On the offensive side of things, there’s probably not a streakier hitter on the Dodgers‘ entire roster than catcher Yasmani Grandal. When he’s hot, he’s often capable of carrying the team’s production on his own shoulders, but when he’s cold, he sometimes shuts down completely. During these quiet stretches, the club’s output with the lumber frequently feels the effects of such nosedives, especially when he’s entrenched smack dab in the middle of the Los Angeles batting order.
Earlier in the season, it was almost a given that the platoon time at catcher was broken down by having the switch-hitting Grandal in the lineup against right-handed pitching, and Austin Barnes getting most of his hacks against southpaw pitching. Over the past few weeks, though, Barnes’ playing time has increased exponentially, and depending on how the final 14 regular season games shake out, Grandal may find himself on the bench more often—even against right-handed pitching.
Skipper Dave Roberts is starting to see it the same way, and suggested recently that Barnes may eventually emerge as the squad’s primary catcher at the onset of the NLDS in less than three weeks.
“If you’re looking to win 11 games in October, there needs to be consideration of who gives you the best chance to win that particular game,” Roberts said in San Francisco last Wednesday. “Austin deserves that consideration. He’s earned it.”
Exactly how the time behind the dish is divided in the final few months of the year remains to be seen, but one can be assured that there will indeed be some strategy involved, most specifically considering who’s on the bump throwing for the Dodgers, certain hitter vs. pitcher matchups, and most importantly, taking into consideration that each catcher gets his fair share of rest and remains fresh. Regardless, there are three main reasons why Grandal continues to lose more playing time as the season presses on.
First and foremost, it’s easy for anyone to see just how brutal of a slump Grandal’s in at the present moment. In the month of September alone, he’s hitting .029/.171/.118 in 34 AB, and has hit .156/.250/.330 in 124 plate appearances since July 30. For the year, he’s hitting .243/.302/.445 with an OPS+ of 94, after making 445 plate appearances over 116 games. And while his power numbers are relatively respectful with 19 home runs and 25 doubles, he already has been struck out 120 times this year—the most punch outs he’s ever accumulated during a single season in his career.
Next, the fact that he continues to lose the handle on the ball has created much concern from both his teammates and coaching staff. The cause is obviously from his extra efforts in trying to frame pitches—especially those out of the zone—yet, seemingly, the problem seems to be getting worse as the season progresses, as it appears that he could be developing some bad framing habits and not be realizing the ill effects. He already has 15 passed balls this year, which is also a career-high, and that figure doesn’t even indicate the number of balls he misses when the bases of empty. Sure, statistically, the drops mean nothing without any runners on base, but again, it’s not hard to see patterns of habit developing.
The final reason that Grandal continues to miss out on playing time is the fact that Barnes is just flat out producing. Defensively, Barnes’ mechanics are textbook, and he seems to be developing instinctively with each passing season. For the year offensively, Barnes is hitting .296/.419/.476 in 229 plate appearances with an OPS+ of 136. As far as splits go, Barnes is batting .360/.482/.494 against right-handed pitching, which explains why he’s recently been playing more when the opposition starts a righty pitcher. And what’s even more impressive is that he’s gone 18-for-54 with eight extra-base hits this season with runners in scoring position, as he always seems to deliver in the clutch. Couple that with his quickness and speed on the basepaths, and it’s not hard to see why the offense of the Dodgers thrives with Barnes in the middle of the batting order.
In the end, by no means does the current trend suggest that Grandal is fading into the sunset. The present lead in the division and the ease of schedule the rest of the way certainly affords the 28-year-old catcher some time to sit back and breathe while collecting his thoughts about his most recent caliber of play. The fact that Barnes is emerging isn’t a knock on Grandal, but rather a credit to Barnes and the presence of depth in the Dodgers’ organization.
Looking ahead, considering that he has the capability to catch fire at the plate at any given moment, Grandal may still end up being a huge offensive contributor during the postseason, as made evident by his impressive .299/.362/.496 slash line through the first 45 games of 2016. And if he happens to redeem himself and lock into a zone at just the right time during the playoffs, the Los Angeles offense could become nearly unstoppable.
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