Anyone who has followed J.P. Arencibia‘s career in the bigs knows exactly what he brings to the Toronto Blue Jays: power and a whole lot of strikeouts.
It’s something of a divisive skill set, and the catcher has taken that split to an entirely new level this season, striking out a whopping 38.4 percent of the time through his first 73 PA while having drawn just one walk thus far — good for a downright laughable (and potentially historic if this keeps up) 0.04 BB/K.
But on the other extreme is the power — and what a display that’s been. With seven homers and five doubles through his first 18 games, Arencibia is well on his way to smashing his single-month record of long balls (eight, in May of 2012).
His otherwise excellent .871 OPS on the season is a whole lot more S (.611) then it is O (.260, which would be mediocre even for a batting average), and that’s led to a whole lot of talk on whether all that home run power is enough to make him a productive member of the Blue Jays.
It’s not entirely an easy question to answer especially given his defense, and the outlook really depends on how you look at both of his extremes returning to the mean. Yes, the power is going to come back down and that’s not going to be pretty when it does, but is this really a player that’s going to walk only 1.4 percent of the time? That sounds unlikely either.
As far a projections go, ZiPS does forecast Arencibia quite favourably, putting him at a 30-home run pace with a .237/.276/.498 triple-slash, good enough for a career-best 2.3 fWAR season.
Now, there’s no way to get around it — a .276 OBP sucks. Three-outcome hitters in the league are productive because two of the outcomes (HR and BB) do not involve making an out, and in J.P.’s case, two of this three usual outcomes are negatives.
Extrapolate those odds over the full season, and you’d have a pretty argument that he will end up doing more harm than good, especially taking into the account of his defense.
On the other hand, there is value in power, and with 48 homers since 2011 (tied for second among catchers in the bigs) and a .224 ISO (fourth), Arencibia will stay relevant as long as the balls keep going out of the park because the numbers say that the runs created adds win probability, and are enough to overcome the outs created in this case.
An apt comparison would be Boston Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamaccia, who owns an Arencibia-esque .227/.288/.453 triple-slash from since 2011 with 44 homers. Both players strike out a ton and aren’t very good at getting on base, but both can still be positives for their respective ball clubs.
How? Well, by putting them in relatively low leverage spots in the lineup. The Blue Jays had used Arencibia in the heart of the lineup before out of necessity, but at the regular sixth spot that he’s in now, he’s not really in a position to do a whole lot of harm — at least not more than Adam ‘walk machine’ Lind these days.
If that doesn’t work? Slot his 92 wRC+ further back behind Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie at eighth — just ahead of the automatic out known as Maicer Izturis.
Lineup usage is all about getting the most of the numbers, and as long as the 25-30 homers yield more positives, there’s a place for it until a more suitable option (note: not Henry Blanco) comes along. In short, even when the numbers return to the mean, Arencibia is still going to be a player that’s good enough to contribute to this team’s success.
Leave the worrying to when the bombs stop going out. Until then, relax and enjoy the show every once in a while.