July 14, 2014
Notes About Baseball, 7/14
The Big-Market d'Arnaud
In The Room
The quality of catching in the National League is kind of nuts right now.
Of the top 10 catchers in MLB by BWARP, seven call the senior circuit home. And that 70 percent is awfully top-heavy, with National Leaguers occupying spots 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7 and 8.
I point this out because you'd be forgiven if, in the face of all this catching excellence, you'd overlooked the performance of one Travis d'Arnaud since his recall on June 24th. Since then, Travis has raked, hitting .295/.338/.525 across 65 plate appearances (MLB average at catcher: .249/.316/.385).
It's obviously a small sample, but were he to maintain that pace his .863 OPS would land him fifth among all catchers in baseball. And it's not a reach putting those kinds of expectations on the guy.
D'Arnaud's been one of the top catching prospects in baseball since the Phillies grabbed him in the supplemental-first round (37th overall) of the 2007 Amateur Draft. We had him as the no. 48 prospect in baseball entering this season. Baseball America had him at no. 38; MLB.com at no. 22.
He's earned his pedigree by hitting a great many baseballs, and with authority. In 505 PAs at Double-A, he put up a .902 OPS (.303/.364/.538), and he was even better at Triple-A, posting a 1.045 OPS (.344/.411/.633) in 440 PAs.
Travis also happens to be the younger, equally friendly brother of Pirates farmhand Chase d'Arnaud. Having chatted with Chase a few times over the years, I was curious about the dynamic between the brothers when I chatted with Travis recently. And we'll get to that in a bit. But we began our chat with some comparisons between life in the minors and life in the majors.
"Nicer hotels, better travel, nicer ballparks, more fans at the games," Travis said. "Other than that, it's the same game. The mound is 60 feet, 6 inches away, first base is 90 feet away... "
Having been around Pirates players for most of my time as a reporter/radio guy, I could sense an immediate difference between how players in a major market, like Travis and his Mets teammates, interact with the media, versus those on a team that generally deals with a smaller media contingent. Travis was working quickly, and going into soundbyte mode... so I pressed and rephrased, citing Bull Durham and Crash Davis' stories about the whiteness of the batting practice balls. A genuine smile now; this angle seemed better.
"Yeah, it really is awesome. It's something you dream about as a kid and once you're here, you just try to soak it all in. The parks really do look like cathedrals; the stadiums are huge."
Biggest difference, once you're in-game?
"Not as many mistakes over the middle of the plate, and more of the routine plays are made."
Any uptick in fastball velocity?
Quality of breaking stuff?
"Same. The command is the difference, by far."
After some small talk, I got to asking about some Chase-related things; stuff they've shared about their times in the bigs, funny stories, that sort of thing.
"We've both just had tastes (of time in the majors), so we haven't had too many crazy stories. We talked about our first day, our time up here. I wish he was here (in the bigs with the Pirates). That would've been one hell of an experience for both of us. I hope he's down there, havin' fun, doin' his thing and I hope he gets back up here."
So how do the bragging rights work in the d'Arnaud family? Do they root for one another? How competitive is their relationship?
"We root for one another, but I have my younger brother competitiveness against my older brother."
Big smile now.
"Growing up, I would always be the big talker, that's for sure. And whenever we do something, I'd always lose...but I'd keep on talkin'."
Some rapid-fire d'Arnaud competitiveness to wrap things up:
"Oh man, him?"
Despite Travis' very solid head of hair (I'll throw a 55 on his hair), I have him as 3/3 at this point. Chase has legitimate plus-plus hair.
More loved by your parents?
"Me!" Big laughs now.
We wrapped on that note, but I left with the impression that Travis, 25, was a very confident, very composed young man. He was impressive. He was also another extremely affable d’Arnaud—that's 2/2—so the d'Arnaud's (and their parents) have that going for them.
Reminder: I'm soliciting reader-based selections for inclusion in Outliers, so if there's a guy who's great at... something... and you think he deserves a spot in the column, hit me up on the Twitter.
Starting with Hamilton's speed...
In terms of his performance last week, Billy went 3-for-6 in his stolen base tries, making him 38-for-53 on the year. That 71.6 percent success rate is now below average for the league (73 percent), and it's also testing the bottom of the spread (70-75 percent) that determines the rate at which stolen bases are a break-even proposition for a team.
I'll not repeat the 'he'll likely get better with more reps' refrain from last week (though I suppose I just did); instead I'll note the three triples he lashed, as triples are a function of speed, not power. And then there's this:
With the blessing of speed come all sorts of ancillary benefits, the fast-twitch muscle fibers that allow NFL defensive backs to stop on a dime, NBA point guards to break ankles and, apparently, MLB center fielders to give Gaby Sanchez nightmares on routine putouts.
Agility +5. That was ridiculous.
We profiled Jose Abreu here last time, and Jose had a pretty nice week, swatting two more homers (29). But he won't be competing in the 2014 Gillette Home Run Derby tonight, so he's dead to us. As such, this tweet from ESPN has us headed in another direction for this week's celebration of the most coveted of baseball tools—power.
While that's an awfully manly bit of trivia, and Giancarlo Stanton is generally regarded as having the most raw power in the majors, he hasn't homered in pis last 15 games entering the All-Star break. Will that drought affect his performance tonight?
I was going to do some research and try to answer that question... but then Sam did a way better job of it than I ever could; it seems trying to handicap the thing is an exercise in futility. So let's not put too much thought into Stanton's dry spell, try to enjoy the format changes made to the derby and delight in the 80 power we have coming our way this evening.
Dozier's Speed and Power... relevant, yet irrelevant...
Bill James created a stat in his 1980 Baseball Abstract called the Power/Speed number (2(HR x SB)/(HR+SB)). As far as analytical tools go, it was kind of stillborn; James himself admitted as much, calling it a "freakshow" statistic.
Still, it's noteworthy on this day, as Brian Dozier will be competing in the derby, and he happens to be leading the league in Power/Speed (16.9) by virtue of his 18 home runs and 16 stolen bases prior to the break.
I suppose it's interesting that, while Power/Speed has little analytical value, it does serve to highlight the convergence of two of baseball’s more valuable tools (and two we love here in Outliers), as the career leader in Power/Speed is Barry Bonds, and the single-season record belongs to Alex Rodriguez, in 1998 (43.91 P/S; 42 HR, 46 SB).
As for Dozier, he's very good at turning the double play, he's been worth about 2.8 WARP through his first 92 games in 2014 and he represents a pretty great bargain for the Twins; he's not arbitration-eligible until 2016. He's also scored more runs than anyone so far in 2014, and that must be fun.
We wish him all the best in tonight's power-based festivities.