Austin Barnes is red-hot at the moment. Currently in the midst of a seven-game hitting streak, Barnes is 12 for his last 24 and has gone from hitting below .100 to over .300 in that span.
Understandably, that has given rise to hope that Barnes might be rounding back into form he’s previously shown, specifically in 2017. That would be huge for the Dodgers, as Barnes posted an .895 OPS in part-time duty that year, and combined with his elite framing and athleticism he seemed on the path to easily becoming a full-time regular someday.
That is until he was absolutely miserable in 2018 and 2019. Playing a similar part-time role, Barnes posted a .204/.311/.316/.627 line with a 73 wRC+. While still a solid backup due to his receiving skills and familiarity with the staff, he began to feel more or less like an automatic out compared to the rest of the lineup.
Of course, hot streaks come and go all the time. But what has gotten noticed recently is the assist he got from Mookie Betts, which helps reinforce that something tangible has changed and perhaps makes this sustainable. Joe Kelly spilled the beans a bit back on August 15 to David Vassegh.
After Barnes lit it up again last afternoon, scoring both runs, he talked to Alanna Rizzo and mentioned Mookie’s help.
In 2020, due to this streak, Barnes has turned things around. He now carries a .304/.347/.391/.738 line with what would easily be his second-highest wRC+ at 107. All hail Mookie!
Not everything suggests this is legit. Barnes still has an unsustainable .419 BABIP (it was just .329 in 2017), his 5.9% walk rate is the lowest of his career, and his 27.5% strikeout rate is topped only by his woeful 2018.
Fortunately, he doesn’t need to be anywhere near as good as he has been of late to be very valuable again due to his receiving skills. During this streak, Barnes’ contact has been legit with a .319 expected batting average and a .361 expected wOBA (~.320 is around average). And therein lies the hope, that if there’s been real change made and something has clicked then even significant regression to the mean bodes well for him profiling as a borderline regular again, much less a backup.
As with every article dealing with analysis this year, sample size issues apply, but if the improved contact is legit then even a somewhat improved Barnes would go a long way to solidifying the tandem with Will Smith (along with Keibert Ruiz in there somewhere) as among the league’s best behind the plate. Here’s hoping it continues.