The Toronto Blue Jays are expected to be without one of their most experienced playoff performers as they look to force a fourth game in the ALDS, and that’s just fine. Dioner Navarro is expected to work with starter Marco Estrada on Monday, but their track record of success and Navarro’s encouraging numbers against left-handed pitching should keep the Blue Jays comfortably above water.
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Manager John Gibbons recently aligned Estrada and Navarro more consistently entering the late-season run, but the Blue Jays backup has caught a two-thirds share of Estrada’s innings through 2015. There’s a significant gap in Estrada’s performance, too, when he’s paired with Navarro over Martin.
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Through 61.1 innings pitched with Martin behind the plate, Estrada has posted a 4.11 ERA while opponents have hit .244. These numbers drop down to a 2.43 ERA and a .181 average when working with Navarro, and a chemistry has evidently formed between the two. Estrada has made a point on several occasions of highlighting the trust he has in Navarro’s pitch-calling, one of his more underrated traits, and the benefits have clearly shown in his mixing of fastball and changeup locations.
With the first box checked, we’re then left to ask if the potential pitching improvement caused by Navarro is enough to offset the offensive and defensive differences between the two. Navarro has enjoyed one of the stronger seasons of his career against the opposing running game, something that will be critical against an eager Rangers lineup, but his bat shouldn’t be a crippling drop off either.
Navarro will be facing a lefty starter in Martin Perez, and has posted a career slash line of .270 /.336 / .439 against southpaws. Those numbers have improved in 2015 to produce an .894 OPS with three home runs, albeit in only 41 plate appearances.
Martin, on the other hand, has enjoyed an OPS of .937 against left-handed pitchers in 2015, a spike from his career average of .810. Assuming that Chris Colabello starts over Justin Smoak again at first base, where he’s certainly earned it, that would leave Martin as the primary pinch-hitting threat off the bench. If games one and two have been any indication, he’ll be needed.
Sitting an $82 million catcher with 171 playoff plate appearances under his belt is admittedly counterintuitive, but in this situation, Gibbons is valuing the potential pitching improvement to be greater than the potential offensive decrease. Especially in a lineup that should have plenty of offensive firepower, this move should leave the Blue Jays in a fine position to win on Sunday.