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Travis d'Arnaud: 2015 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper

As a general rule, I don't invest much in catchers. The rigors of the position mean that, with rare exceptions, catchers don't play as much, hit as well, or offer the same five category upside as other positions. However, in recent years, the number of rosterable backstops has increased. In 2002, catchers as a group posted an 82 wRC+, meaning they were roughly 18 percent worse than the average hitter that season, after adjusting for park and league factors. In 2014, that mark was 93. Offense is down across the league overall, but catcher isn't the relative black hole it used to be.

Consequently, once the few true stars are off the board, there are any number of interchangeable options. Some of them will bust, most often as a result of injury. Perhaps more than any other position, it makes sense to roll the dice on upside behind the plate. Last year, I broke with my usual strategy and targeted Wilin Rosario, winning him for around $13 in all three of my leagues. When he stumbled out of the gate, I cycled through a few replacements. One of them was Travis d'Arnaud, and he's on my short list of 2015 backstop targets.

As a Phillies fan (sigh), I've known of d'Arnaud for awhile. Of the players dealt for Roy Halladay in 2009, I was most disappointed to see him go.  However, until this season, he was a disappointment, suffering several injuries and playing so poorly to start 2014 that the Mets demoted him to Triple-A. While there, he worked with the coaching staff to alter his stance and cover more of the plate. Recalled just three weeks later, d'Arnaud paired this mechanical change with a more aggressive plate approach. The result? His walk rate dropped from 11 to six percent, but his isolated power doubled, his line drive rate spiked, and his OBP went up almost 50 points to boot.

Plate discipline is one of the stronger correlations to ability and production, but a double-digit walk rate doesn't guarantee success (see 2009 Brian Giles for a particularly effective example). We've seen other players trade patience for production, and d'Arnaud didn't need an exceptional walk rate to hit well at every level of the minors.  Plus, while it's a small sample, his walk rate did jump back up to nearly nine percent in September.

 

In Summary

The injury history, which includes four concussions, is worrisome. But if the Mets are serious about moving d'Arnaud to left field, as they discussed internally last August, his value only increases for 2015. He would still have catcher eligibility without the rigors of actually catching. d'Arnaud has the pedigree, the track record, and the opportunity. Best case: he's 2015's answer to Devin Mesoraco, and you got in on the ground floor. Worst case? Toss him back on the pile, and take your pick of the perfectly serviceable options on the wire.

 

 





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