Optimism for Tyler Stephenson’s Rebound with the Cincinnati Reds in 2024
In the not-so-distant past, Tyler Stephenson was hailed as the future catcher for the Cincinnati Reds, expected to be a vital presence behind the plate for a decade. However, recent performances have led to calls for him to be relegated to a backup role or even traded at his perceived lowest value. This article argues against such hasty decisions and makes a case for Tyler Stephenson’s bounce back in 2024.
The primary role of a catcher is to manage the pitching staff and provide solid defense. While league-average offense is generally acceptable from catchers, Stephenson’s offensive performance in the previous season was far from satisfactory. He posted a career-worst .243/.317/.378 slash line with an 85 wRC+. A closer look at his plate appearances reveals a significant struggle when batting with two strikes.
Comparing the data from 2021, 2022, and 2023, it’s evident that Stephenson faced challenges in two-strike counts in the latter season. The article suggests that a more aggressive approach earlier in counts could yield better outcomes, emphasizing Stephenson’s ability to make solid contact and hit line drives when at his best.
Despite the downturn, Stephenson’s metrics, including chase rates and zone contact, were not drastically different from previous successful seasons, providing optimism for a potential rebound in offensive performance.
Stephenson’s defensive performance in 2023 was subpar, especially in framing pitches, where he received a grade of -9 compared to -1 in 2021 and -2 in 2022. The article acknowledges the importance of framing, particularly in the context of a potential automatic strike zone in 2024, but remains hopeful that Stephenson can improve this aspect during the offseason.
The piece highlights examples of catchers who showed improvement in framing early in their careers, emphasizing that improvement in this skill is possible. The comparison is drawn to Tucker Barnhart, the Reds’ recent Gold Glove catcher, who exhibited significant improvement in framing over his first five seasons.
Other defensive areas, such as blocking pitches in the dirt and controlling the run game, are also discussed. Despite a decline in some defensive metrics in 2023, the article points out that Stephenson was a positive defensive WAR player until that year. The hope is that another offseason of work will lead to necessary improvements in his defensive skills.
The article views Stephenson’s 2023 performance as a down year rather than a downward trend. It attributes his struggles to potential lingering effects of injuries from the previous season, which included a concussion, thumb, and clavicle injuries. Before 2023, Stephenson showcased significant offensive prowess with a slash line of .296/.369/.454 and a 120 wRC+ over 605 plate appearances.
Projection models are optimistic about Stephenson’s bounce back in 2024, expecting his wRC+ to return to around 95-97. The scarcity of young catchers with offensive potential and years of control is emphasized, making a strong case against prematurely moving off Stephenson. The article suggests that another offseason removed from multiple injuries can only benefit Stephenson, who is projected to contribute as a plus offensive catcher and bring value to the Reds in the upcoming season.
In conclusion, the article advocates for patience and faith in Tyler Stephenson’s ability to rebound both offensively and defensively in 2024. It encourages the Cincinnati Reds to recognize the potential in Stephenson’s bat and the scarcity of viable alternatives in the league, making a strong case against hastily moving him off the team.