

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.

Strengths

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:

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.

Final Thoughts

Dodgers
GLENDALE, ARIZONA – (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

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.

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

28 Comments

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  1. I completely agree. While Barnes is above average defensively, that does not include throwing base stealers out where he is well below average. Send him to AAA to see if he can rediscover his offense, which can make him a viable backup to Smith or valuable price in a trade.

    Speaking of Pederson, I’d rather see Bellinger bring his Gold Glove Defense to 1B, play Verdugo in RF and Joc in LF, at least when RH’s start. Looks like max is settling in as regular 2B.

  2. The only reasoning they continue to keep Will Smith down in AAA is i think they dont want him to miss any valuable playing/training time, the kid just like Verdugo has done everything he can at the minor league levels it’s time for him to be in the MLB, if he was an available trade for Barnes from another team as a straight up trade they would pull the trigger so sending Barnes to AAA and not having him available hurts nothing it makes no sense why the FO doesnt just go with Smith unless its the worry of how the pitching staff would do if thats the case its a little more understandable.

    • Use the following options to induce a bullpen trade.
      MLB ROSTER
      1: Ross Stripling. Needs regular starts.
      2: Austin Barnes: throw in.
      MINORS
      1: Keibert Ruiz. Will Smith is our guy.
      2: Dennis Santana.
      3: Edwin Rios. Needs the AL.
      4: Jeren Kendall. Needs fresh start.
      5: Yadier Alvarez. Needs fresh start.

      Any combination of the above to swing a deal for two bona fide arms in the BP.

      • Hey Ralph, concur with your list here. I see that Rios and his strike out rate of about 36% are coming up here, brilliant. You are probably right on Rios needing to be in AL but for who?

        • Vasquez from Pittsburgh. Ruiz package might get it done. Trouble is, Ruiz is young…maybe a year or two away from the big show.

        • Kid is major league ilk, Daniel. He’s gonna be behind our plate for a long time. Like his Jersey # too. (16) Need an impact reliever, gonna cost a highly touted prospect to get one. Ruiz to Pittsburg in package for Vasquez.

          • That’s true but Ruiz is too! He’s rated higher than Smith on the prospect list. I just don’t like trading away someone we might need considering sample size, injury etc. But I usually take the safe path, especially w catchers.

          • One does not know if Smith is the real deal yet or not, sorry. I hope he is, but Ruiz has tremendous upside. It would be horrible if he were to be traded and turned out as the real deal.

  3. These are excellent comments. The only advantage for Barnes is that he can play third base, second base and first base, despite the fact he is only 5‘9“. That’s at least 2 inches taller than Martin. Martin obviously has a difficult time picking up the ball defensively. Therefore, sending Barnes down for two weeks to AAA and Lenny will smith start is really the only decision result the team needs. Finally, Peterson is a fucking joke at first base. Belanger Loves right field and his batting average is at least 70 points higher when he plays right field. Why not put AJ at first base when he comes back?

  4. I believe it’s time to promote Smith and move Barnes to AAA, plain and simple. Smith and Ruiz is the future of the LA Dodger catching for the next 10 years. Like with Petersen, let’s see what the kid can do!

    I also agree if it’s a question of making room for Pollick, move Bellinger back to first (it will help his left knee), move Pollick to center, Petersen to left, and Verdugo to right – and most importantly don’t platoon! Use Freeze to give Turner and Bellinger some time off to recharge. We saw in the recent AZ series if we continue to platoon then the other team will consistently throw left-hander after left-hander at us.

  5. First thing is, if Barnes does have the option, then send him down to work on things, especially with the bat. As far as Joc goes, he is at 1st for now against RHP only, but even with that they will decide eventually whether Joc can handle the position or the idea should be scratched, as we don’t need to see him cost us games or extending the inning where the pitcher is forced to throw more pitches than otherwise would be necessary. And I am not sure Dodgers as of now will consider bringing Bellinger back to 1st base.

  6. Agree! Will should be catching. Barnes can try to regroup at AAA. Martin can help Wills progress. Pollack will be your center fielder Verdugo in left. Pederson can fill in the outfield when the others need rest. Taylor and Hernandez can rotate in the infield. Muncey did a good job at first. Both can also help in the outfield. They must get another reliever!!

  7. It’s simple! If Barnes has an option,demote him and let him work on his.hitting. Promote Will Smith as the everyday catcher and use Barnes as trade bait down the road in a package for a quality stud left hand reliever. With all the resources the Dodgers have,,why haven’t they drafted and developed a quality left handed reliever. It’s puzzling!

  8. It’s simple…………..trade him for a ham sandwich to be named later………..Smith and Martin can handle the catching duty and probably provide as much offense as Barnes ever will.

  9. I don’t understand why the front office stays with Barnes. The Dodgers are a $3.3 billion dollar enterprise. Why are they staying this loyal to one employee who is grossly under performing? If the only thing he brings is framing and trust of staff, but is a liability across the board otherwise, then the Dodgers strategy and priorities for the catcher position is completely wrongheaded. How can they continue to insist on having a gaping hole in their lineup 4-5 times per week? How is that a winning strategy??

  10. The last hit by a Dodger catcher this whole week was Will Smith’s walkoff homer last Sunday. Pathetic! Demote Barnes,his OPS is in the low 600s and promote Will Smith and make him the everyday catcher under Russell Martin’s tutelage. You have to see what you have in Smith, if you’re contemplating trading Ruiz..Right now the way,the roster is constituted,we have no chance against the Astros and Yankees,if we were to make it that far. We need a left hand stud reliever,not Alexander or Rossup ,a right hand bat that can exactly hit, a right hand hard throwing starter like Wheeler from the Mets. If we can get him,the put Urias in thebullpen as the left hander. Wheeler is a free agent and will cost less. Mr. Friedman,don’t disappoint us again.

  11. 21 Barnes, A LAD C 57 161 21 33 8 0 5 18 20 40 2 0 .205 .306 .348 .654 G AB HR AVG

    .654 OPS .205 AVG Enough said, It’s time to transfer Mr. Barnes to the minors .

  12. Absolutely agree with Tim’s article and most of the opinions expressed. I really like the idea of a Phantom Injury, not hard to fake as a catcher as they always have some type of injury. Smith should be brought up now to gain experience and the confidence of the pitching staff. Martin can mentor him.
    My main reason for Now! as many expressed the Dodgers have a double-digit lead and can experiment a bit. Once the Dodgers are in the Playoffs they will see elite pitching and low scoring games where every at-bat and out or run scored will be critical. Many times when Barnes needs to somehow get on to at least let the pitcher bat and clear the next inning he is incapable of doing it. He doesn’t move the man over or score guys in scoring position even when a simple fly ball is needed.
    I also agree we need someone like Valasquez, especially as he has a couple of years at minimal cost on his contract, and it will take a Bluechip prospect to do it. I nominate Lux and maybe Santana or Rios as throw-ins as Muncy has played more games at 2nd than first and he is playing well. His offensive numbers are off the charts and his plate discipline is incredible. Lux is not going to beat out Seager at SS or Muncy at second. So as he is blocked we should trade him. The Dodgers have Estevez and Jeter Downs coming up to compete in a few years at Second and SS.
    Ruiz is probably 2 years away and might be a special talent that they will not trade.
    The time is now the Dodgers have an incredible team with one Huge Flaw hopefully they fix it and win the WS.

    • Valasquez? Do you mean Felipe Vasquez, the Pirates’ closer? I am in Pennsylvania and it is extremely doubtful the Pirates trade him. At this point, they are very much in the division and wildcard races with a slew of inter-division games coming up.

      Lux is not blocked. He is the 2B of the future. If anyone is expendable, it is Jeter Downs. A bullpen arm would be nice, but no one ever trades a top propsect for one of those. Major League general managers know this, regardless of which side they are on.

  13. I agree with the overall thinking that Will Smith needs to be given a chance as starting catcher. Barnes has been a busy in offense. When we get to the bottom of the order the opposition can almost certainly count on 2 outs. The rest of the team has to try harder with 2 outs facing them at least three times in a game.

    • I agree, Tom. We’re just handing the other team easy outs in that spot.
      Barnes and Martin, Barnes especially, are just not ML competitive.
      Barnes is now hitting at about .190 and floundering everywhere. That’s just not acceptable if the Dodgers are serious about winning it all. We have a Will Smith who has already proven that he is so much better. IMO, he is ready for prime time, full time.
      Barnes has to go.
      Thank, Jon

  14. The Dodgers are handling this correctly. Offensively, they are on pace to score the most runs and hit the most runs in Los Angeles Dodgers. This after somer fans claimed they wouldn’t be able to compensate for the lost firepower of Grandal, Kemp and Puig. Catcher is mainly a defensive position and they are winning with Barnes. Some people want to switch to Smith based on a limited sample size of at bats. Probably a better idea to go with the veteran. Smith’s time will come. Just not yet.

  15. Barnes is an embarrassment, can’t hit a lick (is now hitting .190), and has a pathetic arm.
    The much older Martin is now only a shade better, but has good catching skills, composure, & veteran leadership abilities.
    With Will Smith ready to roll there is no reason to have the 3rd rate Barnes in the Dodgers lineup.
    Get Will Smith in for good, get him primed for October and the Dodgers will be in a much better position to win the whole deal.
    And BTW, get Pedersen off of first base, that too is an unnecessary embarrassment.
    He’s not bad in the outfield, but incompetent at first. Maybe revisit the 1st base idea in the next spring training.

    Thanks

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