What Happened In 2017: Austin Barnes had a breakthrough season, establishing himself as the Dodgers’ starting catcher.
27-year old Barnes finished his first full year in the majors with the Dodgers in 2017, playing in 102 games. He split time between catching (55 games) and second base (21 games), plus an appearance at third base and start as designated hitter. He once again proved versatile in the infield.
Barnes started the season as the backup catcher to Grandal, but he eventually quietly became Dave Roberts‘ go-to guy against left-handed pitching. Eventually he would get starts against right-handers as well and eclipsed Yasmani Grandal as the Dodgers’ primary catcher as the season progressed. Barnes started nine of the final 22 regular season games behind the plate, including six vs. right-handed pitching.
During the postseason, Roberts explained to the Los Angeles Times why he was starting Barnes over Grandal.
“Defensively, they’re very comparable,” Roberts said. “Yaz throws better. But as far as the game-calling, the blocking, they’re very, very comparable. We have two elite catchers.”
Barnes threw out seven of 31 would-be base stealers, good for a 23 percent caught stealing rate. Grandal threw out runners at a 32 percent clip, throwing out 21 of 44 base stealers.
Although Grandal has the better arm, both are expert pitch framers and two of the best in the majors. Grandal was a 20.2 runs above average and Barnes 14.2 runs above average in 2017. That’s good for fourth and eighth in all of baseball according to Baseball Prospectus’ framing statistics.
D.Roberts on Grandal/Barnes: “The body of work between our 2 catchers, & w/ the defensive metrics, I got them at the top of all of baseball”
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) September 28, 2017
Many were clamoring for more playing time for Barnes as the season progressed. Dustin thought it was time to free Barnes in June. By September, Barnes had done plenty to prove he should be in the starting lineup.
“Barnes, 27, is in the midst of a breakout season. He’s hitting .297/.412/.476 with a 141 wRC+ and a 14.5 BB% — the same as Cubs’ slugger Kris Bryant. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify (he’s at 221), he’d have the 20th-best wRC+ in all of baseball, tied with Nationals’ third baseman Anthony Rendon and others. While he has long since been considered the biggest prize from the Dee Gordon trade of a few years ago, it took him awhile to get his shot, but now that he has it he’s shining.”
Barnes even managed to improve upon those numbers after Dustin wrote that piece and padded his line to .289/.408/.486 with a 142 wRC+ and 14.9 BB%.
The rise of Barnes was quite remarkable, and he created new Dodgers history along the way as the only Dodger to start at both catcher and second base in three different seasons. He also became the first player to play both catcher and second base in a World Series game.
Barnes appeared in two games in the 2016 NLDS against Washington, striking out in his sole at-bat. Fast forward a year, and he was the Dodgers’ primary catcher throughout three postseason series after Grandal’s production declined over the last two months of the season. Grandal only had eight at-bats and went hitless in the playoffs this year. Barnes had 46 postseason at-bats and started all but two games behind the plate. In the NLDS, Barnesy was coming in hot against Arizona. He went 4-for-8 in the series with a double, a home run and a stolen base. Things went downhill after that, and Barnes only mustered six more hits with only one extra-base hit in 38 at-bats in the NLCS and World Series.
The emergence of Barnes and his potential to be a solid catcher for the Dodgers for years to come makes the 2014 off-season trade with Miami even sweeter considering the deal also included Enrique Hernandez, Chris Hatcher and Andrew Heaney (who netted the Dodgers Howie Kendrick). Miami received Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Miguel Rojas and cash. Needless to say, that worked out well.
2018 Status: Barnes has proved himself as a successful starting catcher at the major-league level, and he should assume the role of primary backstop for the Dodgers to start the season. At the very least, he’ll platoon with Grandal should Yasmani remain with the team.