Daniel Nava was one of the best stories in baseball last season. By now, everybody knows the story of the Red Sox purchasing him from an independent league team for all of one dollar and Nava’s rise to prominence from college cut to equipment manager to star college player to draft snub and finally to major league player for the Boston Red Sox. After a few years as a role player, Nava broke out in 2013 with an excellent season and even though he is likely to regress a bit from his career year, he still has the skill-set to be a solid player going forward.
Nava’s success as a player revolves around his top-notch plate discipline. He has walked 10.3% of the time in his career, actually posting a career-low 9.5% in 2013, which has allowed his to post above-average on-base percentages even when slumping. The difference between the typical role player Nava of 2010 and 2012 and the star Nava of 2013 is merely a difference of BABIP.
In 2013, Nava posted a .352 BABIP, well above the league average of .297 and the main reason that most pundits expect him to regress in 2014. However, even if Nava’s batted ball stats do regress in 2014, there’s no doubt that he can continue to be an above-average hitter at the Major League level. In his last two seasons, Nava has developed more power (.146 and .142 isolated power in 2012 and 2013, respectively) in addition to becoming a solid left fielder– though defensive metrics absolutely hate his defense in Fenway Park’s spacious right field, bringing down his overall defensive numbers.
In all likelihood, Nava will start 2014 in the same role that he was expected to play in 2013– the long side of the left field platoon, with Jonny Gomes a very able platoon partner. Nava was forced into an everyday role for much of the season due to injuries to Shane Victorino, but assuming health should be pushed back into a platoon spot. That bodes well for Nava, who in his career is a considerably better hitter against right-handers (.292/.390/.443) than he is against left-handers (.223/.307/.328). Don’t expect Nava to be a star, like he was for much of 2013, but if he is used in the right roles and continues to develop, expect him to be an excellent role player.