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2017 Season Review: Travis d’Arnaud continues to tease

Travis d’Arnaud was healthier but still hasn’t put it all together.

MLB: Washington Nationals at New York Mets Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Taken as a whole, Travis d’Arnaud’s 2017 was a disappointment. He continued to tinker with his swing mechanics and saw middling results, and while his 91 wRC+ was an improvement on his 74 mark from 2016, it’s a far cry from the promise he showed in 2015 when he batted .268/.340/.485 en route to a 130 wRC+. His framing numbers also fell for the second consecutive year, with a 4.4 FRAA that was his worst since 2014. In a year when he finally managed to generally stay healthy—he missed a couple weeks in May with a bruised wrist, but stayed on the field for most of the season—that combined output was a letdown for d’Arnaud enthusiasts.

Dig a little deeper into d’Arnaud’s season and there are reasons for optimism. Late in the year, the 28 year old made another round of swing changes, bringing back his bat wrap and adding a more aggressive leg kick. The results speak for themselves, as d’Arnaud batted .297/.343/.656, blasting six home run and running a 157 wRC+ in September. It’s a small sample size and September numbers always come with a caveat due to a diluted talent pool as rosters expand, but that’s an extremely impressive stretch regardless.

Perhaps d’Arnaud was attempting emulate other hitters such as Jose Bautista and Justin Turner, who have successfully incorporated a leg kick and added power. Along that line, d’Arnaud did see a significant uptick in his fly ball rate in September. Such changes in approach are usually accompanied by increases in hard hit rate and pulled balls however, and d’Arnaud’s marks in both categories remained largely stable. If d’Arnaud is attempting to join the ‘fly ball revolution,’ he still has more work to do to fully transition.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to draw any strong conclusions from a month worth a data. One or two batted balls in either direction could totally obfuscate any signal of a major overhaul in approach. What we do know is that d’Arnaud reverted to mechanics more similar to those he had during his very successful run in 2015, and the surface level results were strong. Projecting him forward at a 130 wRC+ is asking too much, but maybe some of these changes stick and d’Arnaud can be a league average or slightly better hitter going forward.

For a catcher, that’s more than enough, as the position is largely a tire fire after the first couple names. Even with his uninspiring offensive production and down framing numbers, d’Arnaud ranked as the 18th most valuable catcher in baseball by BWARP despite having only 376 PA. A handful of free agents might offer marginal upgrades in 2018, but that seems to be a poor use of the Mets very limited financial resources when there are so many other holes on the team.

More than anything, a deeper analysis of d’Arnaud’s season shows the need for a change in perception around his production. Hopes of him supplanting Buster Posey as the next great catcher have long since vanished, but fans bashing him as a disaster are being far too critical of a solid contributor who helps the pitching staff and teases us with flashes of offensive production. That’s exactly what he should continue to be in 2018.