What has been the key to Tyler Stephenson's resurgence with the Reds in 2024?

Tyler Stephenson once again looks like a crucial piece of the Reds future
Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs
Cincinnati Reds v Chicago Cubs / Nuccio DiNuzzo/GettyImages

The 2023 season was not kind to Cincinnati Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson. The young righty lost nearly 80 points of batting average compared to 2022, and he posted atrocious blocking and framing numbers behind the plate.

Stephenson's resurgence has been a major breath of fresh air for a Reds fanbase that has been through the wringer this year. Entering Saturday's matchup with the Chicago Cubs, Stephenson has hit .267/.337/.435 with six homers, nine doubles, and a vastly improved strikeout rate.

He's not just getting lucky either. All of the underlying data suggest that Stephenson's return to relevance is legitimate, and Reds fans can expect this level of performance to continue.

Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson is back to the best version of himself

One of the most noticeable improvements has been the quality of contact Stephenson has made. Statcast uses the term 'barrel' to identify balls hit with an ideal exit velocity and launch angle, code for the best type of contact a hitter can make.

Stephenson's 12.4% barrel rate is nearly double the league average, and is five percentage points higher than his career-mark. That figure puts him in the top 20% league-wide, and fifth among full-time catchers.

Stephenson hasn't been perfect. He is struggling against breaking balls, hitting just .200 with a .250 expected slugging percentage against them.

However, he's making up for that by crushing fastballs. Stephenson is currently hitting .333 against four-seamers with a .727 xSLG against them. On top of that, his hard hit rate against fastballs is nearly 62%, putting him in the 88th percentile league wide.

Tyler Stephenson's 2024 performance might have Reds fans thinking about a contract extension

It's not just good contact that's getting Stephenson these results. As mentioned, his strikeout rate has dropped significantly this year, leading to a much more stable on-base percentage. The past two seasons, Stephenson had struck out a combined 26% of the time. This year, he's down to 18.8%, well above league-average and right around the mark he posted in 2021.

In many ways, Stephenson's 2024 resembles the season he had in 2021. He's leveraging excellent plate discipline and pitch recognition, and taking advantage of pitches he knows he can hit well. When you add in strong defense, you end up with the cornerstone type of player that Reds fans know Stephenson can be.

The young backstop is still in his first year of arbitration and won't be a free agent until after the 2026 season. If he keeps hitting this well though, it won't be long before Reds fans start thinking about what a contract extension might look like.

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