Wednesday, 3 July 2013

J.P. Arencibia Cares Not What You Think Of J.P. Arencibia

Jesus is his hitting coach.
 More ink has been spilled on J.P. Arencibia and his struggles, this time courtesy of Shi Davidi over at Sportsnet. What's interesting about this piece is J.P.'s response to being asked about how he deals with criticism from the media, something he's faced inexplicably little of in his time as the Blue Jays starting catcher.

There are a couple of money quotes in the piece, but he mostly sums it up when he says “I pay zero attention because I’ve learned more and more how — no offence — how much you guys don’t know.”

Well, he's not wrong about that. There's a lot we don't know. We don't know what his state of mind is when he steps to the plate. We don't know how he works with the coaches behind the scenes, or even really what they work on. We certainly don't know what he's thinking and seeing that tells him to swing out of his shoes on pitches that bounce a foot in front of the plate. But, while there are things we don't know, there are also a whole bunch of things we do know, things that JPA seems not to, or at least is only starting to realize.

We know that JPA is among the bottom three starting catchers in the league offensively by both wOBA and wRC+, which are .290 and 79 respectively, despite leading all catchers with 15 home runs. An impressive feat that he has "accomplished" by making outs 75% of the time he's at the plate, resulting in his horrid .247 OBP. We know that there is more to being a "run producer" than how many taters you can mash. Sometimes it means getting yourself on base and passing the baton to the next guy to drive you in instead of swinging for the fences, striking out, and killing a perfectly good rally. We also know that catcher is one of the most important defensive positions on the diamond, and that JPA is widely regarded as sub-par at pretty much every defensive requirement of the job. In short, we know that JPA is so bad offensively that he wouldn't have a job if he weren't a catcher, a position where bad offense is tolerable due to the defensive demands, but that his terrible offense isn't even buoyed by passable defense.

What I find absolutely hilarious is when he tries to turn everything around on the media, saying "I’m learning real quick some of the reactions and some of the business. Obviously that’s your guys’ job. If there’s something to be pointed at, it’s always going to be at somebody. If it’s not one person, it’s the other, so it’s part of your job," and "There’s no hard feelings. You’re not going to call me when my career is over, because I’m not going to call you. So I just go out there and do what I’m put on this Earth to do."

Ohhhhh! Our bad J.P. We just didn't realize you were put on Earth to be bad at baseball. We'll stop talking about it now. If only it worked that way. That's not actually the hilarious part though. While JPA's .219/.247/.427 line, and his .290 wOBA and 79 wRC+, are down from his career numbers, they aren't so far down that he has any right to act like he's a good player getting piled on while in the midst of a temporary slump. His career line is .221/.268/.431 and his career wOBA and wRC+ are .301 and 86 respectively, so he's basically a slightly worse version of the guy he has been all along. If anything he should be eternally grateful to the mainstream media for essentially giving him a free pass on all his shortcomings for as long as they have. This is not a case of the media needing to pick on somebody, this is a case of a spade finally being called a spade, and the spade not wanting to hear it.

Luckily for J.P., he doesn't play for us anyways. He really takes a turn for the bizarre when he says “It depends on who you play for. With my faith system, I don’t play for the fans, I play for one being. I go out there and I’ve been blessed with abilities. I try to maximize and play as hard as I can with the gifts that I’ve been given." Sigh. I hope those gifts came with a gift receipt. 

Now I don't want to dump on J.P. for his faith (OK maybe I want to a little bit), but this kind of thing just rubs me the wrong way regardless of my own feelings on organized religion. Know who else usually has God-given gifts and faith in their beliefs? Pitchers! It just sounds like he thinks it's the will of some higher power that he strikes out constantly. It's not about playing hard to maximize his "gifts". It's about playing smart. Pitchers have shown the ability to use their God-given gifts to consistently outmatch his God-given gifts, so bringing faith into the equation strikes me as a total cop out. I've always suspected J.P. is a guess hitter. It's pretty obvious every time he gets to the plate. Turns out I was wrong. Sounds like he's a faith hitter. Just closes his eyes, takes a huge hack at anything the pitcher throws, and counts on Jesus and the "abilities" he has been "blessed" with to get the bat on the ball. Despite everything that was written about his leadership earlier this year (which is finally sounding as dumb as it actually was then), that sounds suspiciously like a player who takes no accountability for the fact that his own awful approach has led to his awful results

Confidence is great. All major leaguers have earned the right to be confident. They're among the best in the world at something, even if they're among the worst of the best. But when guys say things like “Results will come. I’m confident enough in my abilities, but again, guys need something to talk about and obviously I’m the one that they talk about. Do I care? Not really," it smacks of arrogance more than healthy confidence. The willingness to improve starts with acknowledging the role his flawed approach plays in his struggles, much as be has reportedly done with his defense. Then again, he made it to the show on the strength of his bat, not his defense, so I can appreciate how much more difficult it might be for him to acknowledge his offensive shortcomings than his defensive ones. 

That's no excuse any more, especially since he's been getting worse year by year when he should be entering his peak. After all, pride is one of the seven deadly sins. JPA needs to swallow his to start making the necessary improvements. Let's just hope that, for the team's sake and his own, he can do it sooner rather than later. 

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