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Mets catchers have put up weird defensive numbers so far

While not quite elite, Francisco Álvarez’s defense has looked good so far while Tomás Nido’s has looked pedestrian

New York Mets v Oakland Athletics Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For all the tools that Tomás Nido lacks, his ability to frame pitches has put him at an elite defensive tier over the last two seasons. It’s clear he studies Yadier Molina tape in his spare time, as Nido’s framing style shows the subtlety, elegance, and efficiency that Molina brought to the game over the last two decades. Nido has parlayed those skills into impressive framing numbers, as Statcast rated him the best overall framer in 2021 and the fifth-best in 2022.

Francisco Álvarez, meanwhile, does not seem to possess the same skills. He graduated from the Gary Sánchez school of pitch framing, preferring long, lumbering strokes from just outside the strike zone to the middle of the plate. Watching Álvarez frame pitches and wondering how any umpire would be fooled has become a game-day tradition for me. His glove has all the subtlety of subway graffiti, and it’s easy to see why the Mets looked at his skills behind the plate and decided they needed a bit more polishing in the minors.

And now that these catchers are effectively splitting playing time, we can compare them side-by-side. The numbers don’t lie, either. According to Savant, Nido’s framing places him in the 51st percentile of all catchers this season, while Álvarez’s puts him in the 85th.

Wait, what?

The analytical disparity between Nido’s defense and Álvarez’s defense has been one of the Mets’ most puzzling developments of the season so far. Álvarez’s impressive CSAA (called strikes above average) count has confoundingly found him a top-ten place on Baseball Prospectus’s CDA (catcher defensive adjustment) leaderboard, making him a not-quite-elite but upper-tier defensive backstop. Nido, meanwhile, is languishing in 25th place, far from his usual spot near the top. Here’s how bad a look that is for Nido: Omar Narváez, who has only started four games this season for the Mets, is seven spots ahead of him.

Considering how tactfully the Mets have employed Nido the past couple of seasons, it stands to reason that the pitchers have something to do with this disparity, but that doesn’t hold up. Up until the second half of last season, the Mets used Nido as a backup and personal catcher for Max Scherzer, but his usage doesn’t look that different from Álvarez’s so far this season. Nido has started in sixteen games while Álvarez has started in fifteen, and while Nido has caught every Kodai Senga start and Álvarez every José Butto start, there’s otherwise no discernible mixing and matching between starters and these two catchers.

Pitch-framing isn’t the only component to catching defense, but even with their arms Nido and Álvarez have not created any meaningful separation. Nido has never possessed much talent for throwing out base runners, and that continues this year with pedestrian results. And while Álvarez appears to have the stronger arm, baserunners are testing him and succeeding, as Álvarez currently possesses the highest SRAA (swipe rate above average) of any catcher. Both Nido and Álvarez have proven ineffective at catching baserunners for different reasons, but the results are all the same, with both of them placing 71st and 72nd overall in catcher throwing runs this season. Do you really care to know which player finished in which spot?

Of course, all of these stats are skewed by the small sample size of a short season, especially with throwing metrics made unrecognizable by the recent rule changes. There is no reason to declare Álvarez a suddenly valuable defensive catcher and Nido a washed gloveman, and it’s likely that their defense will trend closer to their prognostications as the season progresses. But here’s the question Mets fans should be asking: If Álvarez currently plays so well defensively, why is Nido playing at all?

While true that Álvarez’s 65 wRC+ in 53 plate appearances currently stands as a disappointment from the young slugger, his numbers look Ruthian compared to Nido’s -24 wRC+ in 55 plate appearances. Even if Nido’s numbers were to rise to his career averages, Álvarez’s thus-far disappointing season would still beat Nido’s wRC+ by ten points. It seems like a no-brainer to give the majority of starts to the catcher that’s catching better and hitting better, which to the team’s credit is something that is currently manifesting. But it needs to manifest harder.

What any of this means when Omar Narváez returns from injury is anyone’s guess. The Mets can’t reasonably carry three catchers on the roster with their current pitching woes and injury concerns, and while Álvarez certainly looks better than Nido at the moment, a lot of intangible pitcher-catcher relationship stuff is going to be taken into account regarding Nido’s presence on the team. It also complicates the scenario when Nido is out of options and the Mets risk losing him if they put him on waivers. But hey, no one ever said that being a general manager is easy.

Regardless of the roster situation, Álvarez should be starting every game he can. He’s performed better than Nido in every discernible aspect and has even surpassed Nido’s one elite defensive ability. That doesn’t necessarily make him a good defensive catcher, but it makes him the best catcher for the Mets right now.