Veteran catcher Tucker Barnhart was signed by the Chicago Cubs for one reason only, to be the defensive backstop behind Yan Gomes. Barnhart was a two-time Gold Glove winner with the Cincinnati Reds while entering 2023 with a career of .680 OPS at the plate. The point is his .177/.275/.228 slash on the year, while a bit low even for him, is still not overly surprising. He was never signed for his bat.
It is easy to dismiss Barnhart because of his lack of offensive production, and the emergence of Miguel Amaya. With that said, credit is due to him playing some good defense this year. Several metrics are evidence of his good play behind the plate.
Entering this weekend, Barnhart is at a 3 DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) and 4.9 Def (Defensive Runs Above Average) per FanGraphs. Among all catchers to have caught at least 200 innings this year, Barnhart is top-20 in DRS and Def (17th). Also notable, per FanGraphs catcher framing metrics (FRM) Barnhart is 14th best (2.9) among all catchers who have caught at least 200 innings.
Barnhart's defense helps him be above a negative fWAR (0.1) despite sporting a 45 wRC+ and .503 OPS at the plate. His Def in 32 games is already higher than his Def in 94 games with the Tigers last year (2.4). He has also seemed to have gelled well with Marcus Stroman, who sports a 1.63 ERA and .172/.248/.215 slash against in nine starts with him catching.
Is this all to say Barnhart should play over Amaya or Gomes? No. Is this also to say he is playing Gold Glove-caliber defense? Also no, but he has done a nice job at being a catcher.