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Barnhart gains from improved defensive metrics

Gold Glove catcher praised for excellence behind plate, game calling
MLB.com @alysonfooter

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Once upon a time, managers and coaches would peruse a semi-thick stats packet and a one-sheet ballot, and spend maybe 10 minutes deciding on their choices for Gold Glove Awards.

Sure, there were managers and coaches who took the exercise seriously and spent time poring over the information given to them. But others were not so diligent. They'd glance over the names, see someone they liked, remember that they hit well that year and check the box next to his name.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Once upon a time, managers and coaches would peruse a semi-thick stats packet and a one-sheet ballot, and spend maybe 10 minutes deciding on their choices for Gold Glove Awards.

Sure, there were managers and coaches who took the exercise seriously and spent time poring over the information given to them. But others were not so diligent. They'd glance over the names, see someone they liked, remember that they hit well that year and check the box next to his name.

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Offense isn't supposed to have anything to do with Gold Glove voting, of course. But in the "old" days, the most advanced stats available in terms of defense were errors made, which only told a sliver of the story. With nothing but a handful of surface stats and a manager or coach's memory bank to serve as "data," it's no wonder a player's batting average often sneaked in as criteria -- subliminally or not -- in the voting process.

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Today, it's better. Good defensive players, including those who are lesser-known, are getting their due, because there are now better defensive stats to support the candidacy. A prime example? Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart.

"I don't exactly have the biggest name like [Yadier] Molina or [Buster] Posey," Barnhart acknowledged. "It's helped me out a lot."

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Barnhart, 27, played for a last-place team in 2017. He's in the same division as Molina, the catcher most consider to be the best of this generation, defensively.

And, Barnhart is a career .257 hitter.

None of this should factor into whether he's Gold Glove-worthy. And last year, it didn't. Barnhart won his first, rewarded for true defensive excellence behind the plate, as evidenced by actual defensive metrics.

This may not have been the case a decade-plus ago.

"I've always been a guy that's had to play good defense to stay on the field," Barnhart said. "I'm going to be a productive hitter, but I'm not going to be the guy that's going to hit in the middle of the order. Being able to have those advanced stats, Defensive Runs Saved, all of that really helps."

Video: CIN@ARI: Barnhart catches Marte stealing second base

Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) supported Barnhart's Gold Glove candidacy over most others. According to FanGraphs, his 11 DRS last year was fourth best in the Majors. His 2.8 Defensive Wins Above Replacement led all National League players.

Traditional stats supported his abilities as well. In 2017, Barnhart committed one error in 926 1/3 innings caught.

"All of us that have never caught say, 'Who in their right mind would choose to put that gear on and go blocking baseballs and getting foul tips off the forearm and the fingers and all that stuff?'" Reds manager Bryan Price said. "So, the mentality part is there. The thing is, he understands his most important contributions to the team are what he does behind the plate."

Video: CLE@CIN: Barnhart quickly picks off Ramirez

Barnhart, who homered Wednesday during the Reds' 7-3 loss to the Diamondbacks, may have more Gold Gloves in his future, though ultimately, it's his relationship with the pitchers that matters the most to him. The two probably go hand-in-hand -- a defensively sound catcher who's going to block balls in the dirt, use his agility to prevent disasters from happening and know every hitter that comes to the plate is going to be a favorite among both well-informed evaluators and the pitchers he's working with.

"It's being able to get your pitcher through a game," Barnhart said. "If a guy has no-hit stuff, it's easy. It's the times where you have to try and work the guy through the game and they don't have their best stuff. That's the most fun that I have, albeit the most stressful, but it's the most fun."

In that respect, maybe there should be a TAM (Trust Among Pitchers) metric.

"He does his homework," said Robert Stephenson, who started the game against the D-backs. "He knows every hitter, inside and out. You see him studying the lineup and go over the game plan, obviously not as much during Spring Training, but during the season. You feel a lot more comfortable having a guy like that behind the plate that you can trust."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.

Cincinnati Reds, Tucker Barnhart