Through two rounds of action in the 2020 postseason, the top OPS in the National League belongs to Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud, who was a Dodger for less than a week in 2019 and has done nothing but hit since.
D’Arnaud is 8-for-19 (.421) with two home runs, two doubles, and seven RBI in this postseason, including 6-for-10 with all those extra-base hits and RBI in three games against the Marlins in the NLDS. His 1.342 OPS ranks fifth among all hitters this postseason with at least 10 plate appearances, and first among NL hitters.
He’s come a long way since joining and leaving the Dodgers in 2019.
In his first four full seasons (2014-17), d’Arnaud was essentially a league average hitter with the Mets (a 99 wRC+), and was New York’s starting catcher for the 2015 run to the World Series. But almost his entire 2018 season was wiped out by Tommy John surgery, and after starting 2019 in a 2-for-23 slump in a backup role, d’Arnaud was released.
The Dodgers signed him on May 5, bringing home the former Lakewood High School player who was born in Long Beach. He was added as a third catcher, with Russell Martin and Austin Barnes already active, and Will Smith finding his way in Triple-A.
D’Arnaud was active with the Dodgers for only five games, and he never caught a game for Los Angeles. He was used as a pinch hitter in the fifth inning on May 9, down three runs to Patrick Corbin and the Nationals, and grounded out to short.
With the catching situation pretty much set, and Smith waiting in the wings (he would make his major league debut three weeks later), the Dodgers traded d’Arnaud to the Rays for cash on May 10.
“I got to know him briefly, and I loved everything about him,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said on Saturday. “Just a really nice way about him. There’s a confidence, there’s a humility.”
D’Arnaud didn’t start off well with Tampa Bay, going 3-for-29 (.103) with no extra-base hits and 11 strikeouts in his first 10 games. On the season at that point, d’Arnaud was hitting just .094/.158/.094 (5-for-53) with three teams. But he doubled twice on May 27, and pretty much just kept hitting the rest of the year, hitting 16 home runs over his final 82 games with the Rays.
Though his time with the Dodgers was brief, his game-used jersey was for sale later in the year at Dodger Stadium. It seemed sort of funny for the relative obscurity at the time. But now, not so much.
Forgot to tweet this earlier: from the club level stand with game-used stuff, you can’t tell the story of the 2019 Dodgers without a Travis d’Arnaud jersey pic.twitter.com/vUalAyoOPP— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) August 24, 2019
D’Arnaud parlayed that into a two-year, $16 million contract last winter, and so for the return on investment has been fantastic. He hit .321/.386/.533 with nine home runs and eight doubles, and led all major league catchers with 34 RBI. Among all catchers with at least 100 plate appearances, d’Arnaud ranked third with a 145 wRC+.
First with a 163 wRC+ is Smith, whose pending arrival last year was why the Dodgers were okay with trading d’Arnaud away. Smith is now hitting fifth in an incredibly deep Dodgers lineup, and d’Arnaud is hitting cleanup for a Braves team that scored only one less run than Los Angeles during the regular season.
Since leaving the Dodgers, d’Arnaud is hitting .283/.344/.484, a 120 wRC+ with 25 home runs in 136 games, and leads all catchers with 101 RBI.
“I couldn’t be happier for him and his career,” Roberts said. “But I don’t like seeing him in the four hole against us for the next week.”
The Dodgers might be able to run on d’Arnaud, who threw out only three of 27 base stealers in 35 games this season. It’s a Braves-wide issue, with runners successful in 15 of 17 attempts against backup catcher Tyler Flowers. The most steal-prone pitcher on the Braves is Game 3 starter Kyle Wright, who allowed six steals in six attempts in his eight starts.
LA doesn’t run much, but they pick their spots. The Dodgers were 3-for-3 in steal attempts in the NLDS, including a double steal that helped win a contentious Game 2 against San Diego.
D’Arnaud is also shepherding a young Braves pitching staff that includes three high first-round picks — Max Fried (2012, seventh overall), Ian Anderson (2016, third), Wright (2017, fifth) — who will start the first three games of the NLCS. That group has a combined 73 major league starts including the playoffs, 52 by Fried, but allowed only four runs in 28⅔ innings against the Reds and Marlins.
“He’s fit in here from the first day of regular spring training, and divested himself in your young pitching staff and our pitching staff as a whole,” Braves manager Brian Snitker told reporters on Saturday. “He brings instant credibility. He’s been in this arena before. I mean, he’s caught World Series games.”