Monday, April 15, 2013

37 Jays - J.P. Arencibia is a Handsome Enigma

Who: Jonathan Paul Arencibia. Call him J.P.. Catcher. Tweeter. Bon vivant. Heartthrob. Six feet tall, 200 lbs. Bats and throws right-handed. Twenty-seven years old. Sports jersey number 9.

Provenance: Miami, Florida, where he attended Westminster Christian, the same high school as Doug Mientkiewicz...oh, and Alex Rodriguez too. Drafted by the Blue Jays with the 21st pick of the 2007 amateur draft. Made his big league debut on August 7, 2010.

Contract Status: Signed a one-year, $505,600 deal in January. Is arbitration eligible for the first time after this season. 

Back of the Baseball Card: In 242 games through from 2010 through last year, posted a .275 OBP and .433 slugging. Hit 43 taters.    

Recent Numbers: In 2012, Arencibia struck out in 29% of his plate appearances while walking in 4.8%. In 49 plate appearances this year, Arencibia has struck out 19 times and walked once. With four handsome dingers.

Injury History: Hit the DL for the first time as a big leaguer in July of 2012 after a foul ball fractured his throwing hand. Missed 43 days, ushering in the brief Jeff Mathis Era that will go down in Blue Jays catching lore.

Looking Back: One of the most popular Blue Jays in recent memory, J.P. Arencibia is one of the more maddening Blue Jays to appraise.

Arencibia reutation is as a hit-first catcher, but his bat is sketchy at best. There were 13 MLB catchers with more than 850 plate appearances in 2011 and 2012, and among that group, J.P. Arencibia ranks 13th in strikeout rate, 11th in walk rate, and 13th in on-base percentage. 

At the same time, it's problematic to get a decent metric to provide a adequate assessment of a catcher's defensive value - not to mention their game-calling - so pinning down how much JPA's squatting makes up for his whiffing is nearly impossible. There's some consensus that Arencibia is a below average receiver, though that estimation is based on the "eye test". You could probably find a slew of people to tell you that their eyes see a devilishly handsome Gold Glover behind the plate. Go figure.

What is beyond debate is that J.P. Arencibia hit home runs.Over those two seasons, he hit 41 homers, good enough for fourth on the aforementioned list of catchers, and with significantly fewer plate appearances than the three players - Matt Wieters (45), Carlos Santana (45) and Brian McCann (44) - ahead of him.

First Impressions and Looking Ahead: True to form, Arencibia has begun the 2013 season by hitting homers while striking out a lot and not walking much. Sure, it's a small sample size, but it sufficiently resembles what we've seen from him previously to ask the question again: Is Arencibia good enough behind the plate to allow the Jays to play his bat 80% of the time?

Is the plus power coupled with the maybe-okay defensive skills enough to make him a viable full player now? And what about in the future? J.P. reaches his arbitration eligibility after this year, and while few players ever end up getting to the salary arbitrator's table, those long balls would go even further when it comes cashing in through that process. If he's not the long term solution, would the Jays be willing to look for an upgrade this season?

There are few who talk as good a game as J.P.. He is a supremely confident player, and his bravado is even hard to resist for those of us hardened by the cold winds of logic or reason. Still, his results this year need to improve if the Jays are to make a serious run at the postseason.

Optimistically: In his 27 year-old season, begins to raise his offensive game to a new level, walking more and whiffing less. Meanwhile, plays a crucial role in managing the pitching staff and improves his pitch framing.

Pessimistically: Is a one-tool catcher who makes a lot of outs in the middle of the lineup.


Louis L. said...

Perfect analysis. It's sad that overall, Toronto media (read: Buck and Pat) simply don't realize what makes a person a valuable offensive commodity. They love guys like Rasmus, Arencibia, and Rajai Davis because of how flashy they are.

It's infuriating to hear Buck Martinez say things like "I don't care if Arencibia hits .200, as long as he drives in runs". Well, if Arencibia hits .300, he'll drive in even more runs! And a decent OBP will help the team win games.

It's odd that last year Gregg Zaun defined Anthopolous as a "Sabermetrician and bean counter", but if he really was, he would never keep guys like J.P. on his roster.

peteypuck said...

8 dingers as of today...give me a catcher who is an average receiver at best, with monster power (I'm looking at you, Mike Piazza), I'll show you an all star.