Mets catching situation still needs big shot in the arm

Ideally, the 2016 New York Mets will have Yoenis Cespedes, Michael Conforto, Steven Matz, and Noah Syndergaard contributing over a full season.

They’ve fortified the bullpen with the acquisition of Antonio Bastardo, and stabilized themselves defensively up the middle particularly with the acquisition of second baseman Neil Walker and that of shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.

The starting pitching, of course, remains the team’s strength, and barring any further transactions (like an Alejandro De Aza salary dump) the Mets will have a strong bench as well.

These improvements, plus the gained experience of winning a National League pennant, will serve the Mets well over the course of this upcoming regular season.

However, the Mets’ inability to throw out would be base-stealers at a more effective rate remains unresolved. And there’s the rub…

In less than two weeks, the Mets will open the regular season in Kansas City against the defending World Series champion Royals.

Throughout last year’s Fall Classic, Kansas City outperformed the Mets in several fundamental, and time honored facets of the game.  In a short series scenario, the Royals elevated their pitching, got on base more, forced key defensive situations upon the Mets, and otherwise ran wild on the arm of catcher Travis d’Arnaud.

From a Kansas City perspective, that’s what the scouting reports indicated they should do.

In 55 innings pitched, Royals pitchers allowed 35 hits and issued 14 walks. In 51.1 innings, the Mets allowed 47 hits, and issued 17 walks.  During the regular season, Royals’ pitchers combined to post a 1.28 WHIP, but posted a 0.942 mark in the World Series.  Meanwhile, the Mets posted a 1.18 WHIP (t-2nd N.L.) during the regular season, only to have Kansas City batters inflate that number to a 1.247 mark.

That inevitably brought the Mets defensive shortcomings front and center. Kansas City committed a pair of errors, while the Mets committed seven costly miscues (adding to K.C.’s rate of men on base). On the mound and with the glove, Kansas City certainly deserved their credit. In both respects, the Mets very simply got exposed.

Moving forward, however, I think I speak safely in saying Mets fans are not fretting about getting out-pitched this season – by any team – over the course of a long season or short series.  Reasons for strong fan confidence are obvious, starting with the Big Three starters.

Also, as noted, the Mets improved defensively during the offseason, if only slightly. By how much is a matter open for debate. That being said, Neil Walker should be a noticeable improvement over Daniel Murphy at second base, while Asdrubal Cabrera at least stabilizes shortstop, and takes the onus off Wilmer Flores.

As is noted above, though, throwing out base-stealers remains an issue.

Although successful in their few attempts, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs generally opted against a running game during the 2015 playoffs against the Mets. The Dodgers stole three bases during the NLDS, and the Cubs swiped just one during the NLCS.  The Kansas City Royals, though, stole seven bases against the Mets.  Travis d’Arnaud was 0-for-11 during the post-season, and 0-for-7 against the Royals against would be base-stealers.

D’Arnaud only started 64 games last season, but under favorable conditions – which I’ll explain.  In terms of the opposition’s running game, Mets pitchers provided their back-stops with a lot of unspoken help. In 2015, Mets pitchers issued the second least walks, surrendered the third least hits, faced the fifth least batters, posted the N.L.’s second best WHIP, and even HPB the second least batters. In taking things a step further, Mets hurlers were credited with allowing the fifth-least stolen bases (attributable to a pitcher), and rated second best in caught stealing (attributable to a pitcher).

Before delving into d’Arnaud the individual, first, a look at how the team’s numbers translated last season. On the positive side, the team surrendered the fifth least stolen bases in the National League. On the negative side, however, Mets catchers threw out the second-least base-stealers, and posted the league’s fifth worst (SBA%) stolen base against percentage.

So how did Travis d’Arnaud size up against his contemporaries?

I’ve created two lists: the 10 N.L. catchers who’ve played 90 or more games last season, then the remaining five backstops whom played in at least 80 games.

The Top 10 Catchers with at Least 90 Starts:
Next Five Catchers with at Least 80 Starts:

Mets Catchers:

Caught Stealing Percentage of all aforementioned 17 N.L. Catchers:

  • W. Ramos – 44% (Best)
  • Y. Molina – 41%
  • C. Rupp – 38%
  • B. Posey – 36%
  • D. Norris – 34%
  • N. Hundley – 34%
  • Travis d’Arnaud – 33%
  • Y. Grandal – 29%
  • J. Jucroy – 28%
  • J.T. Realmuto – 27%
  • W. Castillo – 27%
  • Kevin Plawecki – 25.6%
  • A.J. Pierzynski – 24%
  • F. Cirvelli – 22%
  • M. Montero – 20%
  • C. Ruiz – 19%
  • B. Pena – 18% (Worst)

As stated, Travis d’Arnaud only started 64 games last season. If you ranked his CS% among the catchers with at least 90 starts last season, he would have slotted seventh behind Nick Hundley. But then factor in the added help his pitchers provided (i.e., the minimal runners on base, etc.), and d’Arnaud’s standing becomes that much more difficult to discern. In the meantime, there’s no getting around .674 runners were successful against TDA last season, while .744 runners enjoyed success against Kevin Plawecki.

Is Travis d’Arnaud improving?

Despite getting exploited in a short series by a Royals team very adept at wreaking havoc on the bases, the answer is yes.

In 2014, he played in 105 games. If you remember, TDA led the National League with 12 passed balls. In his limited action last season, he allowed just one. He threw out 14 would be base-stealers, but allowed 58 more to steal safely. His 19% CS percentage placed 10 points below the league average. In 2015, his 33% CS percentage was actually five points higher than the N.L. average.

Can he improve further? Sure. There are ways to improve arm strength, and way to perfect one’s foot work and release point, etc. There’s little debating the position of catcher is still d’Arnaud’s to lose.  For me, though, the competition for catcher is still wide open.

Offensively at least, there’s much less to be concerned with.  Over the last two seasons, he’s posted a combined a .251 average in 624 at-bats, with 36 doubles, 25 home runs, and 82 RBI. With continued, sustained health, most agree those numbers will improve. We’ve seen him wield a hot bat when he’s had long stretches of playing time to acclimate himself. But, that’s just his problem.  The key will be staying on the field.

At 27 years of age, it’s high time he put his stamp on the position instead of an appendage in a sling. At this point, nothing less than a full season behind the dish will do. While his injuries indeed fall on the ponderous side, they are nevertheless mounting, and quite frankly becoming annoying.

Unlucky? Maybe … but I have a saying — once is an event, twice is a coincidence, three times is a trend.

D’Arnaud missed 74 games in 2014, and another 95 games last season. That said, Kevin Plawecki is not someone the Mets can continue stringing along much longer. For now, I would start Kevin Plawecki at Las Vegas this season, for the sake of him playing everyday.  I’ve mentioned the idea previously on past Rising Apple podcasts, while many of our fellow RA staff writers feel, and have recently written likewise.

That scenario would benefit both players, and perhaps start lending some resolution to this lingering, albeit good situation.

If a change is warranted, say by mid-season, so be it. May the better man eventually win out.

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