What Happened In 2017: Despite having an overall productive season, a slump in the second-half opened the door for Austin Barnes to usurp the lead duties of primary catcher.
Yasmani Grandal started the season as the Dodgers’ main catcher but was eclipsed by Austin Barnes when his offense diminished down the stretch.
I can’t argue with the fact that Grandal’s batting average dropped by 50 points in the second half of the season, but he still finished the year with the second-best batting average (.247) of his career next to his rookie campaign with the Padres in 2012 (.297). If you care about that sort of thing. It’s almost as if it’s hard to be consistently successful at the plate when you are grinding out inning after inning behind it. Grandal, the 29-year-old switch-hitting catcher, started a career-high 129 games. He surpassed career highs in a plethora of offensive categories including plate appearances (482), at-bats (438), runs (50), hits (108), doubles (27), RBI (58) and total bases (201).
It’s hard for me to complain about a Dodger catcher worth 2.5 WAR, fourth in the National League amongst catchers with at least 400 plate appearances. He led all NL catchers with 22 home runs, and has hit the most home runs amongst NL catchers since 2015 with 65 homers, 20 more than Buster Posey in the same time frame.
Considering he’s playing the toughest position on the field, that output of production is surely welcomed by the Dodgers. Grandal and Barnes are arguably the best catching duo the Dodgers have had. Grandal’s offense is the most potent since the likes of Russell Martin and Mike Piazza as far as power. He’s already seventh on the all-time Dodger catcher home run leaders list with 65 round-trippers, and he’s three home runs away from tying Mike Scioscia (68). Roy Campanella has the Dodgers’ franchise record with 242 home runs as a catcher.
Grandal has a long way to go to catch Campy, but his offensive production coupled with his excellent pitch framing shouldn’t go unheralded despite the second-half slow-down. It wasn’t all good of course. There’s reasons why he lost his starting job to Barnes. His problems with left-handed pitching is one of them, as he hit .233/.320/.349 with six extra-base hits including two home runs against LHP in 86 at-bats. He also struck out a career-high 27% of the time and walked only 8.3% of the time.
Defensively, Yaz continued to excel in pitch framing. He ranked fourth in the majors in catching framing runs above average. Barnes was seventh, respectively. Grandal also threw out 32% of would be base stealers, a career high. Conversely, Grandal was tied for most passed balls in the majors with 16.
Like Joc Pederson, Grandal began the season with a bang. He hit two home runs on Opening Day against the Padres, one from each side of the plate.
Grandal had a hot May and hit .337/.374/.523 with a couple home runs in 23 games. He hit over .300 in July, but his offense slowly dwindled in August and September. It worked out that Barnes’ ascension coincided with Grandal’s cool-off. Barnes started nine of the final 22 regular season games behind the plate, including six vs. right-handed pitching.
Neither Dodger backstop contributed much offensively in the postseason. Grandal had eight at-bats and went hitless in two playoff games. Barnes caught the majority of the time with 46 postseason at-bats. After a 4-for-8 NLDS performance, Barnes only mustered six hits with only one extra-base hit in 38 at-bats in the NLCS and World Series.
Speculation that Grandal could be moved this off-season hasn’t evolved into anything. Grandal agreed to a one-year $7.9 million deal with the Dodgers last month, avoiding arbitration. Chad thought trading Grandal may not be worth the trouble. With Kyle Farmer, Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz in the wings, they could certainly entertain a trade offer.
Or they could just hoard all the good catchers.
2018 Status: Will battle with Barnes for playing time behind the plate, which should make for an interesting Spring Training for them. Both report to Camelback Ranch on Tuesday, February 13.