Throwing still appears to be a big issue for Mets catcher Travis d’Arnaud, and it is important to examine the importance a steal can have on a pitcher. No one likes watching an opponent run wild on you but for the Mets, the issue exists for Noah Syndergaard more than anyone. Last season, the Mets consistently paired Syndergaard with Rene Rivera, who is known for throwing runners out. They are seriously considering it again this season which is not the best idea.
Runners attempted to run on Noah 57 times last season. That number will likely be around the same. Rivera threw out 30% of opposing base stealers and d’Arnaud threw out 22% of them. A major part of the stolen base problem was largely due to Syndergaard and his slow delivery. Assuming that won’t be a problem, the CS% should increase for both catchers. I’d approximate somewhere around 33% for Rivera and 25% for d’Arnaud. For say 60 attempted steals, Rivera would throw out 20 runners and d’Arnaud would throw out 15 runners. One could argue that runners would be more likely to test d’Arnaud than Rivera but it’s important to remember that teams still ran wild on Rivera last season. Despite his strong throwing arm, 61 runners still ran on him.
This begs the question, how much will Rivera’s arm really help Noah? Honestly, it won’t help too much. For hitters to steal off Syndergaard, they need to get on base. Opponents had an opposing OBP of .287 on Syndergaard and given the very high BABIP of his opponents, his opponents OBP should be even lower in 2017. There were times last season where Noah gave up multiple steals a game but would still be fine due to his great abilities. His pitch arsenal and utilization of pitches will only improve this season. Given that 5 runners seldom reach against Syndergaard in an inning, the 5 more steals that d’Arnaud allows will likely result in 1 or 2 more runs.
A big part of why having Rivera catching Syndergaard was fine last season was due to the poor hitting of Travis d’Arnaud. He did himself no favors and it became apparent at one point that Rivera might be the Mets best option behind the dish. However, this Spring has shown a new swing by d’Arnaud and a better approach at the plate. He has produced an looked more like the hitter who posted a 123 wRC+ in the second half of 2014 and a 130 wRC+ in 2015.
The Mets are not in a position where they can afford to bench a bat the caliber of a healthy d’Arnaud. Their lineup has 4 solid contributors in Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker, Yoenis Cespedes, and Curtis Granderson. They have Lucas Duda who is coming off a major injury and two hitters who can flame out or be solid contributors in Jose Reyes and Jay Bruce. If d’Arnaud continues his improved play into the regular season, then the Mets will need his bat in the lineup as much as they can.
There is also the pitch framing. Even in a year many consider a lost season for d’Arnaud, he still graded out as one of the best pitch framers in baseball posting a 8.0 RAA (Runs Above Average). With that said, Rene Rivera also graded out as a very good pitch framer too. It is worth noting that in 2015, d’Arnaud was even better as he posted a 11.0 RAA. Rene Rivera posted a 6.1 RAA in 2016 and is probably around 8 RAA for a full season. If you want to read more about framing you can check out this link here.
Travis d’Arnaud will need his breaks because he likely won’t be playing 140 games. That does not mean we can allow Rivera to catch every start for Syndergaard just because Noah wants him there. If Syndergaard is opposing someone like Clayton Kershaw, we can’t afford to have Rene Rivera hitting against him. We only have 27 outs a game, and Rivera is an easy out against a pitcher the caliber of Kershaw. d’Arnaud should be rested when he needs a break, not when Noah is making a start.
I am not going to argue or contest that Travis d’Arnaud is the best catcher in baseball. I’m not even going to claim that he’s anything other than a pretty good hitter. With that said, he is easily the Mets best option to play catcher and he is better than any free agent options that were on the market. His bat will be needed to help this unpredictable Mets offense and he will be one of the best pitch framers in baseball. Hopefully Travis repeats his 2015 season over 110 games and helps the team make a third straight trip to the postseason. Thanks for reading and LGM!