Hayhurst: Arencibia needs to take more walks

J.P. Arencibia offers strong power from the catcher position but could add to his game if he started getting on base more consistently.
April 20, 2013, 4:00 PM

Gregg Zaun and I like to argue, and that’s a good thing.

It makes for bold television, better-informed viewers, and, best of all, I’m always right.

We were talking about J.P. Arenciba’s approach to the plate. Zaun was of the mind that Arencibia, who is presently worst among all qualified major-league catchers in strikeout percentage at 35.9 per cent, can strike out as much as he wants because he’s going to hit 30 homers this year.

Also, so sayeth the Zaun, Arencibia’s free-swinging mentality keeps him from, “clogging the base path”.

Say what?

Now, to be fair, Zaun did say if JPA was batting earlier in the lineup, he should work the count. But if he is batting further down the order, he can swing freely all he wants because if he gets on base he’ll wear himself out and slow things down for all the other hitters.

Let’s go back to that clogging the basepath thing.

Saying it that way makes it sound like having runners on base is a bad thing; like it doesn’t put pressure on the pitcher or give hitters an incentive to manufacture runs; like Jose Reyes (not in the lineup) is not going to be able to steal because Arencibia is worming his way along the paths, like games can be won entirely on solo shots and not consistent run production from all available avenues.

It also makes Arencibia sound slow. Granted, he’s not going to break any landspeed records, but he’s hardly slow. In fact, he’s got average speed  according to major-league  standards. He’ll never steal bases, but he can go first-to-third.

The argument also relies on slugging. It isn’t so much that J.P. can hit 30 or more homers, it’s that HE MUST hit 30 or more homers to justify the strikeout pace he’s currently on.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I respect JPA’s power and his OPS is lovely at .869. But it’s largely propped up by his slugging. If his slugging goes, he goes.

Why? Because he absolutely refuses to walk.

Adam Dunn, a base clogger in every sense of the word, walks. A lot. He strikes out a lot, but he also takes his walks and because of it, he’s got an OBP nearly 100 points higher than JPA for his career.

Consider this: despite hitting six homers and earning a power threat billing in 2013, Arencibia has walked ONCE this season.

He swings at about 34 per cent of the pitches he sees that are outside the zone, career. To put that in perspective, Jose Bautista, the Jays’ biggest power bat, swings at about 21 per cent of the pitches he sees outside the zone. Jose clogs bases, and because of it he’s one of the best all around hitters in baseball.

Arencibia could stand in the box and not swing at this point and the chances that he walks would be higher than someone like Maicer Izturis, Brett Lawrie, Rajai Davis, or Emilio Bonifacio — all of whom have better OBP, despite not being power threats.

I like the homers from JPA. I’m not anti power. I am, however, against giving away outs. Arencibia is 27 years old. He does not have to be an either/or player just because he’s a catcher and power-hitting catchers are novel. He can, and should try to strikeout less.

I’m sorry Zauny, but there is absolutely no way you are going to convince me that walks are a bad thing –unless you’re talking about a pitcher giving issuing to many of them.

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