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d’Arnaud’s Hitless Streak is Par for the Course April 7, 2014

Posted by tomflesher in Baseball.
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Yesterday’s Mets game was a heartbreaker, from the lack of production by the offense to Jon Niese taking a tough loss in a 2-1 game with 5 2/3 innings pitched (game score 52). Travis d’Arnaud is still hitless in his first 17 plate appearances this season, though he’s walked twice to give him a .118 OBP so far. Last year, d’Arnaud had a .202/.286/.263 line in 31 games and 112 plate appearances.

The conventional wisdom is that catchers get a slower start than most other positions when hitting due to the focus during spring training being on developing pitchers and making sure they’re ready. Let’s assume that last year’s line represents d’Arnaud’s true level of ability (a dicey proposition, certainly) – is is likely we’d see him hitting 0 times in 15 at-bats (ignoring his two walks)? If we assume that walks and hits are independent (again, dicey), then we can track out the likelihood that d’Arnaud would go 0-for-15 as the probability he makes an out – .798 – raised to the 15th power – about .034. That means out of every 1000 15-at-bat strings, about 34 of them would be 0-fors. That makes it pretty unlikely that d’Arnaud’s difficulty is just a product of bad luck.

Russell Martin had a similar streak last year, going 17 at-bats before his first hit after hitting .211 as a Yankee the previous year – his streak was even less likely, with a probability of about .018. Martin broke the streak in his first plate appearance of his April 9th game. Once he started hitting, his line (excluding those first six games) was .235/.333/.362 in 121 games – hardly earth-shattering (and the reason the Pirates picked up John Buck from the Mets), but significantly better than those first six.

As another case study, Dioner Navarro had a five-game hitless streak to open the season last year, spanning five games – but only as a catcher. He actually hit in his sixth plate appearance, which was as a pinch hitter. Navarro was 8 for 32 (.250) in his appearances as a pinch hitter, and 5 for 14 (.357) in five games as Chicago’s designated hitter.

Hopefully d’Arnaud will clean it up over the next few games and break his streak – he’s already leading this year’s catchers in hitless games this season. He hit a long, loud out almost to the fence yesterday, so he has the potential.

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