Quick: Name the three highest OPS guys among American League outfielders in 2013.
You probably got Mike Trout, who was the runner-up for the 2012 MVP and should finish in the top two again this year. Who’s next? Maybe you got Jose Bautista, one of the game’s premier sluggers who, despite having a weak average, draws a lot of walks.
After those two guys? Hmmmmm. Josh Hamilton stinks. Jacoby Ellsbury didn’t quite have the power he had two years ago. And there really aren’t any more Manny Ramirez’s left in the league. So who was it? Who had the third highest OBP, a combination stat that does well to measure the overall value of a hitter, amongst outfielders in the American League?
The answer: Daniel Nava.
The same guy who’s contract was once purchased for a mere 100 cents was, using both standard OBP and Fangraphs’ wOBA, the third most valuable offensive outfielder in the American League. In itself, that’s a miracle and a testament to how far Nava has come as a ballplayer, from minor league castoff to major league hitter. The guy who had the cute Disney moment in his major league debut by hitting the first pitch he saw for a grand slam is now an All Star caliber outfielder. He’s one of the most important components of a lineup that led the MLB in runs scored by a wide margin. And yet, he didn’t get off the bench during Game 2 of the ALCS.
John Farrell may win the Manager of the Year award in the AL. Given the disparity in talent levels between the Indians and Red Sox, my vote would go to Terry Francona, but Farrell is by no means an unjust selection. Farrell was composed and kept his team focused all season, and sometimes, that’s much more than half the battle.
In the playoffs, however, Farrell has made some questionable moves. Game 3 of the Tampa series aside, there have been times where I can’t figure out what he’s doing. Pulling Peavy with a miniscule pitch count. Allowing Stephen Drew to waste a spot in the lineup when Xander Bogaerts is ready on the bench to give real, professional at bats. Not pinch running Quinton Berry for Jonny Gomes in the 9th inning of ALCS Game 2. Farrell’s managed to avoid a major screwup so far, but sometimes he leaves me scratching my head as he’s making the decision.
As a huge Nava supporter, I was personally excited for the ALCS because facing Detroit’s all-righty rotation, I figured Nava would be in the lineup everyday, batting left handed. After sparing the Red Sox from being no-hit (by committee, no less) in Game 1 of the ALCS, I fully expected Nava to be manning left field in Game 2. Instead, Sox fans were treated to Jonny Gomes, who, while occasionally coming up big in big spots, is not nearly as effective and efficient a hitter as Nava. Gomes lacks Nava’s patience and even keel. Gomes is frenetic—always chewing a wad of dip, adjusting his helmet, gyrating in the batter’s box. Oh, and Gomes is right handed! Why is John Farrell putting Gomes in against righties when Nava’s OPS against them this season was a whopping .894!? You’re looking for guys to get on base against the power pitching Tigers starters, and you ignore a hitter with a .411 OBP against righties? Seriously, what the hell is John Farrell thinking?
I’m not a stat nerd who plays strictly by the numbers, and there is absolutely something to be said for gut feelings, instincts, and just having a hunch that a guy will have a big night. In this scenario, though, hunches need to be set aside and you need to look at logic: Daniel Nava was the third most productive outfielder in your league and gets on base four out of every ten times against righties. Gomes’s OBP against righties is .341, a full 70 points lower than Nava’s, while his OPS is a middling .745. Plus, Nava is more patient, more composed, and a more trustworthy defender. What’s more, Gomes has garnered a reputation for coming off the bench in big spots late in the game. The fans know it’s what he lives for, and he’s gotten some game winning hits this year in that role. So why not keep him there, especially with all of the aforementioned advantages of having Nava start? It’s inexplicable in every way.
Nava had to sit tight last series while the Sox faced Matt Moore and David Price. Now he’s ready to pounce on the right handed arms of Detroit. He saved the Sox from complete embarrassment in Game 1, and his reward was the bench in Game 2. At the time of this posting, the lineup for Game 3 hasn’t been announced yet. Let’s just say I won’t react kindly if it has Gomes in left field and Nava on the bench.
We saw it so often during the regular season, and now is the moment for the baseball world to witness the postseason version of Nava Time.