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Recapping Travis d’Arnaud’s 2016 and looking ahead to 2017

Travis d’Arnaud disappointed fantasy owners last year.

MLB: San Diego Padres at New York Mets Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

I was one of the high guys on Travis d'Arnaud coming into the 2016 season. I ranked d'Arnaud as my 3rd best catcher in our consensus catcher rankings, and thought he’d really hit. His bat speed was electric for a catcher, and after a swing adjustment in the minors in mid 2014, he had hit about as well as any catcher in the game for a span of 500+ PA. I knew he was an injury risk, but thought 2016 would be the year that he finally managed to put together 100+ solid games, because most of his injuries had been of the “fluke” type.

I ended up way off the mark. d’Arnaud finished 1,119th (!) overall in Yahoo 5x5, way below his preseason ADP of 157, due to a massive decline in production, more injuries, and eventual loss of playing time. d’Arnaud ended up essentially getting benched near the end of the season for journeyman catcher Rene Rivera.

Over at sister site Amazin Avenue, I recapped d’Arnaud’s season.

The Mets had two young, highly touted hitters coming into 2016 that looked like core pieces of the team, and one of them was Travis d’Arnaud. d’Arnaud made a swing adjustment in Triple A in June 2014 and hit to a 129 wRC+ and .216 ISO in 544 PA after it, spanning from his June 2014 recall through 2015. That is roughly 45% better offensive production than the league average catcher over a span of 136 games, and he combined his potent bat with high level pitch framing. d’Arnaud looked like he had a chance to be an All-Star catcher if he could consistently stay on the field, which had been his biggest issue.

d’Arnaud badly regressed offensively in 2016, and what jumped out most about his 2016 season was an erosion in that excellent power. He hit to a 74 wRC+ and had his ISO tank to .076. Among all catchers with at least 200 PA in 2016, d’Arnaud’s .076 ISO ranked second lowest. It ranked 12th lowest among all position players, lower than slap hitters like Ben Revere (.083), Billy Hamilton (.083) and Ichiro (.086).

Date PA wRC+ ISO
Post call up 2014-2015 544 129 .216
2016 276 74 .076

Part of the reason d’Arnaud had a drop in power was because of an increase in ground balls and a drop in line drives and fly balls. His ground ball rate rose from 39% after his June 2014 adjustment to 52% in 2016. In 2015, 49% of d’Arnaud’s batted balls had a launch angle greater than 10 degrees, which means that 49% of his batted balls were either line drives or fly balls. In 2016, only 38% of d’Arnaud’s batted balls were line drives or fly balls by launch angle.

The launch angle sweet spot is between 10 and 30 degrees, which are line drives to lower fly balls. Batters hit about .600 between these angles and slug 1.100. In 2015, 28% of d’Arnaud’s batted balls were hit between those sweet spot angles, above the MLB average of 26%. In 2016, only 18% of d’Arnaud’s batted balls were hit between those angles. d’Arnaud wasn’t hitting the ball at the sweet spot as often.

It should be noted that d’Arnaud went on the DL three weeks into the season with a rotator cuff strain. A shoulder injury could very easily torpedo a hitter’s power, so if d’Arnaud was playing with a sub optimal shoulder for most or all of the season, that could explain his struggles in the box. It could also explain why d’Arnaud dropped from an average thrower to one of the worst. d’Arnaud struggled with throwing in 2014 while playing through a bone chip in his elbow, so there’s some history of injury impacting his throwing.

So basically, I suspect d'Arnaud was playing with a bad shoulder for most of the year, and that’s at least partially or maybe mostly why his offensive production dropped so badly. I also have serious questions about if his body can handle the rigors of catching full time, because he’s now had a significant injury in 4 out of the last 5 seasons.

For 2017, I don't know where to value him right now. I thought d’Arnaud was going to be at least a solid hitter with upside for stud offensive catcher. For him to perform like a below average role player was alarming, bad shoulder and all.

I still somewhat believe in d'Arnaud's offensive talent—meaning an above average hitter for the catcher position—if he can ever stay healthy, but health is a skill, and d'Arnaud just hasn't shown an ability to consistently stay healthy. He might be worth an upside pick late in fantasy drafts in 2017, especially in two catcher leagues, or in leagues with a deep bench that you can afford to stash upside plays on. I expect to rank him outside of the top 12 at the position for 2017, making him a fringe starter in 12 team single catcher leagues.

I'll revisit my thoughts on the position in February/March when we do our consensus rankings series, but right now, there’s just too much injury risk here.