How much of an upgrade is Dioner Navarro for Blue Jays?

dioner navarro

Former Chicago Cubs catcher Dioner Navarro has agreed to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays. Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

So it’s official – J.P. Arencibia is no longer a member of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Much has already been made about the Blue Jays recent signing of catcher Dioner Navarro and the decision to non-tender Arencibia. The impression I’m getting from most people is that they are happy the Blue Jays will not be trotting out J.P. Arencibia as their starting catcher in 2013.

It’s understandable. Arencibia was almost historically awful during 2013 and appears to be regressing if you look at his stats the past three seasons. His OPS dropped from .720 in 2011 to only .592 last season (.710 in 2012). His walk rate has also decreased each year while he’s somehow found a way to strikeout even more often.

I could go on for some time but I think you get the picture… and it’s not pretty. Anyone who watched the Blue Jays in 2013 could easily attest to its ugliness.

Navarro on the other hand is seen by some as the “anti-Arencibia”. He strikes out at about half the rate as JPA and walks far more often. He’s coming off a career year and put up a very impressive 136 wRC+ in 89 with the Chicago Cubs in 2013.

Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs did a comparison and concluded that the addition of Navarro was a “big upgrade” for the Blue Jays. However I see a slightly different picture.

Inconsistency has plagued Navarro for years and not once has he put together back-to-back productive seasons. He followed up his All-Star campaign in 2008 (when he put up a 105 wRC+) with a 54 wRC+ year in 2009, which was the last season he started at least 100 games. In 2010 he batted .194/.270/.258 with a 51 wRC+ and after he was left off the Rays’ playoff roster instead of joining his teammates decided to go home.

Navarro was very good this year without a doubt. The notorious lefty-masher batted well from both sides of the plate last season and was fairly consistent throughout the year backing up Cubs’ starter Welington Castillo.

I decided to look at both players numbers since 2009, which in theory should hold enough predictive value of what to expect from the pair going forward. It may seem like I’m cherry-picking a bit since I’m not including Navarro’s stellar 2008 campaign but that season was more than five years ago and holds very little value of what we can expect from him in 2014. Arencibia’s first full season also wasn’t until 2011 but going back to 2009 gives a more even number of plate appearances, which makes our comparison slightly easier.

Name PA AVG OBP SLG OPS ISO BABIP wRAA wOBA wRC+
Dioner Navarro 1093 0.236 0.294 0.364 0.658 0.129 0.251 -28.4 0.290 78
J.P. Arencibia 1392 0.212 0.258 0.408 0.666 0.196 0.250 -29.2 0.288 76

 Table generated from FanGraphs.

If you look at the above numbers there really isn’t that much difference between Navarro and Arencibia. Sure there are stark contrasts in their walk and strikeouts rate (which I didn’t include so the table would fit) but at the end of the day, over the past four seasons, they’ve put up very similar results.

That’s not to say that Arencibia’s performance should be tolerated any longer in Toronto. Pitchers have appeared to figure him out and he’s done next to nothing to adjust. His biggest problem continues to be contact, which is an area that Navarro has excelled in comparison.

Arencibia’s triple-slash of .212/.258/.408 is very bad but his OPS is actually slightly better than Navarro over the past four years. Both players wOBA and wRC+ nearly identical.

So is Navarro an upgrade? He’s had stints in the minors three consecutive seasons during 2010, 2011 and 2012 and his MLB OPS those three years were .583, .528 and .600. He spent more time playing with the Louisville Bat than the Cincinnati Reds as recently as 2012. However according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, “Navarro told Jays officials a year of riding International League buses in 2012 has changed his work habits and motivation”. I guess the third time is the charm?

What Navarro told the Jays may in fact be true (and could be a wake-up call for Arencibia if he follows the same route) but Dioner’s potential floor concerns me. He failed to meet the Mendoza line back-to-back seasons in 2010 and 2011 and was a below replacement level player by both Baseball Reference’s and FanGraphs’ metric during that time. He’s never been quite as bad as JPA was last year (few have) but in more season than one hasn’t been far from it.

All that being said, there’s still a very good chance that Navarro will in fact be a noticeable improvement over Arencibia for the Blue Jays in 2014. Steamer was predicting a .216/.265/.405 slash line and 79 wRC+ from JPA in 2014 while Navarro was projected (prior to trade) to produce .254/.321/.398 and 98 wRC+. If Navarro produces anywhere close to those numbers his contract will be considered a steal for the Jays. And the risk/reward factor made sense with holes in the rotation and possibly second base still left to fill this off-season.

But what can Blue Jays fans bank on from Navarro in 2014? Based on his relatively recent history of sub-replacement seasons the answer, in my opinion, is not very much.

Topics: Dioner Navarro, Toronto Blue Jays

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  • brad

    Boo hiss Wray…

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      ;)

  • Andrew van Laar

    I think Navarro will be an improvement for two main reasons:

    #1 – He’s a catcher who actually wants to improve his game and be a better player rather than sticking with what got him by in the past and no making adjustments.

    #2 – He will always give the Jays a chance to stay alive. Unlike JP, when Navarro comes to the plate it isn’t almost guaranteed he’s not getting on base. As a contact hitter the ball is at least in play. He may or may not get on base or drive in a run but at least the ball is doing something.

    JP can win games with the long bomb but those games are far and few between. I’d rather have a contact guy get on base and let the real hitters drive him in.

    On a side note, where do you think he will be slotted in the lineup? I am thinking #8 or #9 depending on if Gibby wants to use another leadoff type hitter in the #9 spot. What do you guys think?

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      Depending what plays out the rest of the off-season I see him batting 8th and whoever gets the 2B gig (if not upgraded) will bat 9th imo.

      • Andrew van Laar

        I agree. Goins or Izturis would be great in the 9 hole as they have decent enough speed. If we land an upgrade at 2B (not saying we should but if AA is so inclinded), does Navarro slide down to #9?

        My projected order atm would be:

        #1 Reyes

        #2 Lawrie?

        #3 Bautista

        #4 EE (Bautista and EE could switch depending if you want your higher average and OBP guy hitting first in from of Bautista. Depends on your lineup philoshophy)

        #5 Rasmus

        #6 Cabrerra

        #7 Lind

        #8 Navarro

        #9 Goins

        You could swap Lawrie with Rasmus if you want to go with a lefty in from of #3 and #4

        • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

          I love Bautista in the 2-hole (but he doesn’t seem to like it unfortunately) so ideally vs. RHP I would bump up Jose/Edwin/Colby, have Lind hit 5th, Lawrie 6th and Cabrera 7th. Thole will be getting his fair share of starts too vs. righties so he’d probably fit in the 8 spot for Navarro a lot of the time.

          Lind should continue to be hidden from lefties so vs. LHP it’s a little trickier (am I actually missing Rajai Davis right now??) but hopefully Moises Sierra can platoon with Lind and be the Jays DH against LHP. I’d probably to the same thing with Jose/Edwin (bat 2,3) and have Navarro hit clean-up, Lawrie 5th, Cabrera 6th, Rasmus 7th, Sierra 8th and Izturis 9th.

          • Andrew van Laar

            Thats really interesting that you would put Navarro in the cleanup spot against lefties. Why him and not Lawrie, Cabrera or Sierra? I am assuimg you are making that decision based on him repeating last years numbers?

          • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

            I was debating between him and Lawrie (and maybe Sierra is he keeps making strides) but I like Navrro’s career line of .267/.337/.441 vs. LHP. Brings a bit more pop than the other candidates and his OPS is about 40 points higher than Lawrie (career) against lefties

  • JaysHopeful

    My interest is less in Navarro’s offensive and more in his defensive capabilities. I would have been far more lenient with Arencibia if he was a gold-glove caliber catcher, but he was TERRIBLE defensively. He had poor lateral movement, couldn’t block in the dirk, called A LOT of high fastballs inappropriately, couldn’t frame from his arm side, and threw from his knees consistently. If he was Russell Martin with a glove, I might have been able to overlook his terrible plate discipline, while considering his power as gravy.

    A lot has been said about Navarro’s abundance of errors. It concerns me too. But then I looked at the number of double-plays, caught-stealing, and pickoffs he gets. When parousing gold-glover Russell Martin’s stats I saw that he had 4 seasons he had 10+ errors, but TONS of dps, pickoffs, and runners caught stealing. I’m curious to see if Navarro is just aggressive with the throw, and errors on the consequence. If he can call and block balls in the dirt, I will be content. His plate discipline will for sure be an improvement. Time will tell.

    One final point. Wilin Rosario can flat out hit. He has been very vocal about his limitations defensively. He is now playing winter ball in the Dominican, after a full regular season of catching, to improve his defense, and take lessons from TONY PENA. Where is Arencibia playing winter ball?

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      Great points! And why JP isn’t playing winter ball I’m not sure. It would be a great chance for him to work on his game. That being said he did play a ton of games this year so a bit of time off is understandable I guess. Anyways, not our problem any longer!

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