Travis d'Arnaud's performance so far this season certainly hasn't erased any doubts regarding his ability to stay healthy for a full season, but one thing the 26-year-old has done is assert himself as one of the elite offensive catchers in the game when on the field.
It's easy to point out the acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright's return to the lineup as key factors to the Mets' second-half offensive surge, but d'Arnaud's impact cannot be overlooked. The former first-round pick is hitting .285/.388/.555 with six home runs and 19 RBI in 28 games since returning from his second trip to the disabled list on July 31.
Among all major league catchers only Buster Posey owns a higher Fangraphs Offensive WAR than d'Arnaud this season. He also paces all catchers with a minimum 100 plate appearances in wOBA (.389) and wRC+ (.152) while having the third-highest ISO (.259). In terms of overall fWAR, d'Arnaud ranks eighth in the big leagues despite the seven catchers in front of him all appearing in twice as many games as the Mets' injury-riddled backstop has.
In 47 games this season overall, he's batting .288/.366/.547 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs, which translates to 34 homers and 124 RBI over 162 games. Of course, catchers, especially ones with as extensive an injury history as d'Arnaud's, won't be playing any 162-game seasons, but if he could ever stay on the field for 130-140 games then 25+ homers and 90+ RBI seems well within reach.
As good as d'Arnaud was last season upon returning to the bigs on June 24 after a three-week stint in Triple-A, he's already matched the 10 home runs he hit in just 193 plate appearances so far this season (compared to 276 plate appearances last year) as we watch his power continue to develop. When combining his stats from this year along with stats from June 24 until the end of the 2014 season (469 PA), d'Arnaud is hitting an excellent .280/.343/.517 with 20 homers and 31 doubles—a far cry from the abysmal .209/.289/.308 he held in his first 322 career plate appearances.
He has also made strides with his throwing from behind the plate this season, as evidenced by his 27% caught stealing rate (9-for-33) compared to his 19% rate in 2014. In 403 innings defensively this season, d'Arnaud has allowed just one passed ball and StatCorner ranks him 12th among major league catchers in pitch framing.
The skepticism surrounding d'Arnaud's future starts and ends with his constant struggles to stay healthy. In 2013, it was a fractured left foot that kept him sidelined. Last year it was a concussion inflicted by an Alfonso Soriano backswing, and this year he's been shelved for a total of 78 games due to a broken pinkie suffered on a hit-by-pitch in April and, most recently, a sprained left elbow resulting from a home plate collision with A.J. Pierzynski.
Despite the fluky nature of some of these injuries, the Mets might start considering scenarios to limit d'Arnaud's innings behind the dish going forward. His plus athleticism for a catcher could potentially make him an option at either corner infield spot or left field. Occasionally starting d'Arnaud at other positions would allow the Mets to keep his potent bat in the lineup while giving his body a break from catching. It would also award the promising Kevin Plawecki some extra at-bats. The San Francisco Giants have executed a similar plan with Posey by having him start roughly a third of his games at first base, which has helped Posey avoid the disabled list ever since an ugly home plate collision back in 2011.
Even if Cespedes leaves in free agency after this season; d'Arnaud, Wright, Lucas Duda, and Michael Conforto making up the Mets' middle of the order in 2016 is an exciting thought. With his bat clearly as powerful as it was rumored to be, d'Arnaud should have many All-Star games in his future with the Mets provided he manages to stay relatively healthy.