Cincinnati Reds: Grading Curt Casali’s productive 2019 season

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 26: Curt Casali #12 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a three-run double against the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on April 26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 26: Curt Casali #12 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a three-run double against the St. Louis Cardinals in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on April 26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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Fans were critical of the production received from the catcher position in 2019. However, Curt Casali put together a solid season despite some injuries.

The catcher position was one of great intrigue during the offseason and it’s sure to be one again this winter. The Cincinnati Reds were in the mix for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto, but lessened their pursuit as the price increased and the Silver Slugger eventually settled in Philadelphia. Despite the external criticism, Curt Casali put together a productive campaign in 2019.

The backstop is one of the most trying positions in all of baseball. Saddled with layers of protective equipment, the catcher is essentially a coach on the field. Building a rapport with the entire pitching staff is not an easy accomplishment, and yet, that’s not the only requirement of the job.

Taking foul balls off the face mask, elbow, shoulder and other parts of the body are all part of body are all part of a day’s work for a Major League catcher. Fortunately, the Reds have one of the better backups in the league in Casali. The 30-year-old performed so well in 2019 that some fans throughout Reds Country have advocated he become the starter.

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While not as adept defensively as fellow catcher Tucker Barnhart, Curt Casali can definitely hold his own behind the plate. Casali logged 504.1 innings fielding the catching duties this season, just a few games shy of his career-high of 560.1 set back in 2016 with his former team the Tampa Bay Rays.

The idea of framing a pitch has become quite popular these days. Catcher’s will routinely attempt a subtle movement of their glove into the strike zone just as the pitch arrives in an attempt to the fool the umpire. Casali was not productive in this area in 2018, but showed improvements last season.

In a metric, catcher framing runs above average (FRM), utilized by FanGraphs.com, shows Casali went from a -4.1 FRM in 2018 to a 0.3 FRM in 2019. The increase of 3.8 is not as impressive as Barnhart’s 10.4 improvement, but Casali was already more proficient in that area. Casali also put up 7 in the defensive runs saved category. Casali was solid behind the dish.

Now, for the analysis that everyone wants to hear – hitting. Though Casali missed a good chunk of spring training due to injury, you wouldn’t know it. By the end of April, Casali was slashing .289/.341/.421. Casali was often on the field when the opposing staff sent a left-hander to the mound. That being said, the splits didn’t really indicate Casali is better against southpaws.

By season’s end, after being placed on the injured list midseason, Casali slashed .251/.331/.411 with 8 home runs and 32 RBIs. Casali had began the season as Barnhart’s backup, but finished the season splitting duties, finding his name in the lineup at least two times a week.

Casali is never going to blow you away, but he has decent power from the right side, a patient approach at the plate and is the perfect fit to play alongside Tucker Barnhart. Casali may not be an everyday player, but he put a 1.2 WAR and .741 OPS in 2019.

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Curt Casali is up for arbitration again this season, after pulling in $950K in in 2019. I’d wager that the Cincinnati Reds will bring Casali back at the projected salary of $1.7M. While upgrades to the catcher position may be in the works for 2020, there’s no denying that Casali put together a solid performance in 2019.