Last year Mets catchers put up a combined .654 OPS, 33 points below the average mark for National League backstops. Of the four catchers to see action for the club last year, Travis d’Arnaud had the lowest OPS with a .542 mark in 111 PA. Yet because of his minor league pedigree, many fans expect d’Arnaud to have a big year at the plate. Some even point to the rookie as one of the keys to the Mets’ season.
It’s a lot of pressure to put on a young catcher. But d’Arnaud has put up big numbers in the minors and is generally considered one of the top catching prospects in the game. Additionally, anyone down on him due to his poor performance in the majors last year should realize that he had a .244 BABIP. It’s tough for anyone to look good with that poor of a number on balls in play.
While d’Arnaud struggled at the plate, he did a great job behind the dish and made a good first impression handling MLB pitchers. We don’t have great tools for measuring catcher defense but recently ESPN’s Adam Rubin came up with this nugget:
According to Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information, d’Arnaud got a strike call on 84.5 percent of the pitches that were taken by batters and deemed to actually be in the strike zone. Buck got strike calls on only 77.7 percent of such pitches. The MLB average is 80.7 percent.
Remind me again why people wanted to bring back John Buck to tutor d’Arnaud defensively?
Because it’s easily available, many people focus on SB/CS ratios as the main area of catcher defense. It’s why many people downgrade Mike Piazza. However, if research like Simon did was available during Piazza’s time, his defensive reputation would be markedly different.
Regardless, since defense is a big part of a catcher’s job, how do we take something that’s readily available and easily understood and apply it in a projection? With eyes rolled and noses held, we are going to use catcher’s ERA.
No stat is perfect. The key is to understand the relative strengths and weaknesses of the metric before you use it. Unfortunately, perhaps the only strength of CERA is that it’s available and easy to understand. CERA measures the ERA of all the pitchers on the mound when a specific catcher was behind the plate. It should be pretty clear that the catcher of the 1966 Dodgers is going to have a better CERA than the backstop for the 1962 Mets.
It’s more useful for comparing catchers on the same team but even then you run into trouble. First, the backup catcher likely has a much smaller sample size and secondly, the pitchers caught are never equal. Last year Buck had a strong CERA primarily due to the large number of games he was behind the plate when Matt Harvey pitched. Certainly, Buck should get at least some credit for Harvey’s year but most of us feel that Harvey would be great regardless of which MLB catcher was behind the plate.
Buck had a 2.25 CERA with Harvey on the mound last year and a 4.29 mark with the rest of the staff.
The Mets will not have the Harvey “problem” this year, which may make the CERA comparisons more useful. Last year, d’Arnaud caught one Harvey start and his overall CERA was 4.11 in 258.1 innings.
So, how will d’Arnaud do both offensively and defensively this year? Here’s what we think:
With the exception of our resident contrarian Dan Kolton, all of us see him putting up an OPS of .745 or greater. Chris Walendin, usually noted for his level-headed forecasts, has the most optimistic one out there, as he calls for an .837 OPS. Perhaps the most interesting forecasts are the ones for homers. Most people see him producing numbers in the teens yet Charlie Hangley thinks he’ll bang out 23, nearly twice the number that Mike Koehler and I project. Meanwhile, all of us, with one exception, see d’Arnaud improving in his CERA, too.
Here’s what the group as a whole projects for d’Arnaud in 2014:
These would be extremely optimistic offensive numbers for anyone who only saw him play in the majors and knew nothing of his minor league track record. Even knowing his pedigree, they are probably optimistic for a rookie catcher. If d’Arnaud meets this projection, Mets fans should be very happy. It would be the best rookie season for a Mets catcher in franchise history and put him in the discussion for Rookie of the Year honors.
Let’s see how our forecast stacks up against the others available on FanGraphs for d’Arnaud in 2014:
It’s not a big surprise that ours is the most optimistic forecast. The ZiPS projection of a .699 OPS and little more than half a season’s worth of playing time seems a touch surprising. The Steamer projection of a .738 OPS seems on track to me but hopefully d’Arnaud will get more playing time than it projects.
Check back Monday for our next entry in the projection series.