The 2021 Mets were short on superlatives. Jacob deGrom pitched like the best pitcher anyone had ever seen for fifteen starts before injuries sidelined him for the second half of the season. Aaron Loup finished the season with the lowest ERA of any Met in history with at least 50 innings pitched. But beyond that, no one was really the best at anything, as most of the team turned in disappointing performances and subpar seasons.
So it may come as a surprise that the Mets had a third player with a superlative performance, and even more surprising was that it came from their backup catcher. Well, it shouldn’t be a surprise to regular readers of this site as Dave pointed this out a few weeks ago, but it was no less true then than it is today: The very best pitch-framer in all of baseball in 2021 was Tomás Nido.
Nido only caught in 52 games this year, but he used his exceptional pitch-framing skills to turn in a surprisingly productive season. Both Baseball Prospectus’s Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA) metric and Statcast’s Called Strike Rate list Nido as the league’s best pitch-framer, and that title looms large with starting catcher James McCann ranking 35th in Statcast’s measurements (he wasn’t even listed in BP’s top-40). Nido has always been the defensive option while backing up Wilson Ramos and James McCann on the Mets roster, but before last year he had never finished higher than 6th in CSAA and 14th in Catcher Defensive Adjustment (CDA), BP’s all-encompassing catcher defensive metric. His framing abilities alone made him the 8th most valuable catcher in the league by CDA in 2021, all while playing as a dedicated backup.
And Nido needs to lean on his framing abilities because he isn’t good at much else on the defensive side. He finished 36th in Takeoff Rate Above Average and 24th in Throwing Runs, demonstrating that base stealers can run on Nido if given the opportunity. Throwing runners out is the one defensive category where McCann obviously shines over Nido, but with the stolen base falling significantly out of fashion in the modern game, Nido’s pitch-framing comes with much better value than the McCannon. It’s also a little surprising that Nido hasn’t developed a singular relationship with an ace like Kyle Higashioka has developed with Gerrit Cole across the river, though spreading the called-strike wealth amongst every pitcher in the rotation probably benefits the team better. No matter how pedestrian of a catcher Nido appears to be, his singular skill makes him one of the very best defensive catchers in the game—a Nidoking amongst men, if you will.
Offensively, however, Tomás remains a bit of a Nidorino. Last year’s 150 OPS+ outburst will forever remain the most surprising number on Nido’s Baseball-Reference page, as just about all of his offensive production from 2020 came on August 13th when he hit two home runs and batted in six runners. This season, Nido went to the plate a career-high 161 times and demonstrated exactly what he’s capable of, which for him was a .222 batting average and a .327 slugging percentage. There were signs of improvement, however, like his career-high fly ball and line-drive percentage and a hard-hit percentage that matched his percentage from his breakout in 2020. But he also showed an increased strikeout rate and a decreased walk rate, and with a continued inability to hit for power he stood as a massive liability at the plate for the Mets.
Still, Nido remains a valuable player. His 0.3 bWAR and 0.9 fWAR finished higher than McCann’s measurements on both sites, but neither were significantly higher enough to declare Nido the more valuable player over McCann. But despite McCann and Nido providing similar value last season, the expectations of McCann as a high-end starter made his season an unequivocal failure while Nido’s expectations of backup competence made his season a stirring success. No MLB team would be happy with Nido’s production over 120 games, but most teams would gladly accept 40 games of Nido and his all-world framing skills backing up a better starter.
For his season preview, I wrote that Nido had one last chance to demonstrate his value as a backup catcher for the Mets since he was out of minor league options and had yet to put together an impressive season in the majors. One season later, Nido has solidified his place on the roster, especially now that fans have seen the talent gulf between major league catchers like Nido and replacement-level catchers like Patrick Mazeika and Chance Sisco. Nido’s pedestrian 2021 shouldn’t excite anyone but the biggest catching nerds, but it was good enough to make him the team’s clear second choice for years to come.