Chicago Cubs: Victor Caratini needs more at-bats
The Chicago Cubs have the luxury of having one of the best one-two punches behind the dish.
Chicago Cubs’ All-Star Willson Contreras has started in the Midsummer Classic in each of the past two seasons, and he is off to another hot start in 2020.
The 28-year-old is slashing .314/.385/.629 with a pair of homers and five doubles (tied for the National League lead) and has also thrown out a couple of attempted base stealers.
But whereas Contreras is mostly a known commodity, backup catcher Victor Caratini continues to excel in his role.
Caratini showed significant signs of promise last season, hitting 11 homers in just 279 plate appearances and posting an OPS close to .800 for the year. The switch-hitter was a reliable threat at the plate, and he also served as Yu Darvish’s personal backstop.
The 26-year-old has had mixed results to begin the 2020 campaign. Caratini has six hits in 24 at-bats, but he also has seven strikeouts.
Additionally, despite it being a small sample size, Caratini ranks in the bottom three percent in terms of average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage, per Baseball Savant.
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It would seem Caratini is best reserved as a backup and spot starter for when Darvish pitches.
David Ross has been delegating DH at-bats to several different players. Kyle Schwarber has gotten a break from the outfield and held down the DH spot in the last couple of games. Ian Happ and Contreras are other regulars who have logged at-bats as the team’s DH.
Caratini got the early opportunities at DH but has since ceded those at-bats as Ross has used the Cubs’ positional versatility to keep guys like Schwarber and Happ in the lineup.
But Caratini probably offers the Cubs with the best option as the team’s DH. The Cubs also need to find a way to get him rolling.
The advanced metrics might not look too rosy thus far. But Caratini is a guy who can be a major run-producer in the latter half of Chicago’s lineup. His expected batting average and expected slugging marks were almost exactly on par with his actual numbers last season, which bodes well in terms of continuity.
David Bote offers slugging and has traditionally been better at working counts and manufacturing free passes. This might make him seem like the perfect candidate to DH.
However, guys like Bote and Jason Kipnis have excelled due in part to their usage off the bench. Both Bote and Kipnis play major roles in terms of Ross’ ability to move guys all over the field and the lineup card. Plus, Kipnis is still more of a platoon advantage against right-handers who pose good matchups.
But Bote, Kipnis, or Steven Souza Jr. can be inserted as pinch-hitters or late-game replacements. If Caratini is not starting, he loses value simply withering away on the bench.
Cubbies Crib’s Bill Quinn looked at the discrepancy between Cubs hitters when slotted in at DH versus playing the field, and the results are pretty striking.
Giving Caratini more at-bats as the team’s DH is not only an opportunity to get him going but also might allow guys like Schwarber and Happ to be more engaged and locked in both in the field and at the plate.
Ross should let it ride with Caratini and see whether he can provide steadier offense when not catching for Darvish.