On the most recent edition of the Wheelhouse podcast, Seattle Mariners general manager, Jerry Dipoto, was asked who on this team would he lobby for to be on the All-Star roster. Without hesitation, Dipoto spotlighted catcher Omar Narvaez.
Dipoto freely admitted that coming into the season Narvaez was considered a bit of a defensive liability, especially when it came to framing pitches, but that aspect of his game has improved according to internal data and that should show up in the public-facing data soon enough.
What he’s doing with the bat is a little easier to see.
Through 41 games and 154 PA, Narvaez is second on the team behind Daniel Vogelbach among position players in Fangraphs WAR with 1.4. He is slashing .307/.377/.511 with 8 HR and a wRC+ of 143, or 43% better than league average. The .340 BABIP does suggest that some regression is coming to his overall stat line, but the slight uptick in exit velocity (EV) and increase in launch angle suggest that while the BA should come down some, the power increase may be real.
Narvaez’s expected batting average (XBA) and expected slugging percentage (XSLG) are .233/.410 this year compared t o career .255/.361 XBA/XSLG. His actual stat line this year of .307 and .511 are marked increases over his career .280 BA and .368 SLG, albeit in a fairly small sample size this season.
Dipoto is correct in his assessment that the public-facing defensive metrics on Narvaez haven’t shown much improvement. Narvaez ranks 7th in all of baseball in framing chances, according to Baseball Prospectus. But, in those 2,285 chances, he has cost his team roughly 1.1 runs by his framing. That ranks 63rd among all catchers regardless of the number of chances.
In the past, it was fairly easy for a public analyst to look at player performance and point out where major league clubs were mis-evaluating true talent. That has become increasingly difficult, especially when it comes to defense, because of the abundance of Statcast tracking data that is not in the public realm, not to mention team specific proprietary data.
So, given that Dipoto is honest with his assessment of the impression of Narvaez’s defense in the public sphere, he should get the benefit of the doubt that, in fact, the Mariners internal data shows an improvement.
Given that former catcher Mike Zunino is once again on the IL with his new team the Tampa Rays and is currently hitting .220/.260/.407 with an “improved” strikeout rate of 26%, it may be safe to say that, at least offensively, the Mariners upgraded the catcher position by acquiring Narvaez.
At any rate, Narvaez is one of the few fun stories with the Mariners lately and it will be interesting to see how the 27-year-old continues to grow over the course of the season.