Saturday, 28 February 2015

Nobody Likes You

Image: National Post
Dioner Navarro, in 2014, was worth 2 WAR, per fangraphs, and 2.3 WAR per baseball-reference.  That's entirely reasonable, especially for a guy who sat on the bench every 5th day to make room for Josh Thole's ability to catch a butterfly.  Either story puts him comfortably in the top 30 catchers, by WAR, in baseball, which should suggest that he'd be a starter, right?  Especially on teams that don't have a guy in that top-30?  Stands to reason.

Another guy who stands even more firmly in that top-30, and, in fact, inside the uppermost echelon of catchers, is Russell Martin, who, if you need reminding, signed with the Blue Jays as a free agent back in mid-November, prompting Navarro to request a trade so that he can catch everyday, wherever he plays.

I guess the question needs to be asked, then: why is Dioner Navarro still a Blue Jay?

A couple of factors have Navarro snookered in to bench duty, at the moment.

Navarro, per Steamer, is projected to only provide 0.7 WAR this season, mostly due to the fact that he currently slots as a backup catcher, and possibly DH, for the Jays, though I'm sure the fact that he hadn't seen 400+ MLB PA's since 2009 has something to do with that as well.  Still, in a situation where he's given the #1 catcher's job, he's seeing more plate appearances than what's been projected.  The problem is that even if we aggressively project Navarro to be roughly what he was in 2014 (we'll call it 2.0 WAR just to be neat), there still aren't going to be a whole pile of buyers.

Let's turn our attention to Fangraphs' positional depth charts for catchers.  Scrolling down that list, we can immediately remove a whole pile of teams from the Navarro sweeps.  We can immediately discount teams like SF, CLE, KC and STL (and others) who have a couple of rocks behind their plates (I suppose Posey could play some 1B, but Andrew Susac would then play).  We can remove teams like CHC, LAD and MIN, who all have guys who are in the same relative zone from a projected WAR standpoint, and thus wouldn't be getting a clear upgrade in Navarro, making it useless to give up assets.

We can remove a team like PIT, who went from one of the best, in Russell Martin, to a bunch of unheralded guys (26th in cumulative projected WAR) who share some of the less tangible, less measurable defensive qualities that Martin has.  We can remove a team like Boston, who, even if they weren't the Jays' immediate competition for the division, and thus pretty unlikely to help each other, have youngster Christian Vazquez, as well as veteran Ryan Hanigan as a quality pair, and top prospect Blake Swihart waiting in the pipeline, just in case.

We can remove the Braves and Diamondbacks, who certainly have some ugly catching situations at the moment, but those are hardly their biggest problems, and improving by a win or two at catcher-- and giving up an asset for one year of a $5MM catcher while doing it-- isn't likely to save them from mediocrity.  We can probably remove the Marlins, given that they have Jarrod Saltalamacchia under contract and is certainly a bounceback candidate.

Simply, Navarro has been a trade candidate, if we don't believe everything we hear, for the entire offseason, save for the two weeks before Russell Martin signed.  We've seen a few moves for catchers this offseason-- the Cubs, Rays, Rockies, Padres, Pirates and Dodgers (and more) all acquired catchers this winter, and all happened after the Martin signing, so they all likely could have had Navarro if they wanted.

The only real teams that might make sense are the Tigers, if Alex Avila can't catch due to concussion issues, and maybe the White Sox, though they appear willing to have Geovany Soto and Tyler Flowers split time.  Throw in Milwaukee, I suppose, if they shift Lucroy to 1B when the "Adam Lind hitting against LHP" experiment goes sour.  If the A's decide that Steven Vogt is better used elsewhere, they may eventually end up interested, but it seems as though they're going with him and Phegley for now.

If a team decides that their current situation may not be good enough, the Jays will then need them to convince the other to give up something to take Navarro.  Of course, if there's only one team looking for him, there wouldn't be much leverage, especially when other, cheaper, marginally worse options are out there, such as Wilin Rosario.

I think the most likely situation for a Navarro trade is to find a team partway through the year that finds their catcher injured or terrible, and go from there.  Catching is tough on the body, and there always seems to be a star catcher out for an extended period come midseason, or someone like Saltalamacchia, who dropped off pretty dramatically last year relative to 2013.  The best way to move Navarro, at the moment, would be to bide time and wait for someone to lose their catcher.  Navarro, after all, has a reasonable contract, and, more importantly, has the unfortunate distinction of being the best catcher in baseball who is currently out of a starters' job despite being qualified to start.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

On Batting Orders

I keep hearing Gibby say it, and I just don't really want to believe it, because it seems so horribly wrong to me.  I mean, let's not pretend that I'm not about to write a small essay about a batting order, in 2015, as if it's something that means a lot.  But still, come on.

What I'm talking about is Gibby's answer to one of the questions at tonight's State of the Franchise Address, where someone asked how they were going to take care of the "weak" bottom of the order.  Gibby, as he is wont to do, answered the question in a pretty awesome manner, saying, among other things, that the person asking the question was confused.

Gibby mentioned that the top half is strong-- so strong, in fact, that it makes the bottom half look weak by comparison, and that it would look totally reasonable were it not for the ridiculous pop starting things off.  That's probably a halfway reasonable thing to say, I suppose.  No team is stacked top-to-bottom without some riffraff or question marks hanging in there, and there are certainly some possibilities for platoon spots in there as well, which should at least mask some of those deficiencies.

Anyway, that's not really what I'm talking about here, we're just trying to put more words in there so it looks like I've got a great big point to make, when in reality, it's a minor issue.  Optimal lineup vs. least optimal lineup is the difference between about 2 wins a season, and there's no way that Gibby is going to run a lineup out there everyday without it being really, really close to optimal, to this point where we're probably looking at much less than a single win over 162 games.

That doesn't take away my right to build a mountain about this though, god dammit.

Gibbons seems to have the top of his order set and ready to go:

 and then the next series of names he mentioned before trailing off leads us to believe that there will be some combination of Navarro/Saunders, and then, I suppose, Smoak, Pompey, and whoever plays 2B on a given day.

My issue is with the 2-hole.  Mathematically, this is the most or second-most important slot in the batting order.  Bautista and Edwin are projected to be pretty similar hitters, and definitely the two best on the team (per Steamer's wOBA projections), but Bautista said at one point or another last year that he'd rather hit third (can't find a link here, but I'm fairly certain I didn't imagine that), and Gibby likes to have Edwin hit behind Bautista.  If Reyes is #1, Bautista #3 and Edwin #4, and those are all set in stone, then that's fine, I guess.  We'll work around it.

Sticking Martin in the 2 just kind of sticks in my craw though.  Josh Donaldson projects to be the third best hitter, by wOBA, at .360, on the roster, ranking ahead of Martin, ahead of Reyes, and ahead of Michael Saunders, among others.  Martin, on the other hand, projects for a .337 wOBA.  That's still plenty good, but if the only options are having those two players in the 2- or 5-holes, a 27-point wOBA difference in a spot in the order that comes to the plate significantly more often could make a world of difference.

The second issue I'm having revolves around the days that Martin doesn't play.  Martin has started between 106 and 118 games at Catcher each year since 2011, which is plenty durable, but is still only about 70% of all of his teams' regular season games.  That leaves something like 40 games that they've got to go move someone else from their homes and stick them in to the 2-spot.  Wouldn't it just be easier to have Donaldson there in the first place?

Heh, this probably isn't worth anywhere near as many words as I've devoted to it.  Josh Donaldson is ours now, and perhaps I'd just like to see more of him, squeezing in that extra couple dozen plate appearances per year.  That can't be a crime.