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.