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What to make of Travis d’Arnaud

Posted By JD Sussman On December 21, 2012 @ 9:17 am In Busts,Catchers,Keeper Strategy,Prospects,Strategy | 12 Comments

This week the Mets exchanged Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey for Blue Jays catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud (pronounced dar-no). The deal is logical for two teams moving in opposite directions. While the merit of the Blue Jays’ off-season moves are not above reproach, the Mets are in no position to compete in 2013 as evidenced by their attempt to field a team without a single outfielder. But, that’s of little consequence to us here at RotoGraphs. Here, we want to know who Travis d’Arnaud is and how this trade affects the prospect Comrade Newman called the best catcher prospect he has ever seen.

Less Playing Time
There is no doubt d’Arnaud was available due, in part, to his injury history. In June the 23-year-old tore his posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) and missed the remainder of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) season. In 2010, he registered just 292 plate appearances due to two bulging disks in his back. My father is doctor making me qualified to say these injuries are worrisome. Catching is a demanding position and if d’Arnaud were a Jay its conceivable he could DH once a week. Joe Mauer caught just over seventy games in 2012 and was the designated hitter for another seventy. Similarly, the Giants are able to spell Buster Posey‘s knees by placing him at first base. Of course, the Giants are also intent on destroying Brandon Belt. However, such creativity isn’t an option for d’Arnaud in Flushing. I’d estimate the move from the Junior Circuit costs him between ten and twenty games. If you have you own d’Arnaud or another NL catcher make sure to have a quality back up.

Moreover, d’Arnaud’s playing time this season is more questionable as a Met. The noncompetitive, cash strapped Mets have absolutely no incentive to call up d’Arnaud before the super-two deadline. But, for fantasy owners sake, hopefully they will call him up earlier. One would think a big market club like the Mets could handle paying d’Arnaud an extra year of arbitration, but these are the Mets. Prior to this trade the Jays looked strong and replacing J.P. Arencibia with d’Arnaud early in the year would have been a good win now move. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the Jays would certainly call him up before the Mets would, but Toronto would have had more of an incentive to.

Park Factors
Self-proclaimed wet-blanket Mets fans are really worried about d’Arnaud’s statistics from his time in Las Vegas. One is so worried he wrote about it twice! You know how everyone dismisses statistics from the California League(CALL)? Well, the league OPS in the PCL was higher than the that of the CALL in 2012 and d’Arnaud’s home park, Cashman Field located in Las Vegas, is favors right handed hitters by nearly 20%. In your analysis you must fight the urge over adjust when dealing with extreme park factors. Park factors assume that all batted balls of the same type are of the same quality and we know that isn’t true. Stated differently, if you were to use Greg Rybarczyk’s “Home Run Tracker” in Las Vegas you would assume that there would be a lot of “lucky” and “just enough” home runs hit that would not go out in other parks. Those home runs are going to inflate the offensive environment in Las Vegas. However, they should not detract from those hitting “No Doubt” home runs. Intuitively you wouldn’t downgrade a Josh Hamilton home run simply because it was hit in Arlington.

Of course, the follow up question is, “Is d’Arnaud hitting ‘No Doubt’ home runs?” And the retort is, “that’s why professional teams employ scouts.” Newman placed d’Arnaud’s home run total in the 18-25 range, my colleague Al Skorupa called it above average in our Mets Top 15 Prospect list which he later clarified to mean 15-20 home runs annually. When I watch d’Arnaud the first thing that stands out is his strange batting stance. As you can see in Al’s video below, he waggles the bat even as the pitch is being delivered. While I prefer a quieter stance, it’s not an issue that he has a strange timing mechanism so long as it works. I love that d’Arnaud’s hands are almost in the load position throughout the plate appearance. He drops them ever so slightly and then uses his strong wrists to rifle the bat through the hitting zone, exhibiting good bat control. If you’re hoping for Mike Piazza you’re going to be disappointed, but Al and Newman both present reasonable above average outcomes.

Prospect Video of the Day courtesy of Al Skorupa:

d’Arnaud clearly has power but consider the effects of moving from the Rogers Centre to Citi Field will have on your team. To adjust our statistics Fangraphs uses regressed five year weighted park factors. These numbers support the Rogers Centre’s reputation as a hitter friendly park, deeming the park to be 5% better for right handed home runs than the average park. Of course, Citi Field’s reputation as an offense suppressor for the first three years of its existence begot dimension changes, walls came in and home run lines were lowered. So while our park factors assume a park does not drastically change as much as single year performance may suggest, Citi field has indeed changed. Right now the Fangraphs park factors say that Citi Field suppresses right handed home runs by 8%, the fourth most in the league. But, let’s use our intuition – the changes were hitter friendly and Fangraphs’ park factors will need time to adjust – and assume Citi Field is a -5%. That 10% swing is another negative effect of this trade for fantasy owners.

The Lineups
In 2012 the Mets scored 650 runs and the Blue Jays scored 716. At this point it’s safe to say the Mets lineup has not improved whereas the Jays have added baseball’s best lead-off hitter, Jose Reyes; the 2012 MLB batting average leader, Melky Cabrera; probably more than 92 games of their best hitter, Jose Bautista; and a better, healthier Brett Lawrie. It’s safe to assume in orange and blue d’Arnaud will have fewer opportunities for runs batted in and runs scored. Just another negative effect off  this trade.

This trade was a big win for the Mets and a hefty, but justifiable, price for the Jays. The big loser? You, the fantasy owner.


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