Travis d’Arnaud has been tearing it up in the minor leagues since his demotion last week. The New York Mets catcher has hit .414/.485/1.000 in 33 plate appearances for Triple-A Las Vegas. He’s walked three times, struck out only twice and has hit a remarkable five home runs in only seven games. Is this a legitimate sign of improvement, or is it just an illusion caused by the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (PCL)?
Commenting on d’Arnaud’s improvement, Mets broadcaster Ron Darling dismissed the effects of the PCL, saying “five home runs is five home runs.”
But not all home runs are created equal. D’Arnaud had a fly ball rate of 41.7 percent in the majors this year. He hit several deep fly balls too that were swallowed up by Citi Field and other ballparks. Those fly balls that didn’t carry out of the park at sea level tend to carry further at higher altitudes.
D’Arnaud played his first three games with the 51’s against the Sky Sox in Colorado Springs, a city with an elevation of over 6,000 feet above sea level. If you think the ball flies at Coors Field in Denver, you should see it soar at the home ballpark of the Colorado Rockies’ Triple-A affiliate. He then hit three more home runs in Oklahoma City, which sits at 1,200 feet above sea level, a little lower than the elevation in Las Vegas. However, two of them were moon shots that easily cleared the 415-foot sign in left-center field.
Make no mistake, d’Arnaud has made much more solid contact than he has at the major league level, so his results aren’t all a product of the elevation in Colorado Springs and Oklahoma City. But when a guy like, say, Omar Quintanilla has a .903 OPS at Las Vegas, as he did last year, it’s perfectly reasonable to question the numbers a player puts up in the PCL.
If d’Arnaud has made any specific adjustments at the plate, the Mets are not making it obvious. It’s also worth noting that d’Arnaud started improving a lot as soon as he was demoted. Perhaps he’s more relaxed at the plate without the judging eyes of Mets fans staring through him, or perhaps he’s just getting better pitches to hit from Triple-A pitchers.
Either way, the Mets need d’Arnaud to keep his bat hot, and bring it with him back to New York. They’re getting the kind of production out of their catchers that makes one pine for the days of Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, and d’Arnaud is the only player who turn that around.