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What’s Next For Navarro?

On Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Rays picked up arbitration-eligible catcher Kelly Shoppach from the Cleveland Indians for a PTBNL.

With switch-hitting force Carlos Santana knocking on the big league door and Lou Marson having been snagged from the Phillies at last year’s trade deadline, the Indians are still sitting pretty behind the dish.

Dan Budreika covered Shoppach’s fantasy value a few days back. Shoppach’s lines were aided by exceptionally high BABIP figures from 2006-2008, before coming back down to earth in 2009. He still projects to be a quality backstop, with CHONE calling for a .229/.322/.422 line in 2010. For reference, the average MLB catcher batted .254/.320/.395 in 2009.

The addition of Shoppach in Tampa leaves incumbent Dioner Navarro looking like a prime candidate to change zip codes this offseason. The former Yankee and Dodger had a nice season at the plate in 2008, but he tanked in ’09. What happened, and what can we expect from Navarro going forward?

The switch-hitter’s BABIP has been all over the place over the past three seasons: .253 in 2007, .321 in 2008 and just .233 in 2009. As a guy who doesn’t walk all that much (career 7.6 BB%) or hit for much power (career .111 ISO), Navarro is subject to the caprices of his batting average. His wOBA figures from ’07 to ’09 reflect this: .280 in ’07, .330 in ’08 and .258 in ’09.

Using an expected BABIP calculator from The Hardball Times, we can get a better picture of what Navarro’s BABIP projects to be based on his batted ball profile.

According to the tool, here are Navarro’s XBABIP figures over the past three seasons:

2007: .304
2008: .311
2009: .292

The XBABIP tool portrays Navarro as having a BABIP around the .300 mark over the past three years, compared to an actual figure of .271. His career BABIP is .279. Perhaps Navarro has been somewhat unlucky. But he does possess two traits of a low BABIP hitter: he runs like a catcher (career 2.5 Speed Score-the MLB avg. is around five) and he pops the ball up a lot (career 13 infield/fly ball percentage). In fact, Navarro’s IF/FB% has skyrocketed:

2007: 10.5%
2008: 14%
2009: 18%

Another negative trend for Navarro is his plate discipline. He walked in over 10 percent of his PA between the Dodgers and Rays in 2005 and 2006, but has progressively become more of a hacker:

Navi drew ball four 7.8% of the time in ’07, 7.4% in ’08 and just 4.6% in ’08. Not surprisingly, his outside swing percentage spiked this past year. He went fishin’ out of the strike zone 28.4% of the time, compared to the 25% MLB average and Navarro’s career 23.4% mark.

Clearly, Navarro was a mess in the batter’s box in 2009. It’s reasonable to expect his BABIP to bounce back up next year, though a number in the .270’s might be more reasonable than the .300 that the XBABIP tool suggests. Bill James projects a .254/.315/.367 line in 2010. CHONE gives a similar .254/.312/.377 triple-slash.

Twenty-six in February, the arbitration-eligible Navarro is a good bet to be traded or non-tendered in the near future. If he lands in a spot where playing time is plentiful, he’s going to have to rediscover his strike-zone judgment to be of use to his new employers and fantasy owners alike.