The Mets’ catching situation has had fans frustrated for years. A majority of people seemingly wanted the club to pursue an upgrade during the offseason but Sandy Alderson consistently said he was happy with the duo he had. Flash forward to the results after 36 games and both sides can say they were right. The Mets are 10-1 when either Travis d’Arnaud (4-0) or Kevin Plawecki (6-1) starts, vindicating somewhat Alderson’s point of view. Meanwhile, Mets catchers are dead last with a .525 OPS, a shocking 48 points below the 14th team in the league, lending support to those who felt the club needed to upgrade the position.
We haven’t seen an avalanche of injuries yet but the Mets had the misfortune of having their two catchers from the Opening Day roster go on the DL within two days of one another. First it was d’Arnaud on April 11 and Plawecki followed on the 13th. It’s hard to imagine most teams handling that without missing a beat. But the Mets theoretically weren’t in an awful position here. During the offseason they signed a veteran catcher in Jose Lobaton to act as depth in the minors while Tomas Nido was considered one of their top prospects and came with a label of being a good defensive backstop.
But what looked passable on paper has played out anyway but that in reality. Here’s how the Mets’ catchers have performed here in 2018:
The triple slash lines at the end of the chart are what opposing batters did with the individual catcher behind the plate. So, the .561 OPS by d’Arnaud’s name is what opposing hitters did when he was calling the game. It’s hard to fathom how bad the numbers were when Lobaton was behind the dish. Last year when he was on the Nationals, opponents posted a .726 OPS while Lobaton was catching, in the same ballpark as they did when starter Matt Wieters (.694) was in the game. And offense as a whole in the National League is down from a season ago. The NL average OPS this year is .712, compared to .748 a season ago.
It’s hard to differentiate here what’s the role of the pitcher versus what’s the role of the catcher in these situations. You can have Johnny Bench in his prime behind the plate and if the staff is throwing up meatballs, the numbers aren’t going to be great. But while we may not be able to come up with a precise number, it does seem safe to say that d’Arnaud and Plawecki were getting better results than Lobaton and Nido, with mostly the same pitchers.
And we can even look to Matt Harvey here, who pitched to three of the four primary Mets catchers and also has a start with a Reds catcher in his numbers. Here are his OPS allowed with his different catchers:
.677 – d’Arnaud in two games
1.000 – Nido in three games
1.051 – Lobaton in three games
.308 – Tucker Barnhart
What’s been so impressive about Mesoraco in his brief stint with the Mets is the work he’s received from Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler in his two starts. Those two guys, who most feel have been a colossal disappointment, have combined for 2 ER in 11 IP with Mesoraco as their catcher. And those two games were played in hitter’s ballparks in Cincinnati and Philadelphia.
An All-Star in 2014, Mesoraco has had his career derailed by injuries the past few seasons. But he’s healthy now and he’ll have an opportunity he wouldn’t have received with the Reds, as Barnhart was the clear number one backstop. It’s anyone’s guess how long Plawecki will remain out and it’s not too hard to imagine a healthy Mesoraco establishing himself as the main guy for the Mets if he gets an extended audition.
The cost for Mesoraco was relatively little, as Harvey had clearly worn out his welcome. And while he’s a free agent at the end of the season, the Mets might be in better shape with Mesoraco than if they had paid the going rate to acquire J.T. Realmuto. It’s too soon to declare victory here but it looks like the Mets are in better shape than they’ve been since their two catchers went down in the second week of April.
The Mets were 8-15 in games started by either Lobaton (4-9) or Nido (4-6) and while we tried to address their defensive numbers in the chart above, it should be pointed out that Lobaton carried a .521 OPS as a hitter and Nido had a dismal .342 mark. So, at the very least, Mesoraco and Plawecki (when he returns) should be an improvement on offense, even if they aren’t able to get consistent results from the Matz and Wheelers of the world.