Mets Final Grades – Catchers
Throughout the season, I attempted to grade the different Mets players performances for each month of the season. In determining the year end grades, the aggregate of the monthly grades given was considered, but it wasn’t conclusive. For example, one player’s awful month could be more than offset by having an incredible month. Also, those decisions were made in the heat of the moment. There has been a cooling off period in giving these finals grades, and with that, there is time for reflection. It should also be noted the Wild Card Game did have some impact on these grades as that game was part of the story of the 2016 Mets. Overall, the final grades assessed considered the monthly grades, but also took into account that player(s) overall impact on the Mets season (good or bad). For the first set of grades, I will start with the catching position:
After a breakout 2015 season, this was supposed to be the year that d’Arnaud broke out and became an All Star caliber catcher. Instead, we were faced with another injury plagued year, discussion of moving on from him and acquiring Jonathan Lucroy, and finally him effectively losing the starting job to Rivera.
Let’s start with the good. Believe it or not, and many Mets fans don’t believe it, d’Arnaud had another great year behind the plate. He was once again one of the best pitch framers in all of baseball, he called a good game, was the Mets best catcher in terms of limiting wild pitches and passed balls, did another phenomenal job of navigating baseballs plate blocking rules, and had the full confidence of his pitching staff. And yes, while his throwing took a major step back this year due to a combination of poor mechanics and a shoulder injury, he was better than advertised trying to throw out base runners. With that said, despite many of the stolen bases having come off the pitching staff this year, yes, d’Arnaud did regress, but it was not to the point where he became a major liability.
Now the bad. There is no way to put it nicely. d’Arnaud was simply terrible at the plate this year. In 75 games, he hit just .247/.307/.323 with only four homers and 15 RBI. He didn’t have one extra base hit or an RBI off of a left-handed pitcher the entire season. His numbers were almost as bad as they were in his 2014 rookie season when Mets had to send him down to the minors to let him fix his issues at the plate. The Mets couldn’t afford to do that this season.
In some ways, d’Arnaud is unique across the game of baseball. He is the rare catcher that is expected to be a significant offensive contributor for his team. He didn’t just fail in that regard; he was actually a liability at the plate. This was the main reason d’Arnaud eventually lost his starting job. If he hit, he would’ve played more, but he didn’t. In the end, it was a disappointing and yet another injury plagued season for him. However, his 2015 season gives us hope, and that is why we can expect him to rebound and be a significant contributor next year.
If you want to be fair to Plawecki, you would say he should never have started the season as the Mets backup catcher. The former first round pick had the potential to be more than just a backup, and with that he should have been in AAA honing his craft instead of waiting idly by until d’Arnaud got injured again.
Still, that is not an excuse for Plawecki to once again squander the opportunity given to him. Y0u think d’Arnaud’s offensive stats were bad? Plawecki’s were worse. In the time he was the backup and took over for d’Arnaud, Plawecki hit .194/.301/.258 with five doubles, one home run, and 10 RBI in 41 games. He wasn’t much better in his September call-up. For the season Plawecki hit .197/.298/.265 with six doubles, one homer, and 11 RBI.
Sure, Plawecki did hit well in AAA like everyone seems to do. In 55 games with Las Vegas, he hit .300/.348/.484 with 11 doubles, eight homers, and 40 RBI. While not outstanding for the Pacific Coast League, it did show a marked improvement over what he has been in the majors. However, they were still empty numbers. As we saw in Plawecki’s limited time in September, he had made no adjustments while in AAA. He was still a pull happy ground ball hitter who does not make a lot of hard contact. With the Mets likely returning d’Arnaud and Rivera next year, he is likely going to get one last shot to improve and make himself a major league hitter.
With all that said, it should be pointed out that Plawecki has established he can be an effective backup catcher at the major league level. While he was touted for his offensive skills, Plawecki was really established himself as a good defensive catcher with excellent pitch framing skills. Given the fact that catchers tend to develop later than other players, it would be unwise to cut bait with him even with the rise of Tomas Nido.
Rene Rivera C+
This season the Mets got the best out of what Rivera could offer. He was a good defensive catcher, he helped Noah Syndergaard through his issues holding on base runners, he mentored Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, and we discovered he could actually hit left-handed pitching pretty well. With his work with young pitching, and with d’Arnaud’s struggles, Rivera effectively took over the starting job late in the season.
Overall, this was the second best season of Rivera’s career. Still, he was not very good. He only accumulated a 0.4 WAR and a 69 OPS+. Most of his offensive stats were from a nine game July hot streak that saw him hit .323/.400/.581 with two doubles, two homers, and seven RBI. Other than that nine game stretch, Rivera hit .201/.256/.292 with two doubles, four homers, and 19 RBI in 56 games. Those are Plawecki type numbers the Mets wanted to move away from when they made the switch from Plawecki to Rivera as the backup catcher.
Another note, Rivera was awful behind the plate in the Wild Card Game. Yes, he did go 1-3 off Madison Bumgarner. However, it was his work behind the plate that was troubling. Many criticized the work of home plate umpire Mike Winters for missing a number of close pitches made by Mets pitchers. However, it should be noted that Buster Posey, a superior pitch framer to everyone, was getting those calls for Bumgarner. While he is usually a good pitch framer, Rivera was terrible at it during the Wild Card Game stabbing at many pitches. With that he extended some at-bats making Syndergaard go deeper into counts and not allowing him to pitch into the eighth. Also, his passed ball and poor pitch framing cost Addison Reed some pitches and quite possibly gave the Giants some confidence heading into the ninth against Jeurys Familia (note: Rivera had nothing to do with Familia making a bad pitch to Conor Gillaspie).
That game marred what was a pretty good year for Rivera. Given his rapport with Syndergaard, he should start the year as his personal catcher. It will also be nice to have him around should Gsellman or Lugo need to make some spot starts next season.