Travis d'Arnaud has made his seemingly annual appearance on the disabled list, this time with a sore shoulder. For the Mets, that means Kevin Plawecki finds himself back atop the catcher depth chart for the time being. The 25-year-old has been sturdy behind the plate, but it's an entirely different story when he steps into the batter's box.
Before this weekend's series against the Padres, Plawecki had just 45 plate appearances—so major small sample size alert—but he was hitting .189/.333/.189 and his wRC+ was 55. That's about what we'd expect if Curtis Granderson was forced to face Clayton Kershaw 45 straight times. The difference between his bat this season to that point and Noah Syndergaard's last season is frighteningly negligible. Having black holes like that in your lineup make stringing rallies together extremely challenging.
Despite the cold streak, there were some reasons for hope. You may have noticed Plawecki's relatively inflated .333 on-base percentage. That was thanks to his impressive 15.6% walk rate (a figure that included one intentional walk). Pair that with a lower strikeout rate, and it suggested Plawecki is a more disciplined hitter who's taking the pitches that are given to him. At the very least, he's putting the bat on the ball; the concern was where the ball goes once it's put in play.
Plawecki had a 62.1% ground ball rate. He doesn't have enough plate appearances to qualify for Fangraphs' leaderboard, but you can see for yourselves that would have been the third-highest mark in baseball. That works for faster leadoff types like Nori Aoki and Christian Yelich, not so much for catchers. Plawecki's getting hard contact less than a quarter of the time, too, so it's not as though he could slap some grounders through the hole with some better luck.
One person who did not appear worried about Plawecki's struggles was his manager. Here's what Terry Collins said about the cold start to the Wall Street Journal's Andrew Beaton:
Everybody thinks he's going to hit and we all believe him, all trust him.
Collins also said it's "not a real fair number" of plate appearances to judge Plawecki, and a four-game series—including three starts—against the Padres later and things already look better. Plawecki is now hitting .227/.358/.295, hardly great but certainly an improvement. We're still only talking about 53 plate appearances, and the fact that three games' worth of decent hitting can meaningfully change his batting line is the only disclaimer you need about small samples of at-bats.
Nevertheless, a few good games sure beats the alternative, and since d'Arnaud isn't due back anytime soon, the Mets could certainly use improved performance from Plawecki.