Victor Caratini Earning More Playing Time with Sustainable Offensive Production
Victor Caratini enters the Fourth of July with an impressive .298 batting average, four homers, a .377 wOBA, and 133 wRC+ that would rank third on the team if he had more plate appearances. Hold up, though, are these stats actually sustainable? Why yes, lots of numbers actually suggest Caratini’s performance is for real.
Don’t be fooled by that .368 batting average on balls in play, the switch-hitting backup catcher deserves every single one of those points. He’s steadily improved his exit velocity and launch angle on essentially all pitch types since his 2018 season (200 PA’s). That degree of quality contact has translated to a .361 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), which is right in line with his actual wOBA of .377.
It’s not as if Caratini is just creating runs against one specific pitch type, either. Not only is generating more runs than a league-average hitter on all pitch categories, but he actually deserves that performance.
And his plate discipline likewise inspires more optimism about his future. Caratini’s 23.9% outside-zone swing rate is notably lower than the MLB average of 31.1% and if he had reached the minimum plate-appearance threshold for qualification, he would be in the top 10% of MLB.
For the rest of 2019, ZiPS projects Caratini will hit to a .316 wOBA and create 7% fewer runs than an average hitter over 156 plate appearances. Like most projection models, previous seasons are weighted, which means Caratini’s 2018 numbers have a significant effect on his 2019 projections. But if we believe his current production reflects a successful change in his overall approach, it’s not insane to project greater than league average offense.
Since the underlying stats say this is sustainable, I’d love to see Caratini get more chances. That would mean more shuffling to ensure Willson Contreras — whose 141 wRC+ leads the team — and other don’t lose too much time, but it’s hard to ignore Caratini’s offense. And when Addison Russell continues to receive frequent playing time despite an unfavorable .296 wOBA projection and 80 wRC+ for the reason of the season, there’s obvious potential for upgrades.
Granted, Caratini hasn’t been been used as an everyday player and may be reaping the benefit of better matchups and skimpier scouting reports against him. Whether he can adapt in a more frequently-used role is to be determined. So although I’m still hyped about his numbers, I wonder if he’ll be able to adjust at a pace necessary for everyday players.
Still, the Cubs have got to find a way to get Caratini more at-bats because his underlying numbers suggest his offense has been for real.