The Dodgers Must Deal with an Issue Behind the Plate

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LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15: Yasmani Grandal #9 of the Los Angeles Dodgers chases a wild pitch that allowed Travis Shaw #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers (not pictured) to score in the sixth inning in Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 15: Yasmani Grandal #9 of the Los Angeles Dodgers chases a wild pitch that allowed Travis Shaw #21 of the Milwaukee Brewers (not pictured) to score in the sixth inning in Game Three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 15, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Imagine playing on the world’s highest stage, crouching down behind the plate and watching as the ball sails past you time and time again. At first, it was just one mistake and everyone would move on; you live and you learn. But as the errors kept happening and fans grew more irritated, Yasmani Grandal’s offseason case got more and more complicated.

Grandal has been a mainstay in Los Angeles for the last four seasons. Since joining the Dodgers in the offseason of 2015, in the same trade that saw Matt Kemp go to San Diego, Grandal has hit the most home runs by a catcher in the National League.

In 2018, the now 29-year old catcher posted career highs in OPS+ (minimum 100 games) and WAR.

The problem is, everyone knows Grandal plays great offense. He is easily one of the best offensive catchers in all of baseball. The waters are muddied, however, when you factor in his defense.

The postseason felt like a microcosm for the issue at hand: Grandal’s defense is practically useless. In game one of the NLCS, Grandal became the first catcher in postseason history to allow two passed balls and be responsible for two errors in the same game- Grandal accomplished that in the first three innings.

But like I said that game alone was a mere reflection of an ongoing issue. Since 2015, Grandal leads the league in passed balls at 43. That 43 includes two seasons of leading the league in the ugly statistic and does not factor in his 2014 season back with San Diego that saw him lead the NL in passed balls for the third time.

Grandal also posted an Rdrs/yr of 0 this past season. Rdrs/yr is a defensive metric measuring how many runs above replacement a batter is worth on defense over 1,200 innings. The mathematics put the number together on the scale of those innings and 0 is not a good result.

The defense is not all bad though for Grandal. He has been at or above the league average for caught stealing percentage over the last three seasons and is also one of the game’s best pitch-framers in the game. According to Baseball Prospectus’s FRAA (fielding runs above average), Yasmani Grandal is the second best in the major leagues. He also lead the league in framing runs in 2018.

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But, at some point, the pros and cons must be weighed. On one hand, you have a catcher who will more than likely hit around 25 home runs a year all while producing a WAR of at least 2.5. On the other hand, you have a defensive liability.

If a catcher can frame pitches that is great. Grandal’s 15.1 framing runs score is by far the best in baseball. But, if framing a pitch or two per inning gets in the weigh of actually catching the ball there is an issue. A few extra called strikes due to some trickery from behind the plate is useless if runs are actually scoring because the ball is not being caught. That is the exact problem Grandal has.

According to spotrac.com, Grandal has a market value of roughly $9.9 million. For someone who is more of a DH that sits behind the plate, that may not be worth the salary hit. But, if the Dodgers extend a qualifying offer to Grandal, that cannot hurt.

If he is not brought back next season there is an issue far greater than Grandal’s defense. Austin Barnes is nowhere near ready to be an everyday catcher and even if he was, Kyle Farmer is not a sufficient major league caliber backup. On top of that, the Dodgers have two prospects on their way towards the majors. 20-year old Keibert Ruiz and 23-year old Will Smith, in Double-A and Triple-A respectively, are not ready for big league action either. Even if they get ready by mid-season that is way too long to wait for a decent backstop.

Perhaps that is an issue with signing a catcher in general no just bringing back Grandal specifically. The Dodgers do have a good relationship with Yasmani and bringing him back to fill a fairly large gap could solve a big issue.

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Paul “Bear” Bryant once famously said “defense wins games,” and in a sense, he could not have been more correct. Dodgers fans have seen games won or lost with Grandal and when the answer is lost, it makes it hard to come up with a good reason to bring back someone who will ultimately be an expensive purchase. But, there is more to consider than what the heart says as the wound from Grandal’s defense is still fresh. If you look at the numbers as a whole, there may just be a case to bring back Yasmani Grandal.

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