Why You Should Believe in Travis d'Arnaud in 2015
Mets rookie catcher Travis d'Arnaud got off to a bit of a rocky start in his first full season as the New York Mets everyday catcher.
The struggles were a shock for the 25-year-old, whom the Mets acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the R.A. Dickey deal back in 2013. d'Arnaud had been a top 100 prospect in baseball every year since before the 2010 season, and had compiled a .290/.350/.488 slash line in 2218 minor league plate appearances in the Phillies, Blue Jays and Mets farm systems. He was one of the main pieces in the Phils' trade for Roy Halladay, and now with New York, was seen as the team's catcher of the future.
But as d'Arnaud's numbers dipped, his confidence suffered, and the team eventually demoted him to Triple-A Las Vegas after a rough two-plus months at the plate and behind the dish.
Apparently, as the following table shows, that was time well spent.
When he was sent down in early June, he was among the worst position players in baseball. His three home runs in 145 plate appearances was paltry, and his weighted runs created (wRC+) of 53 was ghastly.
However, since being called up on June 24, he's exploded, with 10 homers in 255 plate appearances, a .356 weighted on base average (wOBA) and a slash line that has jumped from .180/.271/.273 to .282/.325/.492, numbers that closely resemble his minor league stats. He's homered in 3.9% of his plate appearances since his call-up, far better than the 2.1% rate prior to the demotion.
Since the All-Star break, d'Arnaud has been one of the best offensive catchers in the National League.
The four catchers listed above d'Arnaud on that list are all All-Star players, the best at their position. And there d'Arnaud is, hanging right there with them, sporting a nifty 1.3 fWAR in the second half of the season, fifth-best in the National League during that time.
His season-long nERD of -0.09 means a lineup full of d'Arnauds would score .09 runs a game less than a league average player over a 27-out game. However, that number is much improved from the beginning of the season.
So what is he doing differently? For one thing, d'Arnaud is standing a little bit closer to the plate, which, as this heat map from ESPN shows, has allowed him to cover the plate better since his recall.
Another interesting note is d'Arnaud's walk-rate has dropped since he was recalled from Las Vegas, but his strikeout rate has also declined, which means he's being more aggressive at the plate. As a result, his line drive percentage has increased from 18.0% to 22.4% in the second half, and his HR/FB rate has jumped from 9.5% to 12.5% since the All-Star break.
Usually, a higher walk rate is more desirable. But in d'Arnaud's case, a little less patience at the plate has allowed him to be less tentative.
There's still some work to do behind the plate defensively. So far this year, d'Arnaud has accounted for -14 Defensive Runs Saved, which is dead last among 19 qualified Major League catchers this season. But it's possible some of those defensive issues went hand-in-hand with early-season frustration at the plate, and it will be interesting to see if an improved offensive showing will help even out his defense a bit as well.
All in all, d'Arnaud's drastic second-half improvement is a welcome sight for the Mets, who hope to pair him with Lucas Duda, Dilson Herrera, David Wright, Daniel Murphy and Juan Lagares as position players around whom they can build around.