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Daniel Nava: More Than a Platooner?

With Jacoby Ellsbury immersed in the free agent frenzy, the Red Sox seem to be making plans for life in Boston without him. The latest rumors have them looking at Carlos Beltran for right field with Shane Victorino moving to center and Daniel Nava playing left. But the Sox are obviously kicking the tires on a few others and apparently, one thing helping them is Nava’s versatility. With his ability to play either corner position, the Sox can keep their options open and not limit themselves to just the short list of quality right fielders out there. But the real question here is, how do the Sox envision their outfield structure for 2014 and how exactly does Nava fit in?

Last season it was supposed to be Ellsbury in center, Victorino in right and Nava in a platoon with Jonny Gomes over in left. Nava would play against the righties and Gomes would handle the southpaws. But when David Ortiz was injured, it opened up the door for both to play and Gomes saw more at-bats as the designated hitter while Nava saw most of his time spent out in left field. And when Oritz finally did come back, Nava had been playing so well that manager John Farrell ditched the platoon for the most part and Gomes saw less time out on the field.

It became Nava’s first full-season in the major leagues and through 134 games, he hit .303 with 12 home runs, 66 RBI and 77 runs scored. His 9.8-percent walk rate, strong plate discipline, above-average contact rates, and favorable .352 BABIP helped pave the way for a .385 on-0base percentage and his .142 ISO was right around his career average. One might cite potential regression in BABIP, but in looking at Nava’s history, a high BABIP isn’t really something new. Sure, it may regress a little, but we’re not looking at a huge swing.

But while his overall numbers seem to portray this 30-year old switch-hitter as a late-blooming, high-average hitter with mid-level pop, there were two things that happened last year that make you wonder if the Red Sox are really viewing Nava as a full-time starter in 2014. Number one is his first and second half splits. While he posted a higher average in the second half, you were also looking at a serious decline in the counting stats, those all-important totals that the fantasy community covets. He came out of the gate slow in July and started seeing less time through the rest of the month and into August. Things picked up a bit in September, but the lost time cut into his numbers significantly as he had just two home runs with just 14 RBI and 25 runs scored.

That playing time/statistical decline leads into the second thing that gives me pause in thinking that the Sox would use Nava as a full-time starter next season — the fact that, come playoff time, Farrell opted to use Gomes more, despite the heavy right-handed rotations of the Tigers and Cardinals. Our own Mike Petriello did a good job looking into this and should the heavier use of Gomes be a result of an injury to Nava, then there’s less to be concerned with regarding Nava holding down a full-time gig next season. However, if we’re talking about some secret Red Sox metric or more “gut feel” and character reasons, then that doesn’t bode well for the future, especially considering Gomes is still under contract and whomever the Sox bring in to round out their outfield could be more of a Farrell-type guy, whatever that means.

Nava proved last year that he could handle the job full-time and while he didn’t hit lefties as well as Gomes did, he still had a strong enough showing that you wouldn’t think he needed to be benched with a lefty on the hill. If he was given the job, he would make for a decent mid to late-round outfield choice in fantasy drafts. As a platooner though, he’s more of a plug-and-play type player with potential.