Travis d’Arnaud as a backup catcher

Wilson Ramos was signed during the off-season, and, barring injury, he will be the Mets starting catcher in 2019. However, he turns 32 during the season, and he has had a few injuries, so the backup catcher should get plenty of chances to contribute. That backup will undoubtedly be Travis d’Arnaud, the injury beset backstop who was a key contributor to the successful 2015 pennant drive.

2018 was not a season d’Arnaud will remember fondly, he played only four games at catcher before he underwent elbow ligament repair, more commonly known as Tommy John surgery. How can he be expected to fare in 2019, especially defensively?

Tommy John surgery is mostly performed on pitchers, and recovery for a pitcher usually takes at least a year, often more. The general consensus seems to be those position players who have the surgery can recover a bit quicker than pitchers do. So the assumption here is that d’Arnaud should be ready to play and contribute on or about opening day.

Defensively, d’Arnaud has been a bit of a mixed bag in his career. He has been considered a good pitch framer, and he does not allow many passed balls. However his defensive achilles heel has been throwing out runners.

In 2015, d’Arnaud had 33% CS rate, pretty good since Met pitchers that year were not adept at holding on runners. In 2016, his CS rate dropped to 22%. In 2017 it was a terrible 17%, and in the microscopic sample of four games in 2018, it was even lower at 13%. This is about as downward trend as you can get. However, elbow ligament damage does not usually just pop up immediately, there is often a cumulative effect. It is likely that his elbow was hindering his throws for awhile and that the problem was getting progressively worse.

Let’s take a look at the CS rate of another catcher who endured Tommy John surgery, Matt Wieters. In 2013, Wieters had a respectable 35% CS rate with Baltimore. In 2014, in a small sample, the rate plunged to 8% and Wieters underwent the TJ procedure. He was back catching in 2015 and he posted a 31% mark, and he increased it to 35% in 2016. In 2017 Wieters, now catching for Washington, regressed to a 25% rate. Last year, at the age of 32, Wieters rebounded to a 37% CS rate, close to his career best.

If d’Arnaud’s CS rate follows a similar arc to that of Wieters, d’Arnaud should do a much better job of throwing out runners in 2019. The other parts of his defense have traditionally been pretty good. In 2015 in 67 games he had only one passed ball, and he had just two PBs in 2017. In a 2017 article from NorthJersey.com, then GM Sandy Alderson praised d’Arnaud’s pitch framing and his tagging ability.

He is no slouch at the plate, in 2015 he put up a .268/.340/.485 slash line. He has not done as well since then, although injuries undoubtedly played a part in hindering his offensive production in those years.

If d’Arnaud can recover as well as Wieters did with respect to throwing out runners, he could prove to be one of the best backup catchers in the game. And even if he is pretty much consigned to being the backup at the start of the season, that could change at some point in the future and he just might be a productive starter again with either the Mets or some other team.

18 comments for “Travis d’Arnaud as a backup catcher

  1. January 28, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Using caught stealing to rate defense? Travis is an excellent pitch framer and if his throwing improves great but throwing runners out doesn’t make you a good defensive catcher look at Wieters. I would have kept Plawecki and moved Travis just due to him being so injury prone.

  2. Artie
    January 28, 2019 at 3:17 pm

    You know what, Darnaud, Smith Cechini and Gselman should be shopped. Get what you can for them,while you can get something.

  3. Chris F
    January 28, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    I take exception to the passed balls comment. I think d’Arnaud has a long track record of receiving issues, enough to attract full blown articles about it. Fangraphs did one with videos and early on so did Jared Diamond with an article entitled:
    “N.Y. Mets: Catching the Ball Is D’Arnaud’s Problem
    Catcher Leads the League in Passed Balls, and His Ability to Frame Pitches May Be the Reason”

    I think TdA’s itch framing is over stated, but the reason for the passed balls problem is because he come from the lazy school of catchers that prefer to believe they can back hand outside pitches rather than get down and over to block. The number of glancing off the mitt PBs is maddening. Perhaps hes improved, but the lack of health limiting chances.

    Hes a backup catcher, thats for sure.

    Here is a nice set of gifs showing this

    https://www.amazinavenue.com/2013/11/8/5071580/new-york-mets-travis-darnaud-pitch-blocking-framing-defense

    • January 28, 2019 at 4:20 pm

      Ah, living in the past – can’t beat it!

      The link is from 2013. In 2014, he had 12 PB in 909 innings. Since then, he has 7 PB in 1,995.1 innings or a PB every 285 innings. They tell me Yadier Molina is the gold standard for defensive catchers. In the last two seasons, he’s allowed 10 PB in 2,143.1 innings or a PB every 214.1 innings. JT Realmuto, who everyone tells me is a defensive star, has allowed 17 PB in his last 2,046.2 innings, or a PB every 120.1 innings.

      Passed balls were a problem for TDA a long time ago.

      • John Fox
        January 28, 2019 at 5:01 pm

        And then there is Yasmani Grandal, also considered a good defensive catcher, who can rack up practically a seasons worth of PB just in the postseason games.

      • Chris F
        January 28, 2019 at 8:12 pm

        18 nothing
        17 112 games
        16 75 games
        15 67 games
        14 108 games.

        its sort of hard to find anything with someone so much on the DL. Sure these are older, but he’s still a lazy back handing catcher.

  4. DaMetsman in Washington State
    January 28, 2019 at 5:59 pm

    Lets take an honest look at what’s being discussed here. By far, catcher is the toughest position in baseball and there is nothing comparable in any sport. Nothing! Don’t say hockey goal tender because they do not have to call a game, direct the defense and go on offense. Any catcher that gets to The Show has exceptional skills. Some skills are stronger than others. Very few have plus skills in all the catching disciplines and that is why there are so few receivers in the HOF. A catcher’s performance also depends on the pitching staff. Two of the best defensive catchers, Bench and Grote, would have struggled to throw runners out with the Mets pitching staff of the past five years or so. Slow to the plate and poor moves to 1B are not kind to catchers. Travis d’Arnaud has certainly been unlucky and he, like all catchers, has his strengths and weaknesses. He does “stick” pitches (frame) with aplomb, which is a highly valued skill in baseball, since a good framer of pitches can buy 4-8 strikes a game. The guys at the bottom of the list (like Sal Perez and Wellington Castillo) buy none. Travis is a good blocker and, for the most part, the various Met pitching staffs have had good control. If he caught a staff that had trouble being in and near the zone, he would have more PBs. Catchers are subservient to the quality, or lack thereof, of their pitchers. There were likely two reasons the Mets kept Travis and dealt Plawecki. Very likely, the Tribe wanted Plawecki for one reason or another. Clearly, he was not coming off Tommy John surgery. D’Arnaud has a little more offensive upside with more power and potentially a better all-around hitter. There is no reason he cannot be a more than adaquate backup. One of the loudmouths on SNY keeps saying the Mets should sign Maldonado and dump d’Arnaud. Does anyone think Maldonado wants to go to a team where he will be a backup? As one of the premier defensive catchers in a game where defense is really only prized behind the dish, don’t you think Maldonado can at least expect to sign on with a team where he will start or be in a platoon. Billy Beane has once again made a very positive under-the radar move that will help his pitchers when he signed Jonathan Lucroy, always the best MLB pitch framer. Sticking pitches does not necessarily dissipate with age. The Mets are certainly deeper with d’Arnaud as a backup, who can catch a dozen games a month, than they have been for the past four years when he and Plawecki, and whomever the injury replacement was, were in the mix. For about $13 million, the 2019 Mets have two plus offensive catchers and two slightly above league average defenders, with a decent prospect in Nido honing his craft at Triple-A. Seems like a solid scenario. How many teams are in a better position behind the dish?

    • Aging Bull
      January 28, 2019 at 7:55 pm

      I enjoyed reading your post and agree with virtually every point. I’m not sure that I can agree that Nido is a promising prospect though. I have like TDA from the beginning and am pulling for him. I have a feeling that without the presssure of catching everyday, he might just blossom as a solid hitter. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get hurt.

      Having just written that last statement, I had an premonition of the “only happens to the Mets” variety. Somehow Lagares and TDA will be injured in the same play or drill during ST and end up on the DL to open the season…

      LOL!

    • MattyMets
      January 28, 2019 at 10:42 pm

      DeMetsman – bravo on a very thoughtful post. In the grander scheme I agree that catcher is a critical position to a winning team. It’s the baseball equivalent of a quarterback – typically only a handful of great ones but hard to win without at least a good one. Look at al the teams that have won multiple titles and you see the common thread – Posey, Molina, Varitek, Posada, back to Bench, Howard, Berra, Dickey, et al. They don’t have to be MVP HOF guys, just solid defenders and leaders like Varitek, the real life Crash Davis. I get why BVW so badly wanted Realmuto. He’s of that ilk. Hopefully Ramos/TDA can fill that role for us.

    • Rae
      January 28, 2019 at 10:58 pm

      AJ Ellis and Juan Graterol are still available as is Devin Mesoraco. and Matt Wieters. Graterol is a great defender and has a 41% throwing runners out rate last year in AAA. He’ll only hit 220 but that is good enough to be a backup catcher. The Mets need to package d’Arnaud, Vargas, and perhaps a decent minor league pitching relief prospect to see if anyone would trade with the Mets, and send them a halfway decent prospect in return. After this trade they need to turn around, and immediately sign Gio Gonzales. d’Arnaud’s only good year in the Majors was 2015. He just can’t throw the ball, and with Matz and Syndergaard in the rotation the Mets need to have a backup catcher that can throw the ball otherwise both of these pitchers let games get away from them which turns into loosing efforts. d’Arnaud needs to go as he is not the backup catcher the Mets really can utilize in 2019.

    • TexasGusCC
      January 29, 2019 at 1:12 am

      Positions in sports by order of difficulty:
      1. By far Quarterback in football. Not only does he have to read defenses as five or six players are hoping to rip his head off on every passing play, but he needs to figure out before the play what defense the other team is trying to disguise.

      2. Pitcher: the game’s victory squarely rests on your shoulders and pitching is deemed 90% of a team’s chance for success.

      3. Hockey goalie: Game after game you need to be a wall. While most of your responsibility is reaction based – not as much strategic – you must continuously stop a 105mph shot with players placing themselves in your line of vision so you can’t see the shot and backing into you to distract you.

      4. Point guard: not only making ball decisions, but having to usually do most of the work to get it down low to your bigs, including driving in the paint and trying to draw players a foot taller than you to you.

      5. Middle linebacker: You read the offense and adjust the defense according to the strong side of the formation. You can call off blitzes.

      Somewhere later…
      Catcher: call the pitch your manager decides, signal the defense told to you from the dugout, and catch the ball and throw it back. The only hard part is the squatting and needing to jump out of your squat to make plays. And while that is hard, but how many of those per game are there? And while we all love our catchers, the reason why there aren’t more in the Hall of Fame is because many times if a guy is that good offensively, they change his position to save the body from the wear and tear. Seeing Lagares play CF makes me feel like his job is more important than the catcher’s.

      • John Fox
        January 29, 2019 at 2:41 pm

        How about decathaloner on a track and field team for the top five in difficulty in sports. Needs strength, distance speed, sprinter speed, agility and lots of mental toughness

        • January 29, 2019 at 3:00 pm

          When Michael Jordan “retired” from basketball, I wanted him to train for the decathlon and try to win a Gold Medal.

  5. January 28, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    The biggest immediate question is whether he’s able to play “soon”. He’s been a lousy thrower, with his “results” weighted by his pitchers.

    He may have been hurt for quite some time—we often hear of pitchers with partial tears of the UCL. Forgetting Travis’s Throwing results, his last year or so looked “Yippy” and odd as far as his throwing stroke. I would guess this was an indicator of an injury (not a Cause of one).

    So…how soon can he throw?…and will his hitting (also) benefit with a repaired elbow.

    He was a Cheap Lotter Ticket signing…and I believe some of the money is not guaranteed.

  6. Steevy
    January 28, 2019 at 9:54 pm

    I would rather have kept Plawecki as the backup honestly.

    • MattyMets
      January 28, 2019 at 10:47 pm

      Steevy- I agree. The decision to tender TDA was a puzzling one to me. $3.5mm is too steep for a backup catcher. When he’s healthy I believe he is a better bat than KP but at that price? Also, to me a backup catcher should be a sturdy, defense first type like Rene Rivera. Once upon a time TDA was the best catching prospect in baseball traded from the Phillies to the Blue Jays to the Mets and now nearing 30 and free agency with perhaps his last chance to make a career for himself.

  7. January 29, 2019 at 12:30 am

    On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being a no how many here believe TDA will be on the opening day roster? I for one don’t see him being here. I’ll give him a 1.5 Like Steevy I’m perplexed as to why tender him at all if you’re not sure what you’re going to get. Not even the Dodgers and their massive 200 million dollar payroll have 4 million invested in a back up catcher. Ironically L.A.s 2 catchers don’t even add up to half of Ramos’ salary! I believe if the team isn’t able to find a team willing to trade for TDA Met ownership will hold on to him. Another question mark. Typical of this organization.

    • TexasGusCC
      January 29, 2019 at 1:29 am

      Pete, to me the most surprising aspect of why they chose TDA over Plawecki was the four years of control. Was TDA’s one year worth four of Plawecki’s at a rate 3.5x as high? Plawecki was league average and improving. I understand that Cleveland may have preferred Plawecki, that’s possible, but even way before the trade we heard whispers that if they don’t keep three, they’re trading Plawecki, not TDA.

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