On Travis ∂’Arnaud’s Slow Start Offensively | Astromets Mind

Thursday, June 5, 2014

On Travis ∂’Arnaud’s Slow Start Offensively

It’s still early, and not everything is bad for the Mets new catcher, but he has only hit .195/.285/.277 through his first 250 plate appearances in the majors – what’s going on?

            Travis ∂’Arnaud is in the tough position of being a top prospect struggling to hit in the majors, while the Mets next top prospect at his position has been absolutely tearing the cover off the ball in AA. Some Mets fans are already commenting that Kevin Plawecki will be replacing T∂A as Mets catcher by next year. While that is certainly not out of the realm of possibilities, it’s a little too early to say that ∂’Arnaud won’t be able to adjust in the majors and start living up to the potential he showed while winning MVP in the same league Plawecki is currently dominating – he did that at a younger age too. Plawecki comparisons aside, I was curious to see if I could get a better understanding of what’s been causing the biggest problems for T∂A.
            First, let’s take a look at what T∂A has done in the majors (from above, his ISO is .082):

Table 1 – Travis ∂’Arnaud’s career rates through 250 PA

            A simple response would be to say that he has been “BABIP’d,” as his K% and BB% are both better than average major league rates, he just hasn’t had the hits fall in for him at a normal rate. A quick look at his batted ball rates show that he is hitting line drives (best type of contact for a high BABIP) at below the league average rate:

Table 2 – Comparing T∂A’s batted ball rates to the major league averages.


            Otherwise, there is nothing about that batted ball profile that screams “low BABIP hitter.” BrooksBaseball.net keeps track of how a batter is doing on individual pitches types, so we can use that information to take a closer look at his struggles. Note, BrooksBaseball.net has data for 218 AB while Fangraphs.com says T∂A has 220 AB in the major leagues.

Table 3 – Results and outcomes by pitch category
Pitch Category

            Wow, he has had no success hitting the breaking ball early on in his career, and 22.5% of his at-bats have ended against breaking balls. Looking a little closer at his 2014 numbers, he actually has a very strong eye against breaking balls, as he swings at 82% of breaking balls within the zone and only 14% outside of the strike zone, and his whiff/swing rate is about average at 31%. He has fared a little better against the hard stuff, but that’s still just nine extra base hits (six doubles and three home runs) in 150 at bats, or 1 XBH every 16.7 AB. He has seen such a low percentage of off-speed pitches that it’s hardly worth mentioning at this point. To get a better idea of how he’s doing against each of these pitch categories, check out his spray charts below.

Figures 1 + 2 – Spray charts for Travis ∂’Arnaud in the major leagues by batted ball type (left) and pitch category (right).

            Against the hard stuff, most of his groundballs have been pulled towards the left side of the infield, yet he’s had more of a consistent line drive/fly ball stroke to CF and RF.  His contact against breaking and off speed stuff is a little more scattered, but he hasn’t been driving the ball deep.

Figures 3 + 4 – Heat zones of pitch location (left) and swing frequency (right).

Figures 5 + 6 – Heat zones of BABIP (left) and ISO (right).

 Figures 7-9 – Heat zones of LD/BIP (upper left), GB/BIP (upper right), and FB/BIP (lower).

            You can see from Figure 3 that pitchers are keeping the ball down and away to Travis, which Figure 4 shows is not where Travis likes to swing. Travis has been attacking pitches on the inner half of the plate much more frequently, and Figures 5 and 6 show that most of his success has come on pitches on the inner half, low. Finally, Figures 7 and 9 show that Travis is doing a good job of hitting line drives and fly balls on pitches on the inner half or up, while Figure 8 shows that most of those groundballs are coming on pitches down and away.
            Putting it all together, you see that he is generally hitting pitches on the inner half and up for line drives and fly balls to right and center field, and pulling a lot of groundballs on pitches down and away. It seems odd to me that he would have more of an opposite field approach on pitches inside than outside, though I’m guessing many players would have a similar pulled-groundball-rate on pitches down and away. Still, considering his willingness and strength going to RF, it’s a little surprising to see him pulling so many outside pitches. I am not ignoring the groundballs he has on the right side of the infield, but those groundballs are spread between 1B and 2B pretty evenly, and I have no problem with groundballs on the right side of the infield. It’s those big clumps where the SS and 3B stand on the left side that he needs to avoid. As you might’ve guessed from Table 3, breaking balls have almost exclusively been thrown down and away to Travis.
            Looking forward, you’d expect to see some improvement in batting average just as a result of hits starting to fall for Travis – a little BABIP regression. He’s had a great eye at the plate early on in his career, which is awesome considering his age and major league experience. It would not be surprising to see his walk totals match, if not surpass, his strikeout totals for stretches when he does start hitting with some consistency. To do that, one thing that he needs to do is to start getting more hits on pitches down and away, so that pitchers have to look elsewhere to get him out. Once pitchers have to come inside to get him out, he’ll start seeing pitches he can turn on and (hopefully) start flashing some power. It’s certainly too early to call T∂A a bust at this point, but he still has some important adjustments to make in the major leagues before he starts showing his true potential.
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