Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Chris Narveson: LOOGY?

     Wherever Chris Narveson goes, good things seem to follow for Brewers fans. Think back to his first real gig in the big-league rotation in April 2010. Narveson took Jeff Suppan place in the starting rotation, signaling that the bombings that were Suppan's starts and his albatross contract would (in time) come to an end. Later, when Narveson sliced up his hand performing routine maintenance on his glove, Marco Estrada stepped in to provide seventeen high-quality innings in his place. Then, like a gunshot that kills two enemies at once near the climax of a bad action movie, Narveson's triumphant return from the DL (5 shutout innings) served the dual benefit of getting the ghost of Felipe Lopez off the roster for good.
     It's looking like Narveson will be caught in the middle of his club's good fortune again. In about a month, the lefty is probably going to be booted from the rotation, in a manner met with much more excitement than Suppan's unceremonious dumping. Narveson's arrival in the bullpen should coincide with the move to a four-man rotation that will (jinx alert!) signal the Brewers' arrival in the 2011 Postseason.
     Where exactly Narveson will fit in the bullpen is a bit of an open question, but his handedness could fill a role that could become very important, considering the various opponents the club could face in the Division series. The Brewers have spent the whole season without an effective left-handed option in the 'pen (Mitch Stetter was never really given a shot), and are hardly in need of a second long-reliever, so it would seem Narveson's ideal role (assuming he is on the playoff roster, which he should be) would be retiring same-side hitters in a short-relief capacity, which brings up another question. Just how well is Narveson suited to pitch out of the bullpen? How will he fare against the best left-handed hitters in the game? Has he ever heard of safety scissors? Most of these questions will be answered in due time, but that's not going to impede upon our inalienable right to speculate. This, like most posts starts with a table of stats.

vs RHB as LHP483119263113494.271.322.419.320
vs LHB as LHP112214121618.219.330.344.250
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/30/2011.

     Pictured above are Narveson's 2011 platoon splits. Looking at them, you could arrive at a number of different conclusions, so I'll (mostly) just present facts. The .219/.330/.344 line is actually worse, by OPS, than NL left/left matchups (.226/.289/.342) as a whole, but the difference is wholly a result of Narveson's high walk rate against lefties, as he has been slightly better in the batting average and slugging departments. Narveson has walked over 14% of the lefties he has faced this year, more than double his 2010 rate. There's no reason I can think of to expect Narveson will continue to avoid the plate against the hitters he is at his best facing, but even if he does, his OPS against them will be far better (to the tune of 100 and 200 points, respectively) than that of Takashi Saito or Francisco Rodriguez, the setup relievers currently dealing with the brunt of the left-handed hitters. Another minor trend worth watching is Narveson's struggles with men on. In each of the last two years, Narveson has been significantly worse with runners on than with the bases empty, a legitimate concern for a pitcher who is suddenly going to be pitching from the stretch all the time. However, this split was reversed in 2009, when Narveson spent a good part of the year in the bullpen. 
     It's clear by now that though he isn't ideal, Narveson is the best option for retiring left-handed hitters late in the game, but an important factor that has so far gone unexamined is his stuff and delivery. Narveson throws between 3 and 5 pitches, depending on how you count things: A four seam fastball, two-seam fastball and cutter that all sit in the upper-80s, a changeup that averages about 80 mph, and a slow curve in the low to mid 70s. If you don't watch the Brewers regularly, this video of his last start shows him throwing his various fastballs and his changeup several times.

Narveson doesn't have the ideal array of pitches for left-on-left work, as his changeup and curve are both pretty vertical and he doesn't throw his cut fastball very often. (This might explain some of his below average platoon split, walks aside.) However, Narveson's three-quarters delivery (watch the video again if you have to) fits the bill for retiring same-side hitters. (Picture Prince Fielder looking lost against a left-handed slider thrown from a low angle.) Again, it seems, we're looking at a pitcher who is not the best option, but is certainly the best available one. But, remember, if you see Narveson called in to face Ryan Howard or Brian McCann come October, it sure beats the alternative in more ways than one.

1 comment:

  1. Narveson is a player with great courage, concerned about doing a good job, the team has led to positive results. Excellent for the, hopefully continue improving.