Mets fans should give Travis d’Arnaud one last chance

Mar 2, 2017; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud (18) bats against the Miami Marlins at First Data Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 2, 2017; Port St. Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud (18) bats against the Miami Marlins at First Data Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /

“He’s had plenty of chances,” many of you are thinking. But let’s just give him one more. OK?

On Friday, Terry Collins was asked about Rene Rivera being his starting catcher on Opening Day rather than Travis d’Arnaud. What did he have to say about it?

His response came as a relief to many fans, who have grown tired of d’Arnaud’s struggles on both sides of the ball, especially after another woeful defensive performance on Saturday.

It’s no secret that Rivera is the superior defensive catcher. He even developed into Noah Syndergaard‘s personal batterymate last season, earning himself a start in the playoffs. But Rivera is just that — a defensive catcher. Despite running into the occasional home run, the man cannot hit.

This is where many will reply, “neither can Travis.” But he has hit. And hit quite well. Clearly, d’Arnaud was a terrible offensive player last season. Hell, he was almost as bad as Rivera. What keeps getting overlooked, though, is the fact that for a full season’s worth of baseball, d’Arnaud was among the best hitting catchers in the game.

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After struggling in his debut 2013 season and the first several months of 2014, d’Arnaud was demoted to the minors in June of 2014. When he returned, the Mets finally got a glimpse of the player they had traded for.

From late June of 2014 through his fantastic (but brief) 2015 season, d’Arnaud hit 22 home runs in 544 plate appearances, with 33 doubles and 4 triples. This was good for an .815 OPS and 129 wRC+. To put that in perspective, not a single catcher in baseball with at least 400 plate appearances posted a wRC+ of 129 last season. Buster Posey was the only catcher to reach this feat in 2015.

Despite playing only 67 games in 2015, d’Arnaud accumulated a fWAR of 2.3. This ranked 8th amongst catchers in baseball that season. Again, he played just 67 games.  Keep in mind, fWAR is a metric that encompasses defense as well. From this, we can assume two things: maybe d’Arnaud isn’t the worst defensive catcher in baseball history. And maybe d’Arnaud’s offensive prowess will allow us to forgive some of his defensive flaws.

Some seem to think d’Arnaud’s unorthodox batting stance was the reason behind his offensive struggles in 2016. But his loopy swing didn’t appear to hinder his game in 2015…

…that looked pretty nice to me.

The Mets likely went into 2016 expecting much of the same from d’Arnaud. They salivated at the idea of extrapolating d’Arnaud’s limited 2015 into a full season, leaving them with a top-five catcher. But they got nothing close to that. d’Arnaud posted a paltry 74 wRC+, and he threw out just 21.8% of stolen base attempts compared to 32.6% in 2015.

So did d’Arnaud suddenly become terrible at baseball? Or was he simply never able to fully recover, both physically and mentally, from the injury that sidelined him for two months?

I’m willing to bet on the latter. And the widely publicized inability of Mets starting pitchers to hold runners on didn’t help his metrics. A 2015-esque d’Arnaud could push this team from a Wild Card berth to a divisional crown. No matter what Rivera does, he cannot provide the same value.

Fortunately, Terry Collins has hinted that d’Arnaud will get his share of at-bats as long as he hits. But being benched on Opening Day is not a good start. Give d’Arnaud consistent playing time, and let’s see if he can go back to being the excellent player he was in 2015.

Next: Lagares suffers left oblique injury

Fortunately, as seen above, if d’Arnaud isn’t given this opportunity, we can still count on him to remain a consummate professional.