Travis d’Arnaud has picked up his hitting considerably since returning from his stint at triple-A Las Vegas. When he was demoted, he was batting .180. Since his return to the major leagues on June 24, he has a slash line of .308/.341/.487. He has hit so well that manager Terry Collins moved him to the fifth spot of the batting order. His defense, however, has been another story.
The New York Mets catcher has continued to look shaky behind the plate. He seems to work well with the pitching staff, and most of the New York’s pitchers seem to trust his signal calling, except perhaps Daisuke Matsuzaka. Dice-K has so many pitches that it’s probably hard for him to work with any catcher. While d’Arnaud’s pitch framing is already legendary — he’s known as one of the best in the game at stealing strikes — he is struggling with two aspects of his defensive game.
First, he’s had a little trouble throwing out runners trying to steal. He has caught 24 percent of would-be thieves, which is below the 30-35 percent you’d like to see. Most glaring, however, has been his inability to block pitches. He’s allowed nine passed balls this year, which is second-most behind Wilin Rosario of the Colorado Rockies. He’s also been unable to stop 24 wild pitches, which is 11th most in the league. By observation, there’s something he can do about this.
His lack of reliable receiving skills seems to be tied to his expert framing skills. Often, his passed balls are a result of when he tries to pull a borderline pitch back over the corner of the strike zone. While he succeeds most of the time, every now and then, the ball caroms off the edge of his mitt and rolls away. D’Arnaud needs to de-emphasize pitch framing when there are runners on base. It’s more important to catch the ball than to steal an occasional strike in that situation. With nobody on, he can frame to his heart’s content.
As for his throwing, the key is usually footwork and a quick release, which is something he’s been working on. This is a skill that usually takes practice and repetition to hone.
Throwing and pitch-blocking are the two areas that d’Arnaud needs to improve upon the most. If he doesn’t, his offensive value will be negated by his defense, unless he suddenly starts hitting like Mike Piazza. As we’ve seen with his hitting, however, d’Arnaud seems to be a quick learner. If anyone can make these adjustments behind the plate, it’s him.