Earlier this month, Buster Olney ranked the top 10 players in baseball by position. Five Mets (Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Jeurys Familia, Michael Conforto and Curtis Granderson) made the cut or were listed as honorable mentions. That got us to wondering where other prominent New York players not among the top 10 would rank. This article -- the second in a series -- takes a look at the Mets catcher.
Travis d’Arnaud is on the cusp of becoming really good. It’s something those who judge baseball players for a living have been saying about him for the last three seasons. And yet one scout I regularly speak with says you have to be patient with catchers and give them time. The time for d’Arnaud, who turns 27 in February, is right now. But his biggest challenge may be staying healthy.
Catching is a rough profession. D’Arnaud has battled through a knee surgery, concussions, a fractured hand and a hyperextended elbow. But the Mets don’t have another place to put him, so it looks like d’Arnaud is stuck behind the plate for now. Although the Mets may try him elsewhere, every other possible spot d’Arnaud could play (first base, third base, left field) is currently occupied by a likely full-time player.
When d’Arnaud is healthy, he rakes. He hit .267 with a .350 on-base percentage, a .484 slugging percentage and 19 extra-base hits in his last 46 games of the 2015 regular season, and his first taste of the postseason included a mammoth home run that dented the apple at Citi Field. If d’Arnaud could bottle that finish and spread it over a season of 500 at-bats, he’d be a top-three offensive catcher (only Buster Posey and Nick Hundley had 350 at-bats and an OPS of .800 or better last season).
D’Arnaud’s defense improved in 2015 -- he rated major league average after posting minus-8 runs saved -- but still needs work. He had throwing issues trying to stop would-be base stealers during the World Series. The Mets could partially solve that problem by using Kevin Plawecki (one of the game’s best pitch framers) as d’Arnaud’s late-game defensive replacement.
What the scouts think
The scouts I spoke with both noted that catching is different than it used to be, because many teams use catching tandems rather than a single starter. Only nine MLB catchers started at least 110 games in 2015. A decade ago, 17 did. So d’Arnaud isn’t as far from being considered a “regular” as he would have been 10 years ago.
The scouts really like d’Arnaud as a hitter. “He’s swinging with conviction and a purpose,” one said. Opinions on his defense are split. One noted the improvements we pointed out in the stats above. Another said he still had concerns.
“Could he get better? Yes,” he said. “Will he? It’s debatable. For him to be a top-10 catcher in baseball, he has to improve his throwing, his framing, his work with his pitching staff, his pitch-blocking and his game-calling. His game-calling is getting better. His throwing and blocking have a ways to go. You could see in the World Series that the game seemed to speed up on him.”
We had ESPN Insider projection expert Dan Szymborski run his ZiPS projections on d’Arnaud. It pegs him at .254/.312./.448 in 99 games, which is nearly a match for what you get when averaging d’Arnaud’s 2014 and 2015 numbers. The one bright spot is that because d’Arnaud would play 32 more games than he did in 2015, his WAR would go up. He’s projected for 2.5 wins above replacement.
We asked one other question on this projection: What chance would it give that d’Arnaud hits more than 20 home runs, since you figure he’d have to play at least 110 or so games to get a shot at that? ZiPS came back with 16 percent, about a 1-in-6 chance.