The Brewers brought Omar Narvaez in last offseason to potentially be their catcher of the future. One year in, that future doesn’t exactly look bright.
Going into last offseason, one of the Brewers’ main questions was whether or not they would be able to re-sign All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal. Once that question was answered, in the form of a contract with the White Sox, it added catching to the list of Milwaukee’s offseason needs.
It wouldn’t take long for general manager David Stearns to address that need. On December 5th, it was announced that the Brewers had traded for Omar Narvaez, a 27-year-old, offense-first backstop from the Seattle Mariners, potentially giving them their new catcher of the future.
Based on his solid production over the previous two seasons, there were hopes that, at least offensively, Narvaez could mostly replace the production lost by Grandal’s departure. That’s why Narvaez’s first season with the Brewers mostly gets graded as a total disaster.
Omar Narvaez Report Card
Honestly, if not for Narvaez’s better-than-expected defensive performance, this could have easily been an F. But more on that later.
When Narvaez came to the Brewers, it was strikingly similar to when the team first acquired Grandal. Fans had reservations, albeit largely unjustified, about Yaz’s defense, but were excited about the offensive potential that he might bring to Milwaukee.
Looking at his offensive track record, it made sense that Brewer fan expected the same out of Narvaez. After all, the 122 and 119 wRC+ that he put up with the Mariners in 2018 and 2019, respectively, was on par with the 121 that Grandal put together with Milwaukee in 2019.
But then 2020 happened, and Milwaukee fans did not receive the goods that they were advertised. Whether it was the 60-game season, regression, or a contagious overall lack of offense on the entire Brewer team, Narvaez fell completely short of expectations.
Narvaez finished the season with a horrific .176/.294/.269 slash line over 40 games, his batting average and slugging percentage being the lowest on the team for anyone with more than 16 at bats. After hitting a home run every 19.5 at bats in 2019, he had just two in 108 at bats in 2020.
Narvaez’s 31% strikeout rate was a career high by more than 10%, thought that was just fifth highest on a Brewer team plagued by strikeouts. And that wRC+? It dropped all the way down to 59 last season, better than only Eric Sogard among regular Brewers players.
On top of everything, when Narvaez did make contact, it was not of the solid variety. His 21.7% hard hit percentage this season, down from 28.1% in 2019, put him in just the 2nd percentile in all of MLB per Statcast. His measly 81.6 mph exit velocity was by far a career low.
Despite being a black hole offensively, Narvaez actually held up mostly well on the defensive end. His 53.6% frame rate, an area in which he was not considered adept before this season, was second best among qualified catchers per Statcast. Additionally, his 30% success rate in catching base stealers was above the 25% league average and a career high.
That brings the Brewers to this offseason. Narvaez is one of several Brewers who will be arbitration-eligible. It’s unlikely that he will move up much, if at all, from the $2.725MM he made in 2020, but it’s enough to at least make Stearns think twice about bringing him back.
In the end, considering his age, price, and past production, it’s likely that the Brewers give him a second chance in 2021. But if he starts next season looking the same way he did in 2020, it might not take long for the team to move on.
Stay tuned to Reviewing the Brew as we continue with our series of report cards from the 2020 Milwaukee Brewers season.