Tao’s 37 Jays in 37 Days: J.P. Arencibia

J.P. Arencibia ripped his critics Thursday morning on Sportsnet 590 The Fan.
April 16, 2013, 9:07 AM

Who: Jonathan Paul Arencibia, but you can call him J.P. Catcher, tweeter, bon vivant, Heartthrob. Six foot, 200 pounds. Bats and throws right-handed. Twenty-seven years old. Wears No. 9.

Provenance: Miami, Fla., where he attended Westminster Christian, the same high school as Doug Mientkiewicz…oh, and Alex Rodriguez too. He was drafted by the Blue Jays with the 21st pick of the 2007 amateur draft and made his big league debut on Aug. 7, 2010.

Contract status: Signed a one-year, $505,600 deal in January. Is arbitration eligible for the first time after this season.

Back of the baseball card: In 242 games from 2010 through last year, Arencibia has posted a .275 OBP and .433 slugging. Has hit 43 taters.

Recent numbers: In 2012, Arencibia struck out in 29 per cent of his plate appearances while walking in 4.8 per cent. In 49 plate appearances this year, Arencibia has struck out 19 times and walked once with four handsome dingers.

Injury history: Hit the DL for the first time as a big leaguer in July 2012 after a foul ball fractured his throwing hand. Arencibia missed 43 days, ushering in the brief Jeff Mathis era that will go down in Blue Jays catching lore.

Looking back: One of the most popular Blue Jays in recent memory, J.P. Arencibia is one of the more maddening Blue Jays to appraise.

Arencibia’s reputation is as a hit-first catcher, but his bat is sketchy at best. There were 13 MLB catchers with more than 850 plate appearances in 2011 and 2012, and among that group, J.P. Arencibia ranks 13th in strikeout rate, 11th in walk rate and 13th in on-base percentage.

At the same time, it’s problematic to get a decent metric to provide an adequate assessment of a catcher’s defensive value – not to mention their game calling – so pinning down how much JPA’s squatting makes up for his whiffing is nearly impossible.

There’s some consensus that Arencibia is a below average receiver, though that estimation is based on the “eye test.” You could probably find a slew of people to tell you that their eyes see a devilishly handsome Gold Glover behind the plate. Go figure.

What is beyond debate is that J.P. Arencibia hit home runs. Over those two seasons, he hit 41 homers, good enough for fourth on the aforementioned list of catchers, and with significantly fewer plate appearances than the three players – Matt Wieters (45), Carlos Santana (45) and Brian McCann (44) – ahead of him.

First impressions and looking ahead: True to form, Arencibia has begun the 2013 season by hitting homers while striking out a lot and not walking much. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but it sufficiently resembles what we’ve seen from him previously to ask the question again: Is Arencibia good enough behind the plate to allow the Jays to play his bat 80 per cent of the time?

Is the plus power coupled with the maybe-okay defensive skills enough to make him a viable full player now? And what about in the future? J.P. reaches his arbitration eligibility after this year, and while few players ever end up getting to the salary arbitrator’s table, those long balls would go even further when it comes cashing in through that process. If he’s not the long term solution, would the Jays be willing to look for an upgrade this season?

There are few who talk as good a game as J.P. He is a supremely confident player, and his bravado is even hard to resist for those of us hardened by the cold winds of logic or reason. Still, his results this year need to improve if the Jays are to make a serious run at the postseason.

Optimistically: In his 27-year-old season, Arencibia begins to raise his offensive game to a new level, walking more and whiffing less. Meanwhile, plays a crucial role in managing the pitching staff and improves his pitch framing.

Pessimistically: Is a one-tool catcher who makes a lot of outs in the middle of the lineup.

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