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Reds: Is Tucker Barnhart’s offensive production sustainable?

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 17: Tucker Barnhart #16 of the Cincinnati Reds bats. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 17: Tucker Barnhart #16 of the Cincinnati Reds bats. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Tucker Barnhart has been one of the better pieces on a slumping Cincinnati Reds team, and one of the bright spots in the lineup. The Reds face a difficult decision with Barnhart’s $7.5M team-option looming.

Being an everyday catcher for the Reds since 2016, Barnhart has never produced an OPS+ of over 95 in a single season. So far in 2021, Barnhart has produced that and more, with an OPS+ of 110 to go along with a slash line of .273/.360/.430. If the season ended today, Barnhart would’ve set new career marks in batting average, ob-base percentage, and slugging percentage.

With Tyler Stephenson emerging as a middle-of-the-order run producer, Tucker Barnhart’s production this season is really putting the Reds front office in a tough spot. Does Cincinnati continue to platoon the two backstops or hand the reins over to the youngster from Georgia?

Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart is having a solid season at the dish.

According to Baseball Savant, Barnhart’s advanced metrics do not speak highly of him. He is below average in average exit velocity, hard hit percentage, barrel-rate, and more. It seems unlikely that Barnhart is able to sustain this level of production. Barnhart’s WBOA (.348) is nearly 30 points better than his career best set in 2017.

As Barnhart sits in the 35th percentile for average exit velocity, the 24th for expected slugging and the 19th for expected batting average, it suggests the left-handed hitting backstop has been more lucky than good this year.

Also in 2021, Barnhart is swinging at pitches lower in the zone at a significantly higher rate, which has actually helped him quite a bit as he all but neglected them in 2020. He had just 16 batted balls in 2020, in a similar number of plate appearances so far in 2021 he is already at 25.

Given the rash of injuries and lack of production the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup has seen this season, Tucker Barnhart is getting more opportunities to hit higher in the lineup this year. Barnhart’s numbers have improved, but not at the rate where he should be hitting above the No. 7 spot in the order.

Although I don’t think Barnhart will sustain the current rate he is hitting, I do believe the Cincinnati backstop will end up improving his career numbers across the board and could produce an around league-average offensive season.

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With Tyler Stephenson playing well and primed to take over catching duties in 2022, Tucker Barnhart has made the Cincinnati Reds decision more difficult with his 2022 option hanging over the team. Barnhart’s $7.5M option is nearly double what he’s making this season, so the front office will have to determine if what they’re seeing in 2021 is a mirage or a sign of things to come.

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