As Tucker Barnhart continues to struggle both with the bat and throwing out base runners, it’s time for Curt Casali to become the Cincinnati Reds’ primary backstop.
Since being acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays on May 31, 2018, Curt Casali has proven himself to be more than an adequate back-up catcher. Playing 90 games for the Cincinnati Reds, Casali has slashed .293/.352/.445 in 229 at-bats. When you compare those numbers to the Reds’ Tucker Barnhart, there should be little debate as to who should be receiving the most playing time.
Curt Casali will enter play on Tuesday leading all active Cincinnati Reds players with a .297 batting average and an excellent .363 on-base percentage. The 30-year-old has also compiled a 0.8 bWAR in addition to a 102 OPS+ on the season. Needless to say, all the offensive numbers indicate Casali is an above-average hitter.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for veteran backstop Tucker Barnhart. Entering his 4th season as the Reds’ primary receiver, Barnhart has struggled mightily with the bat. Hitting .197 with a .298 OBP, he’s produced a -0.5 bWAR and an embarrassing 62 OPS+. His presence in the lineup has been a negative for the Reds in 2019.
At this point, Tucker Barnhart’s defensive prowess is based more on reputation than facts. Yes, he’s second in the National League as far as pitch framing is concerned, but the good news ends there. Since winning the 2017 Gold Glove, Barnhart was gone from to leading the league in throwing out base runners to being below league average.
The 2017 season was a career year for Tucker Barnhart. Gunning down 44% of base runners and hitting .270 with a .347 on-base percentage, Barnhart appeared to be the Reds long-term answer behind the plate. The Cincinnati Reds’ front office thought so as well, locking up the Brownsburg, Indiana native for four years with a fifth-year option.
Since that time, Tucker Barnhart’s play has deteriorated across board. His batting average and OBP slipped in 2018 to .248 and .328 respectively. Most surprisingly, his caught stealing percentage has taken a nose dive. In 2018, Barnhart dropped to 24% and this year he’s even worse at 22%, which is well below the 28% league average.
Those numbers bring us back to Curt Casali. Not only is he a far superior hitter, but he’s also been better defensively. Casali has thrown out 10 of 30 base runners since joining the Reds. His 30% rate is above league average and when combined with his offense, there isn’t a good argument to be made for Tucker Barnhart starting over Curt Casali.
What’s even better is that Curt Casali is under team control through the 2022 season. Contract-wise, the Cincinnati Reds are in the driver’s seat and can ride Casali as long as he continues to produce. If the Reds are serious about contending in 2019, it’s time to let the numbers do the talking and make Curt Casali the starting catcher.