While some might see Tucker Barnhart as a free agent target for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he’d represent a less than ideal backstop given other options.
The Pittsburgh Pirates have been connected to veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart in recent free-agent rumors. According to Jason Mackey, the Pirates have at least expressed interest in the former Cincinnati Red backstop. However, he goes on to describe Barnhart as an “excellent fit” for the Pirates, which to me, is not an accurate descriptor for Barnhart.
Barnhart performed only marginally better than the Pirate in-house option from last year. Just look at the numbers:
Barnhart: .221/.287/.267, .253 wOBA, 63 wRC+
Jason Delay: .213/.265/.271, .243 wOBA, 53 wRC+
Of the only positives Barnhart had over Delay was his 8.1% walk rate. Delay had a 4.8% walk rate, and Heineman clocked in at a 4.6% rate. But it created a difference of less than 3% in terms of on-base percentage. He was only about 10% better than Delay when it came to hitting, per wRC+. However, they were within ten points of each other in wOBA and OPS.
Now, granted, Barnhart isn’t known for what he can do with the bat. During his time with the division rival Reds he was just a .248/.324/.371 batter with a .301 wOBA, and 82 wRC+. That’s barely passable for a semi-regular catcher, but he was mostly there for his defense. Barnhart racked up +13 Defensive Runs Saved and +8.0 framing runs in the three seasons before being sent to the Detroit Tigers the last offseason.
Ok, so a 63 wRC+ is far from good, even for a semi-regular backstop. So he at least gave the Tigers a decent defensive performance, right? Well, 2022 was one of Barnhart’s worst seasons. He had -6 DRS, the fewest he’s had in a single season, along with -2.3 framing runs. Meanwhile, Delay was a positive defender who posted a +2 DRS and +2 framing runs.
While the Pittsburgh Pirates are cheap, this is an instance where going with the cheap option, or even re-signing Tyler Heineman, would be more beneficial than going with a more expensive option. Hoping for Barnhart to rebound is not something the Pirates should bank on.
He’s 31 years old and will turn 32 in about a month. Catching has a notoriously harsh aging curve. Sure, Delay isn’t a young gun, and Heineman is less than a year younger than Barnhart, however, once you compare what they did vs. what Barnhart did in 2022, it’s clear that Barnhart isn’t as good of a fit as it seems on paper.