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2015 Catcher Profile: d'Arnaud is French for "Upside"

Travis d'Arnaud emerged at the end of 2014 as a useful fantasy catcher. What is his outlook for 2015?

d'Arnaud will be hitting plenty of balls like this in 2015
d'Arnaud will be hitting plenty of balls like this in 2015
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Before I get a bunch of angry comments in French (you know who you are), I know d'Arnaud is not French for "upside." It is obviously French for "the Arnaud." Ok, apparently it means "Arnold", which is Germanic for "eagle power." Huh. Well, we can work with that, especially the "power" part.

Travis d'Arnaud had a pretty good year in 2014. He ended up at #11 in our staff consensus rankings (#10 in my own), so we expect him to be startable in nearly all leagues. I believe he has the skills to pull off a Devin Mesoraco-type breakout in 2015. I think his range of outcomes is something like 15th best catcher to 5th best. Let's take a look at d'Arnaud's (wow, two apostrophes!) 2014 stat line. I put his total fantasy line and his two season halves in the table along with some other stats, for reasons that will become clear.

2014 48 41 13 0.242 1 0.259 0.416
1st Half 18 19 6 0.217 1 0.241 0.354
2nd Half 30 22 7 0.265 0 0.274 0.474

There's a lot to unpack about this table. First, his BABIP is pretty low. I'm afraid that is just going to be part of the package with him. He isn't very fast (at all) and he likes to pull the ball a lot, so he was shifted on. That's going to keep his BABIP below average (.300). He did improve his BABIP in the 2nd half of the season (he had almost exactly the same number of plate appearances in each half, despite the 2nd half being shorter, due to a brief demotion to AAA in the first half).

That demotion was critical. Here are some quotes about d'Arnaud's time in AAA (source 1source 2). It clearly had an impact.

Mets manager Terry Collins said d'Arnaud benefitted from making a few changes in his swing at Las Vegas with hitting coach George Greer -- though he would not say what they were. Las Vegas manager Wally Backman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the placement of his back foot to the plate has changed.

"Hitting is hard," Collins said. "You tweak anything, it’s hard and it becomes major. Now is he going to have a whole new stance? No. Because nobody can make those kinds of adjustments that fast. Probably to the naked eye it will look like it’s minor. But it’s worked what he did down there and we’ll see if it plays here. And I hope it does."

But d'Arnaud insisted the changes came from introspection more than technique. He said 95 percent of his change have been mental and the rest physical. At the plate, his mind is no longer cluttered. He attributed his past troubles to "too much technical stuff when the baseball is coming 90 miles an hour."

But more noteworthy was d'Arnaud's improvement hitting offspeed and breaking pitches. Before his demotion, d'Arnaud posted a .159 average, with one home run and no other extra-base hits off those pitches. After his return, he hit .262, smacking five home runs and eight other extra-base hits off curveballs, changeups, splitters and sliders, according to Brooks Baseball.

Whatever he did, his 2nd half was impressive. His homers and RBI didn't increase by much, but his average and slugging skyrocketed. It looks like he was hitting the ball much harder and making better contact. This is the Mesoraco-like upside I was referring to. If he can put together a full season of near-.500 slugging, he will finish in the top 5 or 6 catchers. I like this new version of d'Arnaud a lot. And although I put him at #10 in my catcher rankings, I like his upside much more than that and would not be surprised if he ends up near the top of the end of season rankings.

Interestingly, he was playing with a minor injury for much of the season, even the second half. He had surgery on October 1 to remove bone chips from his right elbow. If this is how he plays with a bad elbow, imagine what he could do fully healthy. And there's the problem with d'Arnaud right there. He has had health issues for years, including a concussion (the third of his career) last year that put him on the 7-day DL and ultimately forced him to AAA. Maybe his poor performance early in the season was partially due to the concussion. That was a freak accident, caused by a backswing from Alfonso Soriano smacking his head, so there is hope that his health issues are behind him.

This table shows his Steamer projection and my own. I am more bullish on his upside than Steamer, but even Steamer sees improvement over last year's numbers, so the future is indeed bright for him.

Steamer 53 60 17 0.251 2
Me 59 67 21 0.251 2

Using the standings gain points method (standard 5x5), I calculated TdA's fantasy points catcher ranking using his total 2014 stats, and his 2nd half stats extrapolated to a full season. He finished 18th for the full season, but 10th using his 2nd half numbers, so he really can move up the list this year. He's only 25, which is actually young for a catcher, since they develop late and has not yet reached the peak power age (around 27). Mesoraco was 26 last year during his breakout, so I will say it one more time: d'Arnaud has upside.

I will leave you with a video of Travis smoking a pitch to left and Tschus!

For those interested: here is the catcher fantasy rankings table using standings gain points for standard 5x5 categories for 2014:

Points Rank
Buster Posey 12.00 1
Jonathan Lucroy 10.16 2
Devin Mesoraco 9.78 3
Yan Gomes 9.41 4
Brian McCann 7.98 5
Salvador Perez 7.97 6
Russell Martin 7.75 7
Dioner Navarro 7.24 8
Evan Gattis 7.07 9
Wilin Rosario 6.47 10
Derek Norris 6.34 11
Miguel Montero 6.12 12
Mike Zunino 5.98 13
Yasmani Grandal 5.71 14
Kurt Suzuki 5.60 15
Tyler Flowers 5.50 16
Travis d'Arnaud 5.29 17
John Jaso 5.17 18
Jason Castro 5.11 19
Wilson Ramos 5.09 20
Yadier Molina 5.09 21
Chris Iannetta 4.87 22
Robinson Chirinos 4.61 23
Rene Rivera 4.40 24
Alex Avila 4.36 25
Carlos Ruiz 4.33 26
Welington Castillo 4.32 27
Jarrod Saltalamacchia 4.27 28
A.J. Pierzynski 3.16 29
Brayan Pena 2.82 30