Could Curt Casali’s 2020 performance elevate him to the Reds starting catcher in 2021?
One of the most underrated trades that the Cincinnati Reds front office pulled off over the past few years was landing catcher Curt Casali from the Tampa Bay Rays on May 31, 2018 in exchange for cash. Casali has exceeded expectations and took another step forward during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. What grade would you give Casali’s performance this season?
Curt Casali tied his career-high for games played in 2019 (84), but obviously wasn’t going to reach that in 2020. However, Casali’s .366 on-base percentage was a career-high, and his .866 OPS was just shy of his career-best mark of .898 that he set in 2015. In fact, Casali was second on the team in OPS among players with at least 80 plate appearances.
Casali platooned with fellow backstop Tucker Barnhart, oftentimes seeing playing time when a left-handed pitcher was on the bump. Casali was more than up to the task when facing southpaws, as the right-handed hitting catcher hit .310/.412/.655 against lefties. However, Casali got his chances against righties too, stepping into the box nearly twice as much as he did against left-handed pitchers.
While Barnhart was typically in the Cincinnati Reds starting lineup against right-handed pitching, it wasn’t as though the former switch-hitting backstop outperformed Casali. Barnhart’s .744 OPS versus right-handers was just one point better than Casali’s .773 OPS when facing a right-handed pitcher.
Casali’s defense was solid again in 2020. While a lot of fans tend to focus on the offensive numbers, most front offices and managers are quite content if their catchers call a good game and are stalwart defenders behind the plate. Casali’s defense was not nearly as good as Barnhart’s, who should be in line for another Gold Glove, but he handled his own while donning the tools of ignorance.
Curt Casali had just one error all season and -1 defensive runs scored. His pitch framing, which is something catcher’s now pride themselves on, was about the same as last season. According to FanGraphs, last year’s metric was 0.3 to 0.2 FRM. None of Casali’s defensive metrics are bad, but Barnhart is the superior defender.
When it comes to passing a letter grade for Curt Casali’s 2020 season, the 60-game slate makes it difficult, especially for a platoon player. Though Casali’s batting average was just .224, his OPS+ was 124. One has to wonder what Casali’s numbers would have been over a 162-game season, but I think it’s fair to say that the Reds catcher met or slightly exceeded expectations this year.
We’re going to give Curt Casali a solid B. The Cincinnati Reds catching situation heading into 2021 will be very interesting. Casali is entering arbitration once more, Barnhart is under contract and Tyler Stephenson won’t be able to be kept in the minor leagues after his showing in 2020. Will the Reds carry three catchers into next season?