Last week, the Milwaukee Brewers found an answer to losing Yasmani Grandal in catcher from Omar Narváez. Offensively, Narváez is as close to Grandal as a team to get, but defensively, the two could not be further apart.
You’ve heard it 1,000 times, but Narváez is an offensive stud. Since becoming a Major League catcher with the White Sox in 2016, Narváez has only hit under .275 once. He has added to his power numbers each year. In 2016, his ISO was a mere .069, while he managed a .182 ISO last year.
The soon-to-be 28-year-old Narváez was among the top catchers in most offensive categories last season. Among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances, he was fourth in wRC+ with a 119, eighth in homers with 22, 10th in BB%, 10th-lowest in K%, and 9th in slugging with .460.
While his offensive results are spectacular, his batted balls don’t really support his success. In the same group of catchers, Narváez’s 29.8% hard ball rate was the last. Despite that, Narváez almost never puts the ball on the ground. He had a 33.1% ground ball rate, which was the third lowest of the group. He has the third-highest line drive rate and eighth-highest fly ball rate. His high launch angle gives the ball a higher chance of landing away from infielders. Narváez evenly spreads the ball around the field, too, making it hard for teams to shift against him successfully. He actually was seventh overall at hitting the ball to the opposite field while having the ninth-lowest pull rate.
His left-handed bat should see some improved offense with the short porch at Miller Park. Historically, the ballpark has been one of the most favorable locations for home runs from lefties in baseball. Any lefty coming to play 81 games with Milwaukee should see at least a slight boost to their stats.
Defensively, Narváez is completely different. Using Baseball Prospectus’ advanced analysis of catcher defense, Narváez was the ninth-worst framing catcher in baseball, fourth-worst blocker behind the plate, and third-worst at throwing out base stealers. Add that all together and he was the fourth-worst defensive catcher in baseball with -12.3 fielding runs above average. Meanwhile, BP had Yasmani Grandal as the third-best catcher in baseball with 20.1 FRAA, and he was especially valuable when it comes to framing.
The Mariners knew when they acquired him from the Chicago White Sox that Narváez struggled when donning the tools of ignorance. They worked diligently to improve his defense, but the numbers he concluded 2019 with are more or less in line with what he’s always done behind the plate. The Brewers do have a history of improving catchers defensively. Coming into his tenure with Milwaukee, Manny Piña wasn’t the best framer on the planet, but he has shown substantial growth in that area. Jacob Nottingham has also been a defensive improvement over the last couple years.
If the Brewers can improve Narváez’s defense, they will have a Grandal-light replacement with three years of control. But he has a long, loooong way to go. In the grand scheme of things, when considering both his offense and defense, he grades out roughly as an average regular player in terms of his overall value according to wins above replacement. At this point, Narváez looks like a pretty solid platoon option alongside Piña.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs