Backstop gaining big league experience while working with top-notch batterymates
By Joe Trezza
NEW YORK -- The glove that takes the biggest beating in baseball belongs to Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki, and it's on its last legs. Plawecki's poor mitt is literally ripping at the seams -- the biggest victim of a historically vicious barrage that prompts umpires to tell him, "It's gonna burst on you."
The Mets' rookie catcher keeps a new understudy waiting in the wings of his equipment bag, but for now, Plawecki plans to stick with his battered mitt. He began using it in Spring Training, and he calls the mitt "my baby."
"She's like an old car that's been worn down," Plawecki said. "But still gets you from point A to point B."
Mets starters lead the Majors in average fastball velocity, and most of those heaters have landed in the mitt of Plawecki, who has done an admirable job defensively in a high-responsibility role as a rookie. Since replacing injured Travis d'Arnaud in April, Plawecki has logged 482 innings behind the plate -- many of them set to the soundtrack of Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard's sizzling hum.
Entering Sunday, that trio combined to throw 3,155 fastballs at an average of 95.23 mph this season (according to info compiled by FanGraphs). Jeurys Familia, the Mets' most-used reliever, then comes in to finish games with a sinker that averages 96 mph. Plawecki, somehow, insists he only occasionally blinks and that he doesn't miss any pitches. He has just one passed ball in 54 games and 3,272 chances, a stat that speaks to his preparation, quickness and ability to work with an excellent pitching staff.
"There is no slow," said Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, who caught Reds fireballer Aroldis Chapman multiple times when he was with Cincinnati. "There are days Harvey has pretty good sink, Syndergaard throwing 98, 99. It's got to be hard sometimes."
The scars are obvious with even a quick glance at Plawecki's mitt. The outer webbing needs to be retied, loose from constant pounding that split open the hide at its base. The inside black leather is peppered with wear spots so large they were visible in the high sun from the upper levels of Citi Field when Plawecki reached up to catch a foul pop on Sunday. He broke the glove in during Spring Training using water dips and an elastic belt, which would constrict the leather for up to five days before popping out a fresh, more malleable mitt that Plawecki had hoped would see Major League work.
It has -- and then some.
"It got pretty beat up a lot quicker than usual," Plawecki said.
On top of the thousands of pitches Plawecki catches during games, he also catches in the bullpen and takes 20 or so practice reps during every pregame, courtesy of bench coach Bob Geren and the club's $4,500 Hack Attack pitching machine.
Before each game, Geren gathers the Mets' catchers in the batting cage and sets up the three-wheeled Hack Attack at about 45 feet. The machine throws cutters, sinkers, sliders and fastballs, with the heaters simulated at 95 mph. The goal is to work on receiving and, if need be, framing. Plawecki rates well in the skill of both external metrics and internal ones. The exact results are kept private.
Prior to that, Geren requires each catcher to type up scouting reports detailing that night's game plan for the opposition, an uncommon practice around the Majors.
"No lie, a double-spaced report," Geren said. "You're more apt to remember something if you write it down."
Then after each game, Geren reviews each catcher's frame percentage, which measures how many strikes a catcher gained or lost, and he also reviews block percentage, which covers balls in the dirt. For Plawecki, each positive rating adds to his case to stay in the big leagues when d'Arnaud returns this weekend.
Joe Trezza is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.