Often seen as a bit of an enigma defensively, Travis d’Arnaud just got quite a jump in value from FanGraphs’ rollout of their pitch framing stat and its incorporation into WAR.
There’s no shortage of nitty gritty to read on their site and I encourage everyone to give it a perusal, but the essence of pitch framing is that how a catcher sets up and receives a ball can make it more or less likely for a pitch to be called a strike. A single “stolen strike” isn’t much, but with catchers receiving thousands of pitches in a season, they add up—and quickly! Per FanGraphs, in 2018, Houston’s Max Stassi led baseball with 14.1 runs saved by framing, or nearly a win-and-a-half in just under 600 innings behind the plate. A far less notable performance came from Devin Mesoraco, whose mark of -9.8 runs saved was 9th from the bottom.
Travis d’Arnaud has suffered throughout his career from an unfortunate set of highly visible defensive flaws. He was exceptionally prone to passed balls, particularly during his early years, and his issues throwing out baserunners were so pronounced that his 2018 Tommy John surgery barely raised an eyebrow.
Around the league, d’Arnaud has always been considered a good receiver, even if the abstract nature of framing made it difficult to for fans and media to overcome his reputation as a defensive liability. As a result, he generally graded out far more valuable on Baseball Prospectus, which has long utilized framing measures, than on FanGraphs, which did not.
But that contrast has been made all the clearer by FanGraphs’ recent change, and we’re able to see just how great an impact pitch framing has on someone like d’Arnaud. Before the addition of framing, d’Arnaud graded out as a poor defender with a career 4.3 fWAR, essentially pinning him as a below-average major leaguer.
The incorporation of framing into d’Arnaud’s statistical measures literally doubles his career value to 9.2 fWAR on the back of nearly 50 runs saved as a framer. It hardly puts him on the path to the Hall of Fame, but it does cast an oft-disappointing career in a more positive light and highlights a skill that may serve him well as he navigates the free agent market for the first time next offseason. And it might also explain why the Mets were willing to tender d’Arnaud a contract after a lost season.