The Mets had big expectations for Travis d’Arnaud when they acquired him from the Blue Jays as part of the R.A. Dickey trade in December of 2012, but he put up a disappointing .189/.277/.269 batting line over his first 257 plate appearances in the majors prior to being demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas on June 7. However, he has looked like a keeper since his return.
After hitting .436 six homers and eight doubles over 15 games in Triple-A, d’Arnaud has continued to produce against major league pitching. The 25-year-old backstop went 3-for-5 with two RBI last night against the Padres and delivered a go-ahead opposite field single in the top of the ninth inning. He’s now hitting .318 (21-for-66) with three home runs, five doubles, and 12 RBI in 17 games since returning from the minors. Just to put things in perspective, he had just six extra-base hits in 145 plate appearances this season prior to his demotion.
So, what changed? During his time in Triple-A, d’Arnaud moved closer to the plate, which has allowed him to reach outside pitches which were previously giving him trouble. However, as this excellent piece from Marc Carig of New York Newsday points out, a lot of his struggles were mental in nature as he focused too much on results rather than feel for the game. Either way, something has clicked for him and he’s suddenly looking like someone the Mets can count on for the next several years as they attempt to return to prominence.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.