Detroit Tigers need Tucker Barnhart to stop striking out

The Detroit Tigers completed a trade with the Cincinnati Reds last fall to acquire catcher Tucker Barnhart, picking up his option to see what he can do. The hope was that he could be the catcher the Tigers needed and play a significant role for the Tigers in 2022 as the number one backstop.

The Detroit Tigers’ offense fell flat right out of the gates and finally started waking up as of late. But, there are still a lot of gaping holes where players are underperforming. One of the players who has fallen well below expectations is Tucker Barnhart, who has been subpar all around.

The expectations were high for Barnhart, and to this point, it has been a lot of disappointment for the Tigers, not just in the batters’ box but overall. However, upon a deeper look into Barnhart’s statistics, it might be an “easy” fix or something that the Tigers can aim to get back on track.

While I can sit here and point this out via analysis, Barnhart and the Tigers’ hitting coaches have to work through this, and that’s something that may not happen. So while I am going to talk through Barnhart’s struggles and what seems to be causing them, it is not to say it will be magically fixed, but rather a suggestion that if this happens, he will wind up performing at a much higher level.

Detroit Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart needs to stop striking out.

While it sounds like a simple statement that applies to almost any hitter, there’s more to it. Barnhart needs to stop striking out for the Detroit Tigers because it’s severely hurting his stats. Through 47 games in 2022, Barnhart has logged 149 plate appearances, slashing .221/.268/.250 with just four extra-base hits and seven RBI.

He’s been punched out 46 times and has yet to hit a home run. Will, all of his extra-base hits being doubles. But, there’s more to the story if you look beyond the slash line. Barnhart has a 30.9% strikeout percentage, the highest among all qualified players besides Dustin Garneau, who barely qualifies.

With Barnhart striking out in 30% of his at-bats, something has to give. That’s where BABIP enters the conversation. For those who do not care for advanced metrics, BABIP is simply Batting Average on Balls In Play. It indicates how a player is performing when they actually make contact rather than strike out.

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For Barnhart, he comes in fifth (basically third without “barely qualified” players) on the team with a .330 BABIP, according to Fangraphs calculations. For those confused, if you take away strikeouts and non-BIP results, Barnhart is hitting .330 on the season, which is exceptional.

This discovery led me to look deeper into the problem. While the thought is great and implies that Barnhart would be a .330 hitter if he cut out the strikeouts altogether, that’s not happening. But, I wanted to look deeper at what is causing the high amount of punchouts to see how Barnhart could limit this and maybe up the number of balls in play to try and up the average overall.

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Upon glancing at the stats at the top of his Baseball Savant page, it’s easy to see that he’s struggling big time. After looking into it further, the thing that sticks out the most is his taken strikes in the zone. He’s lost 12 runs due to taking pitches in 2022 to this point; this is a career-low for Barnhart.

Looking further into this, his Swing/Take chart on Baseball Savant is horrendous. While he’s laid off of pitches outside the zone, being +5 runs on pitches outside the zone, he’s -9 runs on the shadow zone which is pitches one ball in or out of the zone, kind of like the fringy part of the zone that could go either way depending on the umpire.

However, what really gets me going is that his run value on pitches in the HEART of the zone is -9 runs for the Tigers. Overall he’s -15 runs on swings and +4 runs on takes due to his value on taking pitches outside the zone.

So all of these numbers are great, but what does it mean?

Detroit Tigers catcher Tucker Barnhart needs to refine his approach.

Talking of refining one’s approach, the Tigers need to refine their approach to hiring hitting coaches, but that is beside the point. When it comes to Barnhart, taking pitches in the heart of the strike zone cannot happen and has to stop. If his BABIP is that high and he’s doing damage when he does take the bat off the shoulder, it feels like he has to be more aggressive.

While I am sitting behind a computer screen writing this, and Barnhart is the big leaguer with nine years of experience, I think it’s a fix that can be made. If Barnhart goes up with the intent of swinging early and often, not letting the pitches on the heart of the plate go for strikes, he should make more contact.

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Even if the initial result is more groundouts, popouts, or weak contact, more contact and fewer strikeouts are a step in the right direction. The Tigers should be looking for Barnhart’s first-pitch swing percentage (38.3%) to increase and his overall swing percentage (46.4%) to increase as soon as possible.

If the Tigers want to see Barnhart’s performance increase, it seems like the approach needs to change. It does not mean that he will magically turn into a .300 hitter, but it should allow for the Tigers to see a bump in his performance.

So, in a very roundabout way, Tucker Barnhart just needs to strike out less, and the Detroit Tigers will reap the benefits.

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