If Nothing Else, JPA Should At Least Stick Around

I have no idea if JPA — which sounds like the name of some backwoods, Alaskan air strip (or, sure, Brazil) — is an actual nickname for the Toronto Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, but his name is surprisingly long (13 characters, not including the space), which is nuts, considering his name is actually just one name and two letters (my name, in the short version — Brad Woodrum — is only 11 characters); so what I’m saying here is that I couldn’t fit “J.P. Arencibia” in the title. But he still certainly deserves the post.

Last year, the Blue Jays handed their chief catching duties to 25-year-old Arencibia, and he promptly clobbered some 23 home runs and began looking like the legitimate heir to homer-happy, walk-disenchanted John Buck — from whom he received his starting role. Arencibia’s homers came with an uninspiring .282 OBP, putting him at a less-than-awesome .309 wOBA and 92 wRC+.

A lot of hope is riding on J.P. Arencibia — not only has he shown some early promise, but he also comes with a solid pedigree. As recently as last year, Marc Hulet rated him as the No. 3 prospect in a deep Blue Jays system. In 2012, JPA will once again saddle up as the Jays’ starting catcher, but how will he do?

He is a look at the projections from a slew of friendly and familiar prognasticors:

Steamer 25 .287 .462 .321
Bill James 24 .281 .457 .317
RotoChamp 23 .293 .454 .322
Fans (40) 24 .295 .438 .317
ZiPS 24 .281 .442 .310

Nary a projections system thinks ol’ J.P. will muster an OBP north of .300 — and why should they? Even in the minors he often flirted with .300 and sub-.300 on-base rates. (He also stayed near or above a .300 BABIP too, which is worth keeping an eye in 2012.)

But a recent piece from Jeff Zimmerman (Effects of Intentional Walks on Non-Intentional Walks) got me thinking — with serious homerun power like Arencibia has, wouldn’t pitchers start tender-footing around him? Wouldn’t his 23 homer — if’n he can sustain that power in 2012 — encourage his walk rate to go up?

I decided to look at previous players in this situation: specifically rookies or second-year players who hit 20 or more homers while sporting a sub-.300 OBP. Since expansion (1961), there have been only 10 such players to accomplish such a thing, with Cory Snyder doing it twice:

Player		HR	OBP
Cory Snyder	33	.273
Chris Young	32	.295
Mark Trumbo	29	.291
Jeff Francoeur	29	.293
Tony Clark	27	.299
Gary Gaetti	25	.280
Cory Snyder	24	.299
J.P. Arencibia	23	.282
Bo Jackson	22	.296
Dave Hostetler	22	.300
Chris Davis	21	.284

Not really an inspiring group, but altogether they have a (combined, not averaged) career OBP of .309 and a combined 96 wRC+. Which, you know, is not great.

It is important — in fact, pivotal — to note that JPA is the only catcher in that group. If we switch our criteria from rookies/near-rookies to catchers, we these 12 players:

Player		HR	OBP
Lance Parrish	33	.287
Johnny Bench	27	.299
Todd Hundley	24	.295
J.P. Arencibia	23	.282
Miguel Olivo	23	.292
Matt Nokes	22	.293
Jeff Newman	22	.267
Jody Davis	21	.300
Carlton Fisk	21	.289
Bengie Molina	20	.285
Ron Karkovice	20	.287
Gary Carter	20	.290

Okay, now we’ve got an impressive crew at hand. These fellows combined sported a .319 OBP and a 103 wRC+ — of course much of that comes from Hall of Famers Johnny Bench (career 125 wRC+) and Carlton Fisk (career 118 wRC+). A raw average among this group produces a .307 OBP and a 96 wRC+.

Which, for catcher, is pretty dang good. Since 1961, catchers have averaged an 88 wRC+, so 96 is actually 8 percentage points above the catcher average. What is even more interesting: The career lengths of these fellows. Newman by far had the shortest career, but still put up enough plate appearances for five full seasons:

Altogether this group averaged 5508 PAs — or about 11 seasons of 500 PAs. That’s pretty intense. Of course, we’re leaving out defense in these considerations — which plays a major role in a catcher’s career length (at least the length of time they spend catching). And, as far as I know, Arencibia is at best above average defensively, but most likely just average.

So what should we take away from this? Well, from the looks of it, Arencibia’s power — whether it sustains or not — probably won’t result in some Barry Bonds OBPs. Given his above-featured comparables, it is safe to assume his OBP will increase in some fashion — only Jeff Newman (.264 OBP) has a lower rate than JPA (.275) — even considering the uninspiring rookie group. But, at the same time, given that his duties are to field the toughest position in sport, good power and overall league-average offense may be more than enough for him to stay in the league a long time.

Arencibia seems to have a weekness for cutters and changeups. According to Joe Lefkowitz’s Pitch F/x data on JPA, he is swinging at changeups out of the zone 39% of the time, and flailing at 38% of cutters out of the zone. That’s pretty significant — and so it is no surprise that those are also the two pitchers he cannot seem to handle in the majors. According to our Pitch F/x pitch values, cutters have slayed JPA to the tune of -3.75 runs per 100 pitches, while changeups account for -0.94 runs/100.

If he can master those changes and cutters — that is, just ignore them when they go flitting by for a ball — then he might somehow aspire to the heights of some of his more illustrious catching brethren. And then, no doubt, JPA would be cleared for takeoff.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

26 Responses to “If Nothing Else, JPA Should At Least Stick Around”

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  1. Trevor says:

    Drunkjaysfans, a Toronto Blue Jays blog, has taken to calling him “Aaron Cibia” so that Jays fans won’t be reminded of “JP” Ricciardi every time they here Arencibia’s name. Just so you know, no one calls him JPA, but who knows, maybe you’ll start a trend!

    Anyways, this is a promising report on Arencibia. Hopefully he can improve on his numbers from last year (his BABIP was very low for a guy who had high BABIPs in the minors) and potentially increase his trade return when D’Arnaud is ready to take over. What a predicament Anthopolous has here!

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  2. Vin says:

    The offense should be fine, for a catcher at least, but it’s his defensive ratings that are really concerning. FanGraphs now has him at -11 runs last year, with the inclusion of RPP. Many Jays fans are eagerly awaiting the arrival of D’Arnaud.

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    • I saw that too, but with less than a full season of data on his defense — and what with catcher defense being SO much more than what our current defensive data captures — I think it’s too early to say his true talent level isn’t near average.

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      • Neil S says:

        This is where combining the advanced stats with observation and scouting reports is useful, though. Scouts have never been impressed Aaron Cibia’s defense, and he is positively painful to watch – I can’t count the number of times I yelled at the TV because he would backhand a ball in the dirt instead of getting in front of it (even if he caught it, that’s damned lazy) and he is demonstrably bad at throwing out runners. So I’m quite confident that the -11 rating is in the ballpark.

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      • Josh says:

        I find this to be a common complaint about catchers (backhanding pitches), but that’s actually VERY common with fastballs. The ball gets on you much quicker and you’re not expecting a pitcher to bounce a fastball. With a breaking ball, the catcher moves with the break and anticipates a pitch in the dirt before it’s thrown.

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  3. Bluebird in Boulder says:

    Bluebird Banter, the Bluejays SB Nation site, has JPA as the nickname of J.P. Arencibia in the glossary.

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  4. Shane says:

    Ah… Cory Snyder. I gotta buch of autographed stuff from him when he was playing for the Maine Guides in the mid 80’s. They were the Indians Triple A team at the time.

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  5. Nathan says:

    Although the defensive metrics are spotty for catching, Aaron Cibia definitely fails the eye test.

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  6. sc2gg says:

    You should have posted the catchers ages at the times of their comparable seasons, or maybe how they started their careers off too. Or both. It would be interesting to know if catchers in general get better at getting on base as they get older. I know that AA has said before that JPA’s (all these Jays acronym names…) focus was to improve his defense and not work on the offense at all, so maybe at some point this will shift. Or he’ll end up at 1B…

    JPA is fairly young, but not the youngest there is; he’s not hurt in any way. Really, if he just keeps doing what he’s doing for a long time, he’ll do very well.

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    • exxrox says:

      He was playing hurt for a good chunk of last season, and you can guess which months just by looking at his splits. Once he got over his ailments in September, he was back to hitting really well. His overall game got brought down quite a bit by an atrocious streak.

      That, and his focus on defense (which I believe can only improve over a full season). If you take into account what he did as a rookie catcher learning a pitching staff and the league, I think what he did was pretty remarkable. Comparable, even, to other more heralded blue chippers of recent years (…Wieters).

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  7. TtD says:

    Given he was dealing with a broken thumb on his lead hand most of the 2nd half i’m willing to expect some improvement in his numbers simply if he remains healthy, for most of August he was completely lost swing-wise down simply to not being able to swing through anything.

    His defense i’d agree isn’t much to write home about, but he was noticeably better September compared to the season start, they’d sharpened up his pickoff throwing and really progressed with his game calling. He’ll be a moderately dangerous slugging catcher for his career in all likelyhood, .250 hitter, lots of power, probably just over a .300OBP, and there’s many a team that will take that.

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    • Torgen says:

      It may be a coincidence that he was an above average hitter the two months before dislocating his thumb and below average the four months after, but the timing is pretty convenient.

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    • BronxBomber says:

      So he’s Jorge II. We loved him the first time around, and you’ll love him too.

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  8. Kevin says:

    his walk rate is only slightly below average, so the bigger reason for his low OBP is lack of consistent contact. perhaps an uptick in his .255 BABIP will remedy that

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  9. Colin says:

    It is sad that you type “JPA” and I know who that is immediately. I should at least have to think about it if I were a respectable human being with other interests.

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  10. Ryan says:

    No mention of D’Arnaud? How about… trade Arencibia sometime midseason and plug in Travis. If they can get a league average first baseman with comparable service time to JPA, that’d surely make them a better team.

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  11. Erix says:

    I’m curious as to what JPA’s trade value would be if he finished this coming season with roughly hid projected numbers. He’d be under team control for 4 more seasons. What is that worth in a post Yadi contract world?

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  12. KKSC says:

    I like Arencibia, and I think he’ll continue to improve. I’m not too concerned about the OBP either.

    His walk rate, at 7.4%, is less than horrible. He hit .219 last year, and so being a rookie, I think we can give him a pass on the year. This year he’ll really need to get it going, or be eaten up by D’Arnaud.

    I predict him hitting .250/.315/.480 this year, with 25-30 or so homers. If he can achieve that, he’ll be one of the better hitting catchers. I’ll still be happy though if he can settle in at .230 or .240 though.

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