There are like 750 major-league players at any given time, and probably another 300 or 400 right on the fringes of The Show, perhaps injured and waiting to return or in Triple-A and ready for a call-up. It’s really hard to know them all, so we tend to put the ones we’re less familiar with into boxes. Al Alburquerque is a hard-throwing reliever with a control problem and a funny name. Craig Gentry is a fast outfielder who may or may not be on a big-league roster, depending on the day. And Chase d’Arnaud, well, he’s a scrappy middle infielder with a weak bat and a so-so glove.
From afar, the d’Arnaud box is often overflowing. For every Francisco Lindor, there are like 37 Eric Sogards. These guys tend to look reasonably adequate at shortstop, play a solid second or third base, and do enough with the bat to make you forget the constant barrage of outs, at least occasionally. It’s what d’Arnaud is—or what he’s supposed to be, anyway. That’s what the sticker on the box says.
When the Padres acquired d’Arnaud, this is what I wrote:
d’Arnaud, claimed off waivers from the Red Sox, is squarely a utility/org guy. If the Padres turn him into something useful, they’ll start checking the Petco hallways for signs of witchcraft.
With time, I’m not sure that I’ll be proven wrong, really. d’Arnaud’s hot start doesn’t negate a career’s worth of relative mediocrity, and it doesn’t portend a future as a legit contributor. But it’s still fun to view a previously boxed-up guy up close and realize that sometimes there’s more than just a generic, forgettable ballplayer there.
Let’s face it, though, d’Arnaud’s probably not going to hit. Including his brief stints in Boston and Atlanta this season, he’s posted a 96 wRC+ so far, which is good and all except it’s come in a whopping 25 plate appearances. His career big-league slash line sits at a much less flashy .234/.289/.315 in 459 PAs, and he’s OPSed .702 in 10 seasons of minor-league work. All of the projection systems have him as a Very Bad Hitter, with a low average, not many walks, and a sub-.100 ISO. If he hits, I’m still going with witchcraft.
Where d’Arnaud’s impressed in limited time with San Diego, where he’s bucked the stereotype, is in the field. He’s already made a bunch of really good plays (some of them legitimately great) at shortstop, including a nice diving catch and this sneaky good double play that he started, both yesterday:
That’s a helluva play. d’Arnaud had to deal with Ryan Schimpf diving in front of him while ranging to his right and working with an in-between hop/slow roller, yet he still got the ball to Yangervis Solarte quickly and accurately. I’m not sure that most shortstops turn that ball into a double play, especially considering Albert Almora is reasonably quick down the line.
d’Arnaud’s highlight reel with the Padres includes a terrific diving play from Sunday and an excellent relay throw from the Mets series. Defensively, he seems like a guy who is always in the right place, always making the right play. Maybe none of his tools alone make him a good defensive shortstop, but put them all together, and he’s able to get by with superior smarts and good positioning and hand-eye coordination.
Of course, his career advanced numbers point out a different story:
By these numbers, d’Arnaud is passable at second and outfield, really good at third, and terrible at short (those numbers work out to like -25 runs at short over a full season). We’re still talking about small samples all around here, so take it for what it’s worth.
d’Arnaud also has good base running in his back pocket. He’s been worth +4.4 runs by FanGraphs and +3.2 runs by Baseball Prospectus over his major-league career (not even a full season, mind you), and BP has him as a plus base runner in every season of his minor-league career. We’ve already seen him steal two bases with the Padres, although he did make one base running gaffe.
I’m not sure d’Arnaud is any better than Erick Aybar, but, for some reason, he sure is more fun to watch. Maybe it’s just their career trajectories. Aybar was once an excellent shortstop, a legitimate three or four WAR player, but he’s on the severe down slope of his career, just hanging on to a regular job. There’s an unavoidable element of sadness to the whole thing. d’Arnaud, on the hand, has never really got his shot. There’s seemingly a joy he’s playing with, both in trying to prove himself and in just enjoying the ride.
Say what you will about the spare infielder breed of ball player, the kind that’s available in bulk at your local Costco. If you’ve gotta take one of them on your team, you could do worse than d’Arnaud.