Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cubs Sign Dioner Navarro; Nary A Cause For Celebration

News broke this afternoon that the Chicago Cubs had signed catcher Dioner Navarro. My buddies at Cubs Den said:
...Navarro would be the veteran the Cubs have been looking to back up Welington Castillo.

Navarro is an excellent defensive catcher with a good arm and solid contact skills at the plate.
And our friends at World Series Dreaming said:
Based on what we know of Navarro he's probably as good as or better than Clevenger would be anyway. Most likely inexpensive. Details to come but wouldn't be surprised if it was a minor league/spring training invite type of thing.
But as a fan of the Tampa Bay Rays since Dioner Navarro's MLB debut, I can say with conviction that Navarro is neither a good hitter nor a good defender -- and if the reports of a $1.75 million MLB deal are true, then the Cubs unfortunately overpaid for him.

Navarro, 29-years-old next season, has a career slash of .245/.306/.357 with a 76 wRC+ through 2239 PA. Since 2004, when Navarro debuted, catchers have averaged about 88 to 93 wRC+ in a given season. So Navarro is a below average hitter.

The reason he was ever considered a prospect -- a top prospect in Baseball Prospectus' evaluations -- was that he had a killer on-base percentage in the minors. But, we have since realized that a hefty OBP in the minors can be a product of passivity just as much as patience. For Navarro, he was passive and light-swinging.

Defensively, he is a mess too.

I watched a good majority, if not most, of the games he played with the Rays. The television crew would spend whole innings critiquing his lackadaisical pitch blocking, his uninspiring pitch framing, and his ever-mediocre arm.

In 2011, in just 1768 PA at catcher (less than half a full season), Navarro cost teams 4.3 defensively, according to Matt Klaassen's defensive ratings, and according to data compiled by Max Marchi, his pitch framing cost another half run per full season.

I'm pretty sure people think he is a good defender simply because he cannot hit. Go figure.

Navarro had good numbers in Triple-A in 2012 and then spent 24 games in the MLB as a reward. But putting up good minor league numbers were never a problem for Navarro. Moreover, Klaassen's 2012 defensive numbers suggest his -4.3 defensive runs are about on par with Steve Clevenger, who likely has a better offensive upside, despite his 44 wRC+ season in 2012.

Navarro is a nice guy. A good guy, even. Every special I saw on him filled me with compassion. But the Cubs either needed to pay Navarro minor league rates, or find someone else.

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