Quite the year for Victor, who started spring training as something of an afterthought and now could very well be in line for a starting job in 2020, be it here or elsewhere as trade bait. Has he earned that? Let’s find out…
11 HR 31 RBI
10.4 BB% 21.1 K%
.338 wOBA 108 wRC+ .794 OPS
+4.3 Defensive Runs Saved
Tell Me A Story: When the Cubs were in Mesa, most every Cubs blogger and fan was losing their mud over the fact that the Cubs didn’t have a backup catcher. One of 2018’s major problems was Willson Contreras playing far too many games and tiring out, and Caratini’s brief cameo didn’t really convince anyone. It went from that in March to Caratini playing well enough in the season’s opening weeks that everyone found more mud to lose (it’s getting unhealthy now) when he broke his hand and had to miss a month (but hey, it gave us the Taylor Davis grand slam against the Cardinals. Boy it seemed so innocent then). And now it’s ended with some calling, or just thinking the Cubs think, that Caratini is absolutely a viable option to take over as starter if the Cubs move Contreras for pitching or centerfield help. As the one true Jokes would say, “Oh what a day what a day…”
So how was Caratini able to go from an offensively-absent seat-filler to a productive hitter? Becoming extremely patient certainly helped, as Caratini nearly doubled his walk-rate from ’18 to ’19 and was well above league average with that 10.4% mark. While Caratini still chased the same percentage of pitches out of the zone (though he did so at well below league average), he became far more aggressive on pitches in the zone. This saw him up his hard-contact rate to about a third of the time, which isn’t great but was definitely better than he’d been. And like with everyone else, we don’t really know how to adjust these numbers for the baseball.
Perhaps more encouragingly is that Victor was able to hit a range of pitches. He didn’t just hit mistake fastballs, though obviously one can make a career out of that. Victor did most of his work on fastballs but also mashed on changes and sliders, including a .622 slugging on the latter. Curveballs from right-handed pitchers were a bit of an issue, and one he might see more of with greater playing time.
Defensively, Victor improved massively as well, doubling up Willson’s framing numbers in about half of the time, which is where some people’s focus is centered. Victor doesn’t have nearly the arm that Willson does, but he bought his pitchers a lot more strikes, and was actually up among the best in the league in framing runs even though he hardly played full-time. So the question for the Cubs will be which is more important as we roll along here.
Contract: Team control for next season, arbitration eligible in 2021
Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Most certainly welcome back unless some other team makes a generous offer for him. Considering he costs nothing at the moment, at worst he’s one of the better backup catchers in the league. The question will be whether the Cubs think he can be a starter, depending on if they have an inclination to see what’s out there for Contreras. Caratini is 26, so while his experience level suggests there could still be some growth, his aging curve suggests this is probably about what he’ll be. And that is a very good receiver with only a passable arm at best, and just about a league-average hitter. Over a full season he might be a 2-2.5 WAR player. But then that’s really only a tick or two below what Contreras was this season, though that’s partly due to injury and his framing problems earlier in the year.
The Cubs could carry Caratini as a starter with a few adjustments. One, a heavy return on Contreras. Two, they’d have to get more offense from second base and center field, or just a lot more offense from one of them. Third, they’d probably have to have a backup with a big arm for Lester starts, and whoever ends up being in the rotation aside from Darvish, Hendricks, and Q. Otherwise teams in big games will run all over Lester.
There isn’t a lot of air to Caratini’s stats, so a major regression doesn’t seem on the cards offensively. He doesn’t whiff a lot, which the Cubs will be curious about. He doesn’t have an alarmingly high BABIP or anything. But he also doesn’t hit the ball very hard. And remember, to give him the starting job you’d be giving one of the best offensive catchers in the game, which just don’t come around that often. It’s a big risk. Does Caratini’s framing and contact make it worthwhile? A lot of variables here, but it would not be a surprise if the Cubs bet that it does.
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