The Milwaukee Brewers backstop will be looking to return to previous levels of offensive production after a disappointing 2020 season.
The 2020 Milwaukee Brewers season was chock-full of players who went into the season with high expectations on offense who ultimately ended up disappointing. Though it’s hard to choose who may have been the most disappointing, one player who would’ve received a bunch of votes is Omar Narvaez.
The lefty catcher with an offense-first reputation was acquired by the Brewers last offseason in a trade with the Mariners. And though he held up well defensively, his offense was mostly a disaster, which his unsightly .176/.294/.269 slash line and 39 strikeouts to 16 walks in 40 games showed.
Milwaukee ended up signing Narvaez to a small pay cut just ahead of the non-tender deadline this offseason with the hope that he will bounce back at the plate in 2021. Here are three reasons why that could end up happening.
1. He had some bad luck in 2020
Luck is a hard thing to measure, but for hitters, one of the ways we can at least make an attempt is with the stat Batting Average on Balls in Play (or, BABIP). Often, if a player has a season with a BABIP significantly higher or lower than their career average, there’s a good chance to expect some regression to the mean going forward.
From his first season back in 2016 through the end of the 2019 season, Narvaez had a career BABIP of .312. That was a little higher than the MLB average BABIP of .298 over that same timespan.
In 2020, though, Narvaez had an outlier BABIP season where he saw the number drop all the way down to .254. If this moves even remotely closer to his career number, that means quite a bit more hits for the Milwaukee catcher.
2. He has a better eye at the plate than he showed in 2020
Going into 2020, the numbers showed that Narvaez had one of the better eyes at the plate for a catcher. Among 46 catchers with 400 plate appearances across 2018 and 2019, Narvaez had the 11th highest walk rate (10.6%) and the 11th lowest strikeout rate (19.5%) per Fangraphs.
He also rated well in terms of whiff percentage going into 2020 per Baseball Savant. His 22.9% whiff percentage in the 2019 season put him in the 66th percentile that year.
While Narvaez’s walk rate actually improved a bit in 2020 (12.7%), his strikeout rate (31%) and whiff percentage (29.6%) got quite worse. Assuming he didn’t permanently lose his plate discipline, a return to form here would help get the offense cooking again as well.
3. Some power should return in 2021
After watching Yasmani Grandal slug 28 homers for the Crew in 2019, fans had hopes that Narvaez, who had 22 of his own on a .813 OPS that year, would replace a good chunk of that power in 2020. Two home runs in 126 plate appearances wasn’t exactly what fans were hoping for, though.
Narvaez didn’t achieve his 2019 results by being a Statcast darling as his average exit velocity (85.5 mph), hard hit rate (28.1%), and barrel rate (5.3%) ranked in the 6th, 9th, and 24th percentiles, respectively. But he still got results.
2020 saw Narvaez suffer big drops in two of those categories with his EV hitting a lowly 81.6 mph and his hard hit rate falling to 21.7%. No, Narvaez doesn’t hit the ball as hard as some, but that’s hopefully a power outage that proves to be temporary.
The Brewers will need to count on bounce backs by more than one player in order to find success in 2021. Add Narvaez to the list of players who can get the job done.