A Closer Look: Travis D’Arnaud

It’s been quite some time since I did one of these, and for that I apologize.  We spend a lot of time on this site talking about the Kyle Drabeks and Michael Taylors, and I don’t know if there’s enough occasion to give the other guys their due.  When I started this feature, I vowed to look at some of the more under-the-radar guys in the system, and while Travis D’Arnaud may not necessarily qualify, I feel like he’s slipped from our consciousness with his rough start to the 2009 season.  But I want to go ahead and dig into his numbers from this year, and see why it’s far too early to be disappointed.

Those familiar with Travis know his story: a supplemental round pick by the Phillies in 2007 with a reputation as a good defensive catcher with a streaky bat.  His 145-plate-appearance debut in 2007 was inauspicious: .241/.278/.348 with a .121 SecA and a 23:4 K:BB.  Held back in extended spring training to begin 2008, Travis exploded onto the scene with Williamsport in the New York-Penn League.  In 193 plate appearances, he posted a .309/.371/.463 line, with a .149 SecA and a 29:18 K:BB.  Encouraged by his progress, the organization game him a preview of Lakewood, and Travis responded by hitting .297/.357/.469 with a .172 SecA and a 10:5 K:BB in 69 plate appearances.

Just like that, he jumped onto the prospect radar.  Baseball America had him as the Phillies’ #7 prospect; Baseball Prospectus had him as the Phillies’ #4 prospect (and a 3-star); and John Sickels rated him as a B prospect and #3 in the system.  Here at Phuture Phillies, the man himself had D’Arnaud at #7, while the readers collectively put him at #8.  I’ll admit it right now: I personally had him at #4, above both Dominic Brown and Kyle Drabek.

So it’s fair to say there were some fairly lofty expectations for D’Arnaud heading into this year, so the following line seems to be a disappointment at first blush…

.207/.269/.363

So let’s begin with the most obvious mitigating factor: D’Arnaud’s absurdly low BABIP.  It currently sits at .212 for the season, which is obviously dragging down his overall numbers.  And it’s not like he’s constantly popping out, or isn’t hitting the ball with any authority.  Minor league line drive numbers are notoriously inaccurate, but D’Arnaud is at a respectable 15.5% on the season (for whatever that’s worth); furthermore, his 14.3% infield fly rate, while a bit on the high side, still doesn’t explain the rock-bottom BABIP.  Minor League Splits has a neat little tool that allows you to neutralize for luck — which essentially means, normalize the BABIP — and when you click that for D’Arnaud, his BABIP jumps to .330 and his line responds by jumping to the following…

.304/.357/.495

Still, there’s greater cause for optimism than the ol’ “The BABIP’s gon’ normalize” explanation.  Let’s go ahead and look at a couple of key statistical categories to see how D’Arnaud’s been swinging the bat this year.

First up: his walk rate and strikeout rate.

2008 (SS, Age 19): 9.3% BB — 16.6% K
2008 (A-, Age 19): 7.2% BB — 15.6% K
2009 (A-, Age 20): 6.7% BB — 15.2% K

On the whole, Travis isn’t being quite as patient as he was last year, but the ratios are actually eerily similar to what he did in his small sample size at Lakewood in 2008.  Ideally you’d like him to show a bit more patience, but the fact that he’s making consistent contact is encouraging.

The second factor I’m going to look at is his power — specifically, his ISO and his XBH%.

2008 (SS, Age 19): .154 ISO — 33.3% XBH
2008 (A-, Age 19): .172 ISO — 36.8% XBH
2009 (A-, Age 20): .156 ISO — 40.8% XBH

Once again… eerily similar.  Now, at first blush, it seems that a .156 ISO isn’t anything to write home about.  But it’s often said that power is the last thing to develop in a catching prospect, and that proposition generally holds up when we take a sampling of what some current MLB catchers did in their respective Age 20 seasons…

Jesus Flores: .123 ISO — 26.2% XBH (A)
Victor Martinez: .091 ISO — 20.0% XBH (SS)
Joe Mauer: .077 ISO — 19.2% XBH (A+)
Brian McCann: .216 ISO — 47.7% XBH (A+)
Mike Napoli: .141 ISO — 33.0% XBH (A)
Jorge Posada: .195 ISO — 40.4% XBH (A)
Carlos Ruiz: .092 ISO — 25.0% XBH (SS)
Geovany Soto: .074 ISO — 19.4% XBH (A+)

I tried not to cherry-pick above, and you can see that there are some catchers for whom power manifests itself quickly — Posada and McCann from the above sample, and they’ve turned into alright catchers.  Now, it’s patently ridiculous to compare D’Arnaud’s ISO to Mauer’s and conclude that he’ll ever be in the same stratosphere as the Twins’ backstop, but this little exercise should prove the point that D’Arnaud is hitting the ball with about as much authority as you can reasonably expect from a young catcher.

So what’s the ultimate point?  Well, it’s that D’Arnaud’s rough start is only in the surface numbers, and that he’s actually having a pretty decent year with the bat thus far.  A 15.2% strikeout rate in conjunction with a .156 ISO is a very solid combination for a catching prospect at an age-appropriate level, and it’s likely that his overall numbers will continue to improve as the season moves on.

So don’t sell on D’Arnaud yet.  And perhaps more importantly, keep your fingers crossed that he doesn’t wind up as a throw-in on some deadline deal, because his ugly surface numbers certainly make him undervalued at this point.

36 thoughts on “A Closer Look: Travis D’Arnaud

  1. I still think of D’Arnaud has a more exciting prospect than Marson. His ceiling is significantly higher.

  2. soren I think people will always think a prospect in lower level will become better, D”arnaud shows he has some power, but that’s it,

  3. “nuetralize for luck?” Is that a tongue in cheek thing, or a joke? How about, just saying a young guy with a streaky bat and leaving it at that? Its a nice enough article, but come on, “nuetralize for luck????” Isn’t that just a baseball factor that stat geeks can’t get their head around?
    Mitch Williams called-he says Joe Carter got to use the “nuetralize for luck” deal more than he did, and he wants it evened out.
    Bill Buckner also called-wants one of those “neutralize for luck” gizmos to take to the Jeweler so he can get his World Series ring.

    1. Well at least you spelled neutralized correctly once out of your 4 efforts. I’d suggest taking an English course before you decide to criticize someone else’s analysis, you annoying tard.

  4. A hard hit line drive finding a hole for a hit,is a lot differant then Bill buckner making a physical error,
    What he is saying is a frozen rope is like a strike out if it is right at somebody!!! atleast stats y’s

  5. I too had a bit of trouble with the “luck” thing. Maybe it’s just me, but if you have to “normalize” a stat, then is it really a reliable stat? I’m not trying to sound like a smartass, but I really don’t get it. For example, does that mean if a high school kid who normally gets an “A” on a paper suddenly gets a couple of “C” grades, he can say that things will normalize. And at what point, can you discard the “bad luck” factor and say the guy just can’t perform at a certain level (think Brad Harman’s struggles the past two years).

    Again, I’m not trying to piss anyone off, I just really don’t get the whole BABIP thing – for one, anytime it’s too high or too low, then the sabermetricians tend to discard it. The fact that home runs get discarded when calculating it also has always bugged me – a stat penalizes guys for hitting homers? Why not just count free throw shooting against a guys scoring average in basketball too? Maybe I just don’t get it (I still can’t quite grok how VORP gets figured out either)

    [/rant]

    – Jeff

  6. how can anyone say d,arnaud will be better or worse than marson? has anyone seen both of them? their 3 levels apart. its not like d,arnaud is tearing up the sally league. this is not to say i hope he doesn,t become the next bench because i do. the only minor leagers we can be fairly certain about right now imo are drabek, taylor, maybe brown. i have a feeling worley and cloyd will make it and i still believe donald will come around but its just a feeling.

  7. Nice writeup, I always look forward to reading these. Similar to Marson and Donald, I’m excited to watch D’Arnaud’s stats come back up as the season goes on. Because of the catching prospects above him, the FO can take him one level at a time so he is age appropriate.

    It’s just a bummer that both D’Arnaud and Valle are having down seasons at the catching position in Lakewood, a notoriously pitcher’s league. Maybe he’ll catch fire starting with the All-Star game tonight.

  8. Mikemike,
    It’s not necessarily that D’Arnaud is at a lower level that attracts me to him, it’s that he’s shown some power and has the potential to be more of an impact player than Marson. They both have a reputation for being tremendous defensive catchers, which is kind of hard to verify being that evaluating catchers is a tricky thing to do even when you get to see them every day. Marson is a solid all around player, but has never shown power potential, solid defense and tremendous plate discipline have always been his strengths. So essentially, the argument between the two comes down to “power projection or plate discipline” and I don’t think it’s silly to side with power projection there.

  9. PhillyFriar, thanks for the write-up.

    Just for kicks, did anyone else read the comments from pp’s post “David Dellucci turns into a pumpkin…or Travis D’Arnaud”? That was the post from when D’Arnaud was drafted. D’Arnaud’s siblings posted comments on it, they’re pretty funny.

  10. Someone should’ve asked her about Chase as well.

    D’Arnaud’s isolated power is still very good. Clearly he needs to improve his plate discipline though. You want to see a ratio of about a walk in 10% of plate appearances. Not only will D’Arnaud get his walks, but then he would select better pitches to swing at, improving his batting average. Improving that skill will determine whether or not he can succeed at higher levels.

    On the BABIP argument, I think that holds true more for pitchers than for hitters. Kruk kind of got the gist of it. What is the difference between a seeing eye single and a groundout to the shortstop? Mere centimeters on the bat can make a difference of feet when it comes to where the ball travels.

  11. The important thing is the the guy still makes great contact. He might be having some bad luck, and probably more so than that he’s got a hitch in the swing which is causing some pop-ups and bloopers. That’s correctable. Not being able to make contact would be much more serious as it’s much harder to correct.

    I’ve got him as prospect #12 in our system. Right behind Dugan and Gose.

    Nice article. Well researched, informative, and run to read. Thanks

  12. I think all the BABIP stats are showing is that we shouldn’t be surprised if D’Arnaud goes on a tear in the second half. He is making good contact, not popping up excessively and has shown decent plate discipline. It helps answer the question of is his current production a slump or what we can expect of him. It looks like it’s more of a slump, albeit a long one. As a catcher, and from what I read a good defensive one, he doesn’t need a ton of bat to be a top prospect. Player’s production fluctuates and BABIP can help explain what is happening.

    Great write-up, by the way.

  13. Excellent write up. When i’ve looked at his stats this year, I’ve been dumbfounded by his consistent BB/K rate. You put some more context around that. I’d be quite surprised if his #s aren’t pretty respectable by the end of the year, optimistically maybe 260/330/450.

    Those posters who can’t get their head around the BABIP stat clearly have not gotten their head around the whole sample-size thing either. Luck is just a euphemism for small sample size. Anyways good *luck* with that.

  14. luck is the residue of excuses. anthony young had bad luck. bad luck is for losers. im not being specific about d,arnaud because he is way too young to judge him in that context, but im saying if a player is continually having bad luck their generally not that good.

  15. Hey remember that time I heard a “john from NE philly” call WIP and claim to be an expert on prospects, advertising his site called phuturephilsclearwater.com? That was awesome.

  16. no if you listened what you heard was angelo claimed i was an expert which i said i wasnt and i promoted the site by saying i have a blog on phuturephils which should only help the site. as a matter of fact angelo and rhea read the site and maybe alot of other people due to that pub.

  17. I think the Phillies told D’Arnaud to hit for power, concentrate on catching and don’t worry about anything else.

  18. Nice writeup of D’Arnaud. I feel pretty confident that as long as he continues to make ocntact, his average will grow as will his power numbers. Marson actually looks like he’s hot after sitting hurt for a few days.

  19. Strong piece.

    I remain quite optimistic about D’Arnaud. The fact that he was put on the SAL all-star team suggests that people with much more information than we have (we’re really going on the numbers and trying to get inside them) see the promise. I agree that the walk rate could be better, but I’m also not at all concerned that we’re looking at a Golson-esque free-swinger here.

    D’Arnaud probably sits toward the bottom of my personal top 10 in the system, or toward the top of the next 5, right now. That says as much about the guys ahead of him as it does D’Arnaud. But a year from now I would expect he’s in or near our consensus top 5.

  20. I think BABIP gets overused (since the normal range of fluctuations for BABIP over a single season is rather large, and numbers that are marginally higher or lower than .300 aren’t necessarily likely to normalize), but this is one instance where the stat is instructive, because the average is so very low

    However, there is another explanation for having a low BABIP without having an excessive amount of popups….he could be fighting a hook in his swing as they say, and rolling over balls to the left side of the IF too much

  21. his production looked good even when he was sub 200 for quite a period. If you pro-rate out those numbers for a full 162 game season that’s 100+ rbi and 20+ hrs and he’s only 20 so he’s still age appropriate. That power potential over Marson is what makes him the better prospect.

  22. An example for my above: Carlos Ruiz last year. Look at his BABIP at .237, with a normal IF/FB rate (9.8) and one could conclude that he was very unlucky.

    However, having watched him every day last year, I’m sure a lot of you would agree with me that he simply had a terrible approach for most of the season, getting way too pull happy/overaggressive and rolling over GBs on any pitch down and/or out over the plate (hence all the DPs)

    This year he is letting the ball get deeper in on him, using the whole field more and driving it more. The result is a lower total GB rate (35.2% in 09 vs 54.3 in 08), and a more “normal” .274 BABIP

    If D’Arnaud has a far higher GB rate in 2009 than previous years, I think it would strongly suggest that he is getting excessively pull happy/overanxious and rolling over too much

  23. The best compliment for a catcher is about handling the staff. Here’ s what manager Dusty Wathan had to say about D’Arnaud after his selection to the Sally All Star game:

    “Travis has been outstanding defensively,” said Wathan. “He’s driven in a lot of runs and handled our pitching staff tremendously.”

  24. Great post! I’ve seen D’Arnaud working hard to get his average up. He’ll spend time after games in the batting cages, hitting off a tee, to get his machanics right.

  25. Regarding “normalizing for luck”:

    A player’s stats can be considered as a subset of the universe of possible at-bats. As such, the figures vary. A certain amount of that variation is due to luck. The technique used is to look for a stat that measures something a bit different from BA/OPB. etc. . This technique has some value IF it is useful in identifying the respective means which most players will regress to.

    For this to work the variation in BABIP must be less than the variation in the other stats. That is, it would need to be a more stable measure of offensive production. I would assume, considering the source, that this is true, but I have not verified it.

    Sorry if this is obscure; the explanation may not be precise enough, but I have work to do and so cannot take the time to craft it better.

  26. mbbear-
    neutralizing for luck isn’t meant to be used on a play by play basis. Its meant to be used over a full season, or at least long stretches of time. Luck is a factor in baseball, but over time, it tends to even out. it usually does, but every once in a while it doesn’t.
    bottom line is, he’s making contact, not striking out, walking alright, and playing good defense (supposedly). One of these days, the ball will start to find holes for him.

  27. Having seen D’Arnaud in person…I’m still high on him. I think he’ll come on strong as the year goes on. I’m not worried at all about his slow start.

  28. D’Arnaud had a hit and 2 RBI in the all-star game tonight. He drove in Gose, who had an excellent game. Gose stole a base on Tim Federowicz, who has one of the best arms for a catcher in the SAL.

    Must also have been fun for Travis to play on the same team as his brother.

  29. Not to jump to another topic but I was wondering if someone could tell me what happended to Edgar Garcia. Last I heard he had visa issues but that was awhile ago. Thanks

  30. judas_priest,

    I get what you are saying. But it would really only apply to what one might call the “strong” version of the BABIP argument – that is, the notion that a bad BABIP is entirely a matter of bad luck. But that is, indeed absurd. The better argument – and, I think, a very good one – is this:

    (1) Judging a young player on 1/3 of a season is a bad idea, period, and

    (2) That’s especially so when the player has an absurdly low BABIP by his own standards, and when his other fundementals (isolated power, SO and BB numbers) haven’t declined.

    That’s really the argument for D’Arnaud, and it’s a good one. That doesn’t mean that you throw out the low batting average, but you need to put it in context, and part of that context is that his low BABIP suggests (doesn’t prove) that he has been (in part, at least) the victim of bad luck.

  31. The best I can add is that batting average is more subject to random variations than most other statistics. So in a small sample size, you can see 30 point swings that don’t really indicate a change in ability, just a matter of those small hits going through or being caught.

    The more at bats you have, the smaller the range of probable batting averages becomes. This is why I’m suspicious of hitting splits like RISP. In 50 at bats, you can get all kinds of weird anomalies.

  32. Saw D’Arnaud last night and was extremely impressed. His bat is HUGE and I definitely see him as a 20+ HR big league catcher. I maybe see 2-3 guys come through each year with his bat. He’s a stud!

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