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Tomás Nido deserves more playing time in 2022

If he can hit, he can start

Washington Nationals v New York Mets: Game One Photo by Adam Hunger/Getty Images

Tomás Nido presented more value than starting catcher James McCann in less than half the playing time for the Mets in 2021. Granted, the difference is negligible, as Nido’s 0.9 fWAR in 58 games barely surpasses McCann’s 0.5 fWAR in 121 games, but this difference presents a dilemma for a team with a pretty obvious weak spot in its batting order.

Nido has been given the opportunity to catch at a major league level since 2017, and he spent his first few seasons barely proving that he belonged in the bigs. Out of minor league options heading into the 2021 season, he had one more chance to prove his long-term worth as a big-league catcher, and he easily passed the test. His defensive metrics showed him to be the best pitch-framer in the majors, and while his offense regressed far below his head-scratching 150 OPS+ in 2020, he painted the picture of a perfectly passable big-league backup catcher. Nido has officially made it and he’ll probably be sticking around for a long time—the only question for Nido is whether he now deserves to start.

And that’s not necessarily reflective of Nido’s value, because for a team with championship aspirations like the Mets, a catcher with above-average defense and below-average offense should sit solidly as the Sunday backstop and the preferred choice of the ace. But the trouble for the Mets is McCann, the catcher on the roster making most of the catching money, played objectively worse than Nido in 2021, and until super prospect Franciso Álvarez makes it to Queens, McCann and Nido are the only real catching choices left in the organization (sorry, Patrick Mazeika).

It’s not a great spot to be in for the Mets, but it presents an interesting opportunity for Nido, who has always profiled as a defense-first catcher and finally put up the numbers last season to defend that. Being the best pitch-framer in the majors by itself presents a ton of value, especially when catching aces with high strikeout rates like Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, and if Nido does nothing else well his ability to make strikes out of balls still warrants a decent share of playing time.

The trouble for Nido is that he doesn’t really do anything else well. He has so far presented a below-average arm and a well-below average bat, and if the Mets bats struggle in 2022 as much as they did in 2021 it wouldn’t make much sense to dedicate a lineup spot to Nido regardless of the strikes he can manifest out of thin air. McCann’s slightly better odds of recording an extra-base hit in any given plate appearance make him a logical and respectable choice over Nido in the order. But if the Mets get more offensive production than they did last year thanks to newcomers like Starling Marte, Eduardo Escobar, Mark Canha, and the designated hitter by committee, and if McCann’s 80 wRC+ in 2021 truly represents his offensive abilities, and if Nido can match or come close to that mark, Nido’s case to start becomes a lot stronger.

That’s a lot of ifs, of course. Barring injury, McCann will probably be named the opening day starter and Nido the backup, and that’s a fine decision. Ultimately, Nido and McCann present similar value, and it probably won’t matter in the long run which player sees more opportunities to play.