Anthony Recker is a big man with a ton of natural power. When he crushes a home run over the left field wall, it can be easy to think a guy like that needs more playing time. Add in that he’s improved himself into a very well-rounded defensive backstop while Travis d’Arnaud has struggled both at and behind the plate this year, and the case for Recker getting more playing time seems an easy one to make.
Let’s delve into the numbers and see if that is really the best option for the Mets. In less than half the playing time as d’Arnaud, Recker has better offensive numbers, and has not let up a passed ball. He has also thrown out two runners, including Cincinnati’s Billy Hamilton, and has yet to allow a stolen base. Meanwhile d’Arnaud has thrown out one runner, allowed four stolen bases, has one passed ball, and a shocking nine wild pitches have been thrown while he’s behind home plate. Multiple reports, including Chris McShane’s article over at Amazin’ Avenue, have pointed out that d’Arnaud’s lack of movement when blocking pitches and his penchant for backhanding balls in the dirt most likely account for this high rate. So Recker has been hitting better when given the opportunities, and has proven a solid defensive catcher. Does that mean the case is settled?
Not so fast. Of course everything in April and even May is subject to the small sample size defense, but Recker has some worrying K/BB rates. His mediocre 8.7 BB% and his atrocious 34.8 K% equal just a .25 K/BB ratio, well below the league average. That is just a couple of ticks below his .27 K/BB% that he put up in 50 games last year, so it’s not an aberration. d’Arnaud, for all his troubles at and behind the plate, has a much healthier .67 BB/K ratio. His pinch hitting assignment versus the Braves on Sunday broke a six-game streak where d’Arnaud was on base at least once. That’s nothing to write home about yet, but it’s a step in the right direction for a young hitter who just three weeks ago was mired in a 0-15 slump to start the season.
How about the defense? Recker so far has a .4 dWAR, which is exactly what he put up through all of last year. d’Arnaud on the other hand has a -.1 dWAR, again exactly what he put up last year. It’s a very young season, and since defensive metrics are still catching up to offensive ones, these numbers are not an accurate reflection of what either player might do defensively over the course of the full year. Therefore, there is reason to hope that d’Arnaud’s issues of getting to wild pitches and smothering balls in the dirt may fade away over the course of the long haul. Or perhaps Recker’s defense will continue to improve as well and he will need to play more based on that ability alone. As of right now, though, neither is head and shoulders above the other, despite the wild pitch disparity.
Recker has been starting more often lately, playing four of the last nine games. It’s not that d’Arnaud is presently good enough to warrant forcing Recker back into a backup role, but d’Arnaud’s peripheral numbers suggest that the young prospect will eventually become a .260-.280 type of hitter with some power. Recker has never been given the chance to be the everyday guy, but over the course of 1,084 Triple-A ABs, he has a .278/.360/.478 line, suggesting that he might fare well given more time at the major league level. Recker has more experience on his side, but otherwise it’s a crap shoot at the moment as to who would be the better option on an everyday basis.
Gary Cohen mentioned during Sunday’s game that of Recker’s eight home runs as a Met, seven of those have either tied or put the Mets ahead in a game. Recker’s flair for the dramatic may serve extremely well to endear him to fans, but if that flair goes along with striking out in 1/3 of his ABs, then it is possible Recker will have to make those dramatic homers a specialty while coming off the bench or playing infrequently.
Unfortunately Recker seems to be an all or nothing kind of guy. He swings hard, and he pulls a great deal when he makes contact. He’s also just a very big guy, something that cannot be said of d’Arnaud. That size will serve Recker well while blocking the plate or putting some mammoth strength into those swings he does make contact on. As an everyday player though, Recker still leaves some aspects to be desired. It’s possible that if d’Arnaud doesn’t show improvement over the next few weeks that Recker will be forced to take on more responsibility. He may even prosper for a while. Those peripheral numbers may end up haunting him, though. If Recker wants to be the guy behind the plate four days out of five, he’ll have to exhibit more of the patience he showed down in Triple-A, and back up that power with some more average, which he’s been doing more of lately. If not, d’Arnaud is coming sooner or later. Hopefully this competition will push both to be better, and that’s the best possibly scenario.