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Projecting Michael Barrett

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It has been quite a disappointing and eventful season for the now Padres' catcher Michael Barrett. For a backstop who hit .289/.349/.494 from 2004 to 2006, Barrett is having an off year hitting .256/.307/.424 posting his lowest OPS since 2001.  Outside of the subpar production, Barrett has also clashed with several Cubs' pitcher, most notably Carlos Zambrano.  Fortunately for Barrett his days as a Cub are likely behind him and for his sake it's of utter importance that he start hitting like he did through 2004-2006; this is his contract year.

With all of that said, let's take a look at Barrett's forecast as measured by PECOTA and speculate just if Barrett can bounce back with the Padres as well as how long his defensive liabilities will allow him to remain a catcher.  

What He's Done

Here are Barrett's 3-year statistics excluding 2007 due to the relatively small sample size of the numbers:

Over the last three seasons, Barrett has established himself as one baseball's finest offensive catcher and I stress the word offensive.  From 2004 to 2006 Barrett placed ninth, fourth and fifth respectively in VORP among major league catchers improving by the season.

What's quite interesting is the fact his WARP has actually declined each of those three seasons which really gives you an idea just how much BP's Davenport Translations didn't like Barrett on the defensive side of things.  His rates have gone from decent to not to good to just plain awful over the last three years.  It hasn't just been the DT's that have seen Barrett's defensive decline; range factor has shown more of the same.

The fact Barrett will begin what will be a new deal during his age 31 season in 2008 makes one wonder just if his defensive ability is declining that much and if he'll remain a catcher into his thirties. Let's take a look at the projection.

The Projection

Here is PECOTA's 5-year forecast for Barrett which includes his 2007 projection:

As we can see from the projection, Barrett is currently playing well below expectations.

Some of this however might be the result of bad luck.  Barrett isn't hitting for the amount of power he did last season, but he is walking at a similar rate and his .271 BABIP is a little more than forty points below his eBABIP of .313.  Maybe Barrett's not so good luck will fade away a bit with the move to San Diego.

PECOTA doesn't see anymore decline in his defense in terms of FRAA.  Last season, Barrett's FRAA of -19 was far and away the worst mark of his career; he isn't expected to perform nearly that badly in the coming years which should help his cause of remaining a catcher into his thirties.  

Other than that, PECOTA doesn't see a whole lot of value coming from Barrett in the coming seasons. Its MORP system values his 5-year projection at slightly over $29M showing decline in the final stages of the forecast.  

Still, those projected rate statistics are pretty appealing and if Barrett can stay healthy and bounce back from a slow start, he'll be one of the only power hitting catchers on this winter's market.

The List of Similar Players

I've always believed catcher defense is one of the more overrated aspects in the game of baseball, but when discussing Michael Barrett's future this is a key feature.  His bat plays well as a catcher, but a move to a corner infield position would significantly decrease his value.  Let's take a look at how some of the players most similar to Barrett fared when it came to sticking as a catcher:

Del Crandall:

Crandall was a 7 to 8 win player during his late twenties and age 30 seasons, but struggled mightily afterward and received only a handful of PA's a year following his age 32 season.  Fortunately he remained a starting or backup catcher his entire career.

Sandy Alomar Jr.:

Alomar had his finest year at age 31, but was forced to more of a reserve role following that season. Like Crandall, he has remained a catcher his entire career showcasing average to above average defense behind the plate even into his late thirties.

Bob Boone:

Boone was at his best during his age 28 to 31 seasons and continued to play as a full-time catcher even into his mid to late thirties.  Like the other two catchers already mentioned, Boone remained a starting or backup catcher his entire career, a permanent defensive switch was not needed.

Bob Brenly:

Brenly had four solid seasons during his age 30 to 33 seasons, but struggled in his age 34 season and was played his last major league season in limited duty the following year.  Brenly too was used predominately as a catcher during his major league career.

Javy Lopez:

Lopez had his two finest seasons during his age 32 and 33 seasons, but suffered injuries in the following season and never recovered.  Still without a major league job at age 36, the end is near for Lopez.  He too remained a catcher his entire career.  

Earl Battey:

Battey had his best years during his age 25 to 28 seasons, but remained productive during his age 31 season.  He played his last season the following year however and didn't field a single position other than the catcher.  Once again, another player who remained a catcher his entire career.

Other notables include Dan Wilson, Paul Lo Duca, Hal Smith and Terry Steinbach; all guys who remained (or have remained in Lo Duca's case) catchers even as they aged during their respective careers.

I'm seeing a pattern here in Barrett's top comps.  Some of them remained productive into their early thirties, but more importantly, none of them suffered a permanent switch to another defensive position.  Needless to say, any doubt that I originally had of Barrett moving to an infield corner have been quieted.  Given these comparables he should remain a catcher for quite a while.

Final Thoughts

Personally I like Barrett a bit more than PECOTA.  His projected performance isn't valued at a whole lot, but for a guy who put up an .843 OPS from 2004 to 2006, you have to like his bat at a position where .250 hitters are often accepted.  His defense, by many accounts, is tough to swallow at times, but the guy can hit.  If this fresh start with San Diego propels him to his 2004 to 2006 level of play, he should have no problem cashing in this winter.