Allow me to admit this right up front: I tagged Omar Narváez as my choice to be the Brewers’ biggest offseason impact acquisition. After all, he was coming off a breakout 2019 season with the Mariners in which he hit 22 homers and drove in 55 runs in the pitcher-friendly T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
Boy, was I wrong.
To be fair here, the Brewers’ other acquisitions didn’t pan out that great either. Brett Anderson and Jedd Gyorko made the biggest impacts, but Justin Smoak and Logan Morrison were released midseason.
Furthermore, Narváez wasn’t alone in his offensive woes in 2020. Perhaps it’s important to look at his season through that lens.
However, he was effectively brought in to replace one of the best catchers in the league in Yasmani Grandal, who signed a monster four-year, $73 million deal with the White Sox.
Through that particular lens, Narváez was a complete disaster.
In 2019, Grandal batted .246 for the Brewers, hit 28 homers, had 77 RBIs. He walked an incredible 109 times which was good for a 2.4 bWAR, and an All-Star appearance. Though he took a step back for the Sox this season, his production still exceeded Narváez’s.
Never Got it Going
Following a decent showing in the Brewers’ Summer Camp, Narváez earned the starting role over the incumbent backup, Manny Piña. However, Narváez struggled immediately, going 1-for-8 in the opening series against the Cubs.
Things only got worse, and by mid-August, with Piña batting a robust .333, it appeared the starting job was up for grabs.
An injury sidelined Piña for the remainder of the season. The job was again Narváez’s, though he continued to lose at-bats to Piña’s replacement, Jacob Nottingham.
When all was said and done, Narváez batted .176 on the season and never once climbed above the Mendoza Line; a .200 batting average. He hit two home runs all season and drove in 10 runs in 40 games.
His slugging percentage plummeted to .562 from .813 in 2019, and his isolated power (ISO) dropped from .182 to .093.
Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of his season was his strikeout percentage. It skyrocketed from 19.1 to 31.0. At the same time, his walk percentage rose from 9.8 to 12.7. Making contact was a huge issue for Narváez, as he only put the bat on the ball for 73.6% of his swings, though, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the problem was.
On the Bright Side
If we are to take away any positives from Omar Narváez in 2020, it’s the strides that he made behind the plate. The knock on him entering the season was his below-average defense. A blemish on his resumé made more profound in comparison to his predecessor, Grandal, and his backup, Piña, both excellent defensive catchers.
But Narváez improved his defense substantially. He threw out seven of 23 stolen base attempts (30%), above the league average of 24 percent—although minuscule compared to Piña’s 56 percent.
Overall, he efficiently handled a good Brewer pitching staff with a wide variety of deliveries and pitches. He allowed zero passed balls and was credited with positive defensive runs saved for the first time in his career.
There’s no getting around that Narváez experienced one of the more dreadful seasons on the Brewers this year. His woes were significantly magnified by the fact he was replacing Grandal.
The good news for the Brewers is he’s not terribly expensive. He earned himself a $2.73 million contract after his 2019 performance, but that number could drop via arbitration this winter.
With him being under club control, it’s likely the Brewers will give him another shot alongside Piña to prove 2020 was a fluke.
There’s no doubt he will be under the microscope following this brutal season, however.
Final Grade: D-