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Dioner Navarro: Quiet Disaster

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Dioner Navarro has been such an upgrade over J.P. Arencibia, he's gotten something of a free pass from Jays fans. It's not a free pass he's deserved.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

If you ask a Blue Jays fan about Dioner Navarro, the response isn't likely to be very strongly positive or negative.

So far, Navarro has given the appearance of being a sort of run-of-the-mill catcher, and his strong offensive performance over the last month or so has absolved him of many sins. The fact he hits for a good batting average and collects a fair amount of RBI's has him in the good books of some folks. Others believe that he transformed Mark Buehrle into a superstar. Whichever way you slice it, he's done a fair job of avoiding public scrutiny.

In one sense that's fair. He makes very little money, his 1.1 WAR is far from atrocious and offensively he has a profile similar to a league-average backstop. It's almost exactly the same in fact.

Player

BB%

K%

ISO

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

Average Catcher

7.7% 21.0% .136 .247 .312 .383 94

Dioner Navarro

5.6% 12.8% .110 .273 .312 .383 91

Admittedly, Navarro has hit for a higher average than his many of his backstop brethren, but he has also walked less making his total offensive contribution comparable. The interesting power the 30-year-old catcher displayed last year has evaporated, and the majority of his value has come from slapping singles around the ballpark with regularity.

Nothing in the chart above even remotely justifies the word "disaster" that appears in the headline of this post. That's where Navarro's defense comes into play. Even if you buy the Jays catcher as some kind of game-calling whiz, which I really don't think is a fair assertion to make myself, the other aspects of his defensive game have been a mixed bag at best.

The evaluating of a catcher's defensive game by the numbers is always inherently incomplete as it involves more variables that can't yet be quantified than perhaps any other aspect of baseball. With numbers alone I can never be as confident telling you that Dioner Navarro has been a bad defensive catcher in 2014 as I am in saying that he's an average offensive catcher. At this point in time offensive numbers are definitely more reliable than defensive ones, and that's especially true with catchers.

All of that being said, there is a fair amount of evidence to suggest that Navarro has struggled behind the plate this season. Despite not catching Dickey, he has allowed a career-high six passed balls. His 26.3% caught stealing rate also fails to impress. Alternatively, Navarro has done a good job of limiting wild pitches and throwing errors so it isn't all bad.

Where things really take a turn for the awful is when it comes to framing. Some argue the merits of catcher framing data, but it keeps Jose Molina employed and teams seem to be taking it fairly seriously. Additionally, the way the Blue Jays appear to get squeezed at times may be indicative of their poor receivers behind the plate.

We knew going into the year that Navarro had a poor reputation as a framer. According to Matthew Carruth's StatCorner his framing coming into 2014 had been 3.9 runs below average per 1000 innings. That's not good. What's happened this year has been worse.

The following table shows where Navarro ranks in terms of framing among catchers with at least 4,000 pitches caught this season, a sample of 32.

Pitches in the Zone called Balls

Pitches outside the Zone called Strikes

Total Calls for

Framing Runs above average

16.4% (4th)

6.8% (24th)

-93 (29th)

-12.4 (29th)

Those numbers are pretty dismal. If you add the framing number's to Navarro's WAR he goes from a below-average catcher providing some value to a slightly below replacement-level train wreck. In fact, if you combine his WAR with framing numbers (pegging a win at 10 runs as the approximate value) the following scary comparison emerges.

Season

Value in Runs above Replacement (WAR)

Value in Framing Runs above Average

Total

J.P Arencibia 2013

-6

14.9

8.9

Dioner Navarro 2014

11

-12.4

-1.4

This comparison is all kinds of unfair. It likely catches Arencibia at the peak of his framing powers and Navarro at his lowest point in that regard. It also assumes that we can be as confident about catcher framing numbers as we can about the components of WAR, which we cannot. Catcher framing is an exciting new frontier in the statistical analysis of baseball, but the numbers likely shouldn't be taken at face value just yet.

Even so, the fact that a table like the one above can exist is mildly terrifying. Navarro seems to be having a decent enough year, but it's probably a lot worse than many people assume. Empty batting average can do a lot to cloud the public's perception of a player, and I think this has likely happened in Navarro's case.

In a season fraught with high drama, explosive highs, and profoundly melancholy lows, Dioner Navarro has just hummed along under the radar as a quiet disaster.