It’s been a silent triumph on the South Side for catcher Omar Narvaez—who manager Rick Renteria hinted may return as part of the fold in 2018 pending the arrival of catching prospect Zack Collins. Collins just finished out his season in Double-A Birmingham after a late season promotion.
Narvaez is top-four among MLB catchers in walk rate, on-base percentage, and strikeout-to-walk-rate—something I’m sure at least a few folks would be surprised to hear.
Also, Narvaez is currently holding onto an on-base percentage of .375, just behind San Francisco’s future Hall of Fame catcher Buster Posey. That’s quite the company.
“I just try to go hit one pitch and make sure it’s in a good spot when I hit it,” Narvaez said, attempting to uncover what makes his plate approach so unique. “That’s really it. I try to not swing when it’s not my pitch.”
That statement holds true when looking at Narvaez’s plate discipline numbers. He swings at just 43 percent of pitches he sees, putting him seventh in the league among catchers. He also has a swinging strike rate of just 5.5 percent and has the sixth lowest strikeout rate among catchers. What’s more, Narvaez makes contact on pitches in the strike zone 92 percent of the time, a top-three number in baseball for catchers.
”It’s just a continuation of his ability to control the strike zone,” Manager Rick Renteria said of Narvaez’s success at the plate. “He hits lefties well, he hits righties well. He just gives you a good at-bat and I think that’s continued to develop. He’s been more and more comfortable in the box, and he’s getting to know some of the guys that he’s been facing over time.”
While Narvaez is showing off his plate discipline at the dish, his lack of power may look a bit concerning. He currently has the second-lowest slugging average among catchers in baseball and has only hit two homers all season. But, when looking at his overall performance, Narvaez makes up what he lacks in power in his ability to take walks and hit the ball for quality contact, and he’s fine with that.
“I just try to be myself,” Narvaez said. “All the minor leagues are about are obviously [to] get there and you also have to know yourself and who you are. I’m not a home run guy and I already know that. I’m not afraid of ground balls up the middle”
Despite having a -3.9 in framing runs on the season and low power numbers, Narvaez still managed to pull of a season in which he has a wRC+ of 101, making him just around league average value, coupled with a 1.4 fWAR.
“I just try to keep from doing too much, you can see when I was trying to do too much was in the first half and I wasn’t that good. Second half was going back to who I really am and just trying to keep myself calm.” Narvaez said.
According to Narvaez, the roots of his patient plate approach date back to when he was a child. “It’s just something I learned from minor leagues and that my dad always taught me,” Narvaez said. “Going back to when I was ten years old, if you look back, all my family plays baseball. I kind of have that in my blood. Just listening at the dinners we had as a family it’s all about baseball, I was a kid running around but still listening to what they were talking about and I learned a lot.”
When it comes to that signature plate approach, Narvaez has a player that reminds him of himself in mind.
“Joe Mauer is kind of like me,” Narvaez said.
Mauer had a career high OBP of .444 in 2009 and has managed to maintain a career on-base percentage of .391. Not a bad player to take cues from.
“He’s kind of an opposite way guy, there’s just something about watching him in the big leagues. It’s a lot of fun,” Narvaez said.
Narvaez is correct. Mauer has a career opposite field percentage of 38 percent, as opposed to his career 24 percent pull rate. Narvaez has a career 35 percent opposite field percentage, and a pull percentage just a tad lower at 33 percent.
While Narvaez may not receive a ton of time behind the dish, and may not be as well recognized as newcomer Kevan Smith, his ability to keep his strikeout rate low and get on base are invaluable. What he lacks in power, he makes up for in plate patience and high contact rates. If Narvaez does end up back in a White Sox uniform in 2018, you’ll certainly be able to catch him on the base paths almost as much as you do behind the plate.