Travis d'Arnaud has notoriously over-tinkered with his swing to the point where the Mets essentially told him to knock it off and stick with one approach. This past spring, d'Arnaud worked with Kevin Long to get rid of his bat wrap and create a shorter, more compact and consistent swing that would hopefully help tap into his immense offensive potential that once had him ranked as high as the #6 overall prospect in baseball by some mainstream prospect outlets.
d'Arnaud's work this spring didn't appear to pay off. Through the end of August, d'Arnaud hit just .232/.281/.394 with a park and league adjusted wRC+ of 76, which is poor even by a catcher's standards. The league average catcher is hitting .246/.314/.406 in 2017. It was a continuation of his disappointing 2016 season, where d'Arnaud posted a similar league adjusted wRC+ of 74, worse than the catcher average of 87.
Apparently fed up with the lack of production, d'Arnaud has ditched his spring adjustments and is showcasing a new load in his swing. This is d'Arnaud's home run from Monday:
That's d'Arnaud timing up and turning on a 96 mph fastball with a higher leg lift load than he's previously demonstrated, using more momentum to create power.
Here's how he looked on August 1:
Notice the difference in the swing load in the lower half. d'Arnaud also now appears to be getting ready earlier in his load and looks in better position to drive the ball with authority as the pitch approaches the plate.
Here's a side view of d'Arnaud's new load from a game on September 14:
And a look back at a side view of his older load, taken from a game in April 2016:
Could d'Arnaud's new load be linked to his September surge? d'Arnaud has an OPS over 1.000 this month and is hitting the ball with authority more often. His exit velocity and batted ball angle derived contact quality has improved, although not as dramatically as the outcomes suggest. His high end exit velocity has also improved. 20% of d'Arnaud's batted balls have exit velocities of 100+ mph this month, above the league average of 19% and improved from his 17.5% mark prior to September.
September stats are generally taken with a grain of salt largely because of the diminished quality of competition hitters can face with expanded rosters. Four week samples are also way too small to draw any conclusions on about a change in skill level. But there is something that is tangibly different about what d'Arnaud is doing at the plate lately.
d’Arnaud has maintained a low strikeout rate despite the change in load. Some hitters avoid using a high leg lift load because it can throw off their balance and lead to more strikeouts, but that doesn’t appear to be affecting d’Arnaud. His strikeout rate is an outstanding 9% this month, and his 80% contact rate this month is better than the league average of 77.5%.
Whether or not d'Arnaud's September surge can be definitively linked to his newly refined load is not certain. Baseball is random, and average players can go on prolonged hot streaks before coming crashing back down to earth after the regression monster finds them. Pitchers can also re-adjust to an adjustment made by the hitter and find new ways to attack him. But at least there's something here mechanically to wonder about, a possible explanation for d'Arnaud's excellent month of September. d'Arnaud's swing is different, and it coincides with a surge in production in the batter's box. Jose Bautista famously revived his career years ago by switching to a more aggressive leg load. Maybe this works for d'Arnaud, and maybe it's something that can be built upon heading into 2018 as the once electric hitting prospect is looking to reestablish himself as an impact bat at the catcher position.