To quote Etta James, oh sometimes I get a good feeling. I get a feeling that Chris Narveson’s poised for a breakout season. I get a good feeling, yeah.
The Brewers southpaw has been a steady mainstay in the back of the starting rotation ever since his insertion into the group in 2010. In both 2010 and 2011, Narveson has started 28 games for the Brewers, with his best season coming last year. He missed a few weeks mid-season after accidentally lacerating the thumb on his pitching hand while attempting to repair his glove with a pair of scissors, but finished 11-8 with a 4.45 era in 161.2 innings. His last two season have been proficient for Milwaukee, but I get a good feeling that Narveson will be the breakout player of the year for the Brew Crew.
Let’s look at the upside: Narveson may not have Clayton Kershaw-type stuff, but has shown enough flashes of promise to be poised to break out. He has yet to have a completely rough season in the Majors, which may be appertained to his upside. He may not have Jed Bradley-like potential (if you didn’t realize by now, I love Bradley), but the lefty has experienced success without completely reaching his potential.
For this, I’ll compare Narveson to another recent Brewers left-handed starter who experienced an unforeseen breakout season. That
man would be Chris Capuano. Capuano won 18 games seemingly out nowhere in 2005 while posting a 3.99 era. In his two first seasons in the Majors, 2003 and ’04, Capuano pitched in 26 games, starting most of them. He posted a 4.90 era, 1.38 WHIP, and SO/9 ratio of 7.64 over those two seasons with the Diamondbacks and Brewers, visibly nothing to brag about. For comparison, I’ll use Narveson’s 2010 numbers, which was his first full season as a Major Leaguer after brief stints in 2006 with St. Louis and 2009 with Milwaukee (the 2011 numbers are similar, but the 2010 numbers show improvement). Narveson accumulated a 4.99 era, 1.378 WHIP, and an ERA+ of 81, well below the league average era in 28 starts. Capuano also had Tommy John surgery in 2002 while a prospect with the Tuscon Sidewinders. While Narveson’s injuries have not been as substantial as that, they have kept him from pitching a full season.
After their first two seasons, neither lefty had reached their full potential.
The 6-foot-3 Capuano finally reached full health in 2005. He started a National League-leading 35 games for the 81-win Brewers team, dropping his era a full point from 2004 down to 3.99. He surfaced the 200-inning mark for the first time, totalling 219 IP on the season. Though his SO/9 ratio dropped, as has that of Narveson (who is also 6’3″) in every season of his career, his WHIP was lowered to a 1.384 mark. Narveson’s career WHIP stands at 1.369. Getting the picture yet?
Narveson has gotten his feet wet–for lack of a better term–in the Majors and has the numbers and repertoire that ostensibly match up with those of Capuano. Neither pitcher will overwhelm hitters with the below-average velocity on their fastball, but uses a healthy mix of similar breaking pitches to keep hitters off-balanced. n 2005, Capuano’s average fastball clocked in at 86.4 mph, the lowest of his career. Narveson’s fastball comes in around 87-89 mph, rarely reaching 90 or sinking below 86. He, however, boasts one of Major League Baseball’s best curveballs with a 7.5 wCB in 2010, good for tenth-best in the league. Capuano’s key to success was–and still is–his changeup, which looks like a fastball before suddenly dropping off at 75-78 mph. Capuano threw the pitch 20.8% of the time in ’05 and Narveson threw the slow yellow hammer 19.3% of the time in 2010. The 30-year-old Narveson also adds a changeup and slider to the arsenal and has been toying with a cut fastball after seeing fellow teammate Randy Wolf succeed with the pitch in 2011.
The comparison is there and there is a plausible connection between the two. Hopefully Narveson can break out much like Capuano did for Milwaukee in ’05 before receiving an All Star selection in 2006. The only major difference is that Narveson enters the season as the fifth starter in Ron Roenicke’s rotation, unlike Capuano, who began as Ned Yost’s third starter before out-performing Ben Sheets and Doug Davis to gain the top spot.
A new pitching gem emerges each season from the abyss. For more info on this, see Vogelsong, Ryan (2011); Pineda, Michael (2011); Liriano, Francisco (2006); Greinke, Zack (2009). Hopefully, Narveson, Chris is added to the list after this season. With a starting rotation already featuring big names in Yovani Gallardo, Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Wolf, Narveson by no means must carry the staff by himself.
The signs point for 2012 to be a good year for Narveson. Heck, you can check the Chinese calendar; it even indicates that 2012 is the year of the Narv-Dog.
2012 RtB Predictions: 34 G, 33 GS, 204 IP, 15-8, 3.68 era, 150 SO, 65 BB, one near no-hitter, .203 batting average.