J.P. Arencibia and Perils of Job Security
By now, I think most people have heard ad nauseam about J.P. Arencibia’s season. It was for all intents and purposes, a season to forget for the Blue Jays backstop.
Some would prefer to sweep it under the rug and move on, which is certainly one way of coping with what transpired. However, those willing to go the investigative journalism route might rather dig a little further and seek out the route of Arencibia’s struggles.
You really don’t have to dig very deep to see how bad J.P. was in 2013. Not just at the plate, but behind the plate as well. The only thing impressive about his game this season was Arencibia’s home/road splits (.242/.270/.462 at home, .147/.185/269 on the road).
The statistics are pretty telling themselves, but I was thinking the other day … perhaps one of the reasons why J.P. Arencibia struggled so mightily in 2013 was because he knew he was safe all along?
Apparently prior to the R.A. Dickey trade, there were rumours that Arencibia was assured by upper management that his position within the organization was safe. And true to form … it was.
It wasn’t J.P. Arencibia who was dealt to the New York Mets, it was instead the Blue Jays coveted catching prospect, Travis d’Arnaud. In addition to sending John Buck to the Mets, that left Arencibia as the de facto starting catcher.
Despite having an abysmal season at the plate, at no point during the 2013 season was J.P. Arencibia’s job ever in jeopardy. That may be due to the equally subpar performance of Henry Blanco and Josh Thole, but Arencibia was never really in danger of not being the starting catcher.
Only late into September was J.P. Arencibia ever removed late in games for a pinch hitter. For most of the season, he was paraded out there day after day, game after game, despite Arencibia clearly struggling at the plate.
Often, players will speak about the importance of being comfortable at the plate, about being “loose”. That despite the game being on the line, having the ability to block it all out and play as though nobody is watching.
Maybe this year, J.P. Arencibia was guilty of playing too loose.
By no means am I suggesting Arencibia doesn’t care, and that was the root of his struggles. It’s invariably in a baseball players’ DNA to care. However, what I am suggesting is perhaps J.P. Arencibia subconsciously let his cushy job security affect his play on the field.
Again, it’s only a theory, a theory from someone who’s never played a lick of professional baseball … aside from Bases Loaded on the Nintendo Entertainment System. But I think it’s only human nature for someone to settle in and get extremely comfortable when they know they’re completely safe.
On the flip side, if a player knows they have to fight for playing time or they know every start is essentially an audition for their next gig, that is when the fight or flight response often kicks in.
If we’re looking for the simple root of J.P. Arencibia’s problems, it’s plausible that battling a nagging knee injury for most of the season had something to do with it. But if the pain was truly that bad, shouldn’t the training staff have recommended a stint on the DL to rehab his right knee?
The Blue Jays are obviously in need of a catching upgrade this offseason, but maybe they don’t need to seek out the services of an elite free agent backstop Brian McCann. Maybe they just need someone to essentially platoon with Arencibia to motivate him.
One wonders what a “motivated” J.P. Arencibia could accomplish at the dish, but certainly it has to be better than a .194/.227/.365 slash line.
When someone’s job is on the line, people either excel, falter, or stay the same. Because J.P. Arencibia spent the better part of the season as the starting catcher, we never really had the opportunity to see how he would react with the threat of his playing time being cut.
There is no question J.P. Arencibia has talent. But judging by the results from this season, the Blue Jays may have been presumptuous in assuming he has what it takes to be a serviceable everyday catcher in the big leagues.
And if J.P. Arencibia doesn’t fit that mold, then it’s the job of the Blue Jays to find someone who does. Maybe that means bringing in a veteran catcher to mentor Arencibia, maybe that means getting a young catcher to present a “catcher by committee” situation.
At the very least, the Blue Jays need identify and acknowledge Arencibia’s weaknesses and not set him up to fail. Because if 2014 is carbon copy of 2013, that’s precisely what they’ll be doing.
Image courtesy of Yahoo/TVA Sports