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2017 Mets Season Review: Kevin Plawecki’s bat showed signs of life

The catcher was an above-average hitter for the first time in his major league career.

Miami Marlins  v New York Mets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

One of the few positive developments in the Mets’ 2017 season was Kevin Plawecki’s growth as a hitter. After struggling in both 2015 and 2016, Plawecki was solid in 118 plate appearances this year, hitting .260/.364/.400 (106 wRC+), with three home runs, 13 RBIs, and 11 runs scored. Despite the relatively small sample size, Plawecki’s bat showed its first signs of life in the major leagues and makes Plawecki an interesting player to watch going forward.

Plawecki’s above-average offensive production actually put him in exclusive company among major league catchers. Of the 67 backstops with at least 100 plate appearances in 2017, Plawecki ranked 13th in wRC+.

The reality is that there just aren’t many great catchers in the game today. Only two—Gary Sanchez and Buster Posey—posted more than four fWAR, while J.T. Realmuto, Mike Zunino, and Willson Contreras were the only other catchers to post at least three. That’s it. Given the competition at the position, Plawecki’s 0.6 fWAR in 37 games actually prorates pretty well over a full season.

One potential cause for concern was Plawecki’s defensive regression. After posting good pitch-framing numbers in each of the previous two years—11.2 and 5.9 framing runs, respectively—Plawecki cost his team six runs on pitch framing in 2017. As a result, his overall defensive value, measured by fielding runs above average, declined at a similar rate.

Meanwhile, Plawecki allowed 25 stolen bases while catching only six runners, resulting in a 19% caught stealing percentage that was well below the league-wide rate of 27%. While the catcher’s 23% career rate suggests that, like his framing numbers, this could have been an anomaly, it’s clear that Plawecki’s defensive was not as good this year as it was in years past.

It will be interesting to see if the Mets give Plawecki more opportunities to start in 2018. Given Travis d’Arnaud’s struggles, the Mets could even consider having an open competition for playing time between the two players. Unless it disrupts the pitching staff in a meaningful way, the idea doesn’t seem to carry much downside at this point.

Many people scoffed when, a few weeks ago, Sandy Alderson called d’Arnaud and Plawecki “above-average” catchers and suggested that it would be hard to find a tandem that was “appreciably better.” Given the state of catching these days, Alderson might have had a point. With few obvious upgrades available behind the plate, the Mets would probably be wise to spend their resources elsewhere this winter.