LOS ANGELES — Austin Barnes is quietly having an excellent season, or perhaps not so quietly after his latest exploits. The Dodgers’ backup catcher had three hits in Tuesday’s win of the doubleheader opener at Dodger Stadium, including a two-run home run that started the game-winning rally in the eighth inning.
As the backup behind Will Smith, Barnes catches roughly a third of the time, having started consecutive games only three times all season. So he only has a few chances to make his mark at the plate.
“It’s not easy, but I’ve been here for a while, and been doing this long enough,” Barnes said. “I know how to just get ready to play, and we try to win every game.”
Barnes’ home run Tuesday was his eighth of the season, tying a career high in 2017 when he played more regularly.
He struggled mightily during June and July, getting a combined five hits in 53 at-bats (.094, with a .119 batting average on balls in play), but also walked 12 times during that stretch, a skill he usually provides. But since the beginning of August, the hits have been falling, hitting .365/.427/.673.
He has two home runs in each of August and September, which may not sound like a lot, but he’s not exactly racking up the plate appearances. Barnes’ career high in home runs in a month is three, done in both September 2018 and May 2019.
“He’s strong, and when the ball’s close to him he can hit it out of the ballpark,” manager Dave Roberts said, referring to Barnes’ 453-foot home run on April 9 at Coors Field, which stood as the Dodgers’ longest homer of the season before Will Smith hit a 465-foot-shot last Wednesday in Phoenix.
His average exit velocity and barrel rate on the season are his highest since 2017.
Since the beginning of August, Barnes has started 15 games, failing to reach base only twice. It’s arguably the best two-month stretch of his career, with still more time to add to it.
Best Austin Barnes two-month stretches
“He takes good at-bats all the time,” said Justin Turner. “He hadn’t really gotten great results all season long, but down the stretch, if you look at the quality at-bats he’s putting together, he’s had some big swings, big knocks, and basically does a hell of a job behind the plate with our pitching staff.”
Considered an excellent receiver of pitchers, Barnes ranks eighth in Baseball Prospectus’ overall catcher defensive adjustment, despite calling roughly half of the pitches of those above him on the list. He’s a plus-three in catcher framing runs per Baseball Savant.
This is Barnes’ eighth season with the Dodgers. In terms of time with the major league team, the only teammates with a longer tenure in Los Angeles are Clayton Kershaw and Turner. Barnes’ popularity within the clubhouse and reverence from the pitching staff made it an easy choice for the Dodgers to extend Barnes through 2024 with a two-year, $7 million contract on July 3.
In the majors this season, 61 catchers have at least 130 plate appearances, giving us a very rough estimate of the universe of starters and backup catchers. Of that group, only 20 have at least a 100 wRC+, the cutoff for being a roughly league average offensive player.
Barnes through Tuesday has a 114 wRC+, hitting .228/.332/.418. Only ten catchers in the sport have a higher wRC+.
“Austin is just doing a great job. He understands where he’s at, where he sits on the ball club,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s ready, he’s taking care of the pitching staff, and he’s gotten a lot of big hits.”
Barnes has given the Dodgers exactly what they need.