The New York Mets were the fourth major league team that R.A. Dickey played for. In 442 career innings his only managed to put up a 5.42 ERA, well below average. As a Met, however, Dickey figured things out. The knuckleballer was good in 2010, great in 2011, and won the National League’s Cy Young Award for the 2012 season. When Dickey was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays after that accomplishment, the Mets knew they had lost not just an asset but a fan favorite. The key player they got in return, catcher Travis d’Arnaud, is embarking on his first full time season, and the Mets are betting their success this year on him.
The Mets’ young catcher received some playing time last season with a call up to the big leagues in late August. The first visit to the majors was unkind to d’Arnaud, as he hit a mere .201, struck out in 19 percent of his plate appearances, and only threw out 5 of 24 stolen base attempts. In the minor leagues, d’Arnaud had hit for an .823 OPS, and had shown a continually improving batter’s eye with a great walk rate. To show how strongly several teams valued him, consider that before being traded for Dickey, he was also traded for former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay.
The 2014 season has been a tough one for d’Arnaud, beginning in Spring Training. The catcher had only eight hits in 54 spring plate appearances, although five of those hits were either doubles or home runs. The early season has brought continued troubles, with d’Arnaud going hitless in his first five starts to go along with only two walks. After Sunday’s game, in which d’Arnaud went without a hit yet again, there was speculation about him needing to be benched.
Giving someone the hook after only a week is impatient, but doing it to a young player is not only shortsighted but a great way to ruin their confidence. However, Mets manager Terry Collins offered a vote of confidence after that game, shutting down questions of whether d’Arnaud was in danger of losing his starting job. The Mets pitching staff has also spoken highly of d’Arnaud’s abilities behind the plate. In commenting on his tough start, the catcher noted that he often starts slow, then the hits begin to pile up. Following those words, and the boost from his manager, d’Arnaud finally broke out with a pair of hits, including a double in the Mets’ victory over the Atlanta Braves on Monday.
D’Arnaud is such a vital piece for the Mets this season because of their lack of offense. If the team can get something from the catcher’s position, especially with the on base skills that d’Arnaud has exhibited in the past, it will go a long way towards helping them climb from awful to average. Their pitching figures to be strong, and so some offense is probably enough to keep them in a lot of games. D’Arnaud’s big game may be a sign that he is ready to heat up and help David Wright give the offense some punch. The Mets, and their fans, are depending on him.
Commentary by Brian Moore