Despite Power Surge, Arencibia Still Has Work To Do
The eight home runs and 15 RBI look nice. So does the .316 ISO, .347 wOBA, and team-leading .558 slugging J.P. Arencibia is sporting – numbers aided by the 14 extra-base hits he has accumulated so far this season.
No one can deny that Arencibia has had a powerful month at the plate, and even though his numbers are due for a drop off, he could still set career highs in all of the above statistical categories. Clearly, that's not a bad thing.
FanGraphs’ runs created statistic (wRC+) – a great all-encompassing offensive metric that is park and league adjusted – has Arencibia pacing the Blue Jays in that category, too, but, once again, that’s mostly due to all of his extra-base hits. His 119 wRC+ comes after two seasons of 89 and 92, respectively, which is basically the league-average mark for catchers.
He’s not, however, going to sustain this type of production for an entire season.
We must look past the eye-popping power Arencibia has displayed in April in an effort to truly answer whether he is breaking out or just enjoying a good month in the slugging department.
Arencibia’s slash lines over the last three seasons:
Arencibia’s strikeout and walk percentage over the last three seasons:
2013: 38.1 K%; 2.1 BB%
2012: 29 K%; 4.8 BB %
2011: 27.4 K%; 7.4 BB%
The slash lines look similar, except he has hit for a bit better average and his slugging this season is off the charts. Again, that’s not sustainable. Arencibia isn’t hitting 48 homers and 84 extra-base hits this year, which is what he’s on pace for.
Looking at the K and BB rates, including the lone month of data this season, Arencibia is not showing progression. Even if he improves in those areas and posts the numbers he did last year, they still come in well-below league average.
Arencibia doesn’t hit for a high enough batting average for him to increase his on-base percentage to even a league-average mark – which ranged from .312 to .328 from 2001-11 – unless he starts drawing more walks, which is really the only way for him to truly improve as an offensive player.
For those who cite his RBI totals, those are dependent on his teammates getting on base in front him and therefore hold no predictive value. Arencibia might drive in a lot of runs, as he hits homers at an elite rate for a catcher, but that’s largely a result of other players putting him in the position to do so. If his teammates aren’t getting on base when he comes through with hits, then he’s not cashing in any runs except when he hits solo shots.
That's not to downplay the fact there certainly is value in a catcher who can hit 30 home runs a season, a mark Arencibia is surely going to challenge in 2013. He will make pitchers pay for a mistake.
Since 2011, Arencibia has hit 49 bombs, which is as many as Carlos Santana and trails only Mike Napoli’s 58 among catchers. Both of those players, though, have spent a good amount of time at first base and Napoli no longer catches. Additionally, Santana and Napoli both draw walks and get on base in addition to hitting for power.
Over that same stretch, both have an OBP north of .360, while Arencibia’s mark of .277 is the second lowest among 28 catchers who have tallied 650 plate appearances. Only Miguel Olivo has a lower OBP. And only Olivo and A.J. Pierzynski, who hits for average well enough to hover around the league-average OBP mark, walk less.
As far as his progression behind the plate, the advanced metrics at FanGraphs – which doesn't provide a complete picture of someone's defensive abilities – say Arencibia is considered one of the worst defensive catchers in the game over the last three years.
In short, Arencibia hasn’t really grown as a player since he entered the league. He might be hitting for greater power to start the season, but he won’t keep that pace up all year. Eventually, the numbers will start to even out and once they do, his OPS, wOBA, wRC+, etc., will suffer as a result.
Arencibia is the same player we have seen the past two seasons, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He’s just not improving. And, at the age of 27, and after close to 1000 plate appearances at the major league level, it would be nice to see improvement in more areas of his game.
SPEAKING OF CATCHERS
Unless I'm missing something, there’s no reason why, at this point, Henry Blanco should have a roster spot over Josh Thole. The idea of stashing Thole at Triple-A Buffalo for depth is nice and all, but the Blue Jays are a team trying to win this year.
Even in a limited backup role to Arencibia, Thole gives the club a greater chance to do that than Blanco does. Plus, Thole has experience, like Blanco, catching knuckleballer R.A. Dickey; someone the team hasn’t put Arencibia anywhere near since Opening Day.
Thole had a bad year at the plate in 2012, albeit still better than Blanco in the limited sample he played, but had two consecutive seasons with an OBP of .345-plus previous to last year.
Entering play Monday, Thole’s slash line at Buffalo was .333/.400/.481, numbers he won’t produce in the majors, but he’s still an upgrade over the 41-year-old Blanco, who is sporting a .133/.188/.133 line.
The loss of Blanco, for a team with World Series aspirations, wouldn't be significant. Blanco's barely a usable bench option on games he doesn't catch for Dickey and Toronto can always go out and find another catcher for depth. Thole is simply the better player.
Further, the left-handed hitting Thole has a .275 batting average to go along with a .345 OBP against righties over 861 career plate appearances at the major-league level. Arencibia doesn’t have pronounced splits, but Thole is someone that would surely be deserving of more playing time than Blanco, even without going the route of a full platoon with Arencibia.
To be fair, Thole’s defensive metrics aren’t great, either, but I’ll take the 26-year-old who has also caught Dickey and is a better hitter than the player 15 years older occupying his spot.
It might not seem like a major change but, to me, it’s an obvious one.
h/t Fangraphs for stats