Rays Suffer Pair of Injuries

J.P. Howell seems destined to miss at least a month. Howell is one of the better relievers in the division, so by no means is this soothing news, however the presence of Rafael Soriano lessens the sting a bit. The thing the team could miss the most is Howell’s versatility. Not just his ability to go multiple innings, but that his stuff plays up against lefties and righties alike. Grant Balfour and Dan Wheeler are decent, and yet the latter should never face a lefty in a close game, and the former has the ability to put on a walkathon that makes the March of Dimes proud.

The wild card is Joaquin Benoit, although there’s no health guarantee for either him or Soriano. Minor league cult heroes Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer could conceivably break camp with the squad, otherwise the Rays could push Lance Cormier into higher leverage situations while letting Mike Ekstrom or Jeff Bennett handle the mop-up duties. Alternatively, they could pursue a free agent reliever or someone via trade, but the significance of a missed month probably won’t trigger such.

Dioner Navarro suffered a bruised nerve in his leg on Saturday, a result of Jacque Jones colliding into him at the plate. Besides being the first thing Jones has hit solidly in many years, Navarro would seemingly be easier to replace than Howell if he misses a few weeks, something the Rays don’t anticipate occurring.

A deflated batting average on balls in play and a regressed sense of plate discipline lead to a .258 wOBA in 2009. How bad is that? Jason Kendall posted a .290 wOBA, which means Navarro was 32 points worse, Kendall is roughly 32 points worse than a Major League average hitter … and Navarro is double that. That’s bad. Mike Piazza could walk on tomorrow and outhit 2009 Navarro.

His refusal to walk is akin to a children’s refusal to take a bath. At one particularly low point in the season, Navarro saw four pitches during an at-bat. Two were inside (he swung at one of these), one was up and away but a strike nevertheless, and the final pitch bounced before it crossed the plate. Navarro swung on this pitch and struck out as a result. Anecdotal evidence, certainly, but the empirical data is there as well. Navarro’s best offensive skill is his ability to make contact with the baseball, but for reasons that only he knows for certain, he became timid – or perhaps unsatisfied – with taking pitches, and instead would attempt to put as many balls into play as possible. Navarro is a slap hitter at his best, and a weak groundout or infield fly at his worst.

It’s not that either of these injuries sink the Rays’ playoff ship, but they don’t help either.

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Bob R.
Bob R.

Navarro puzzles me. One of his supposed strengths as a prospect was his patience, and throughout his minor league career he walked in 10.3% of his plate appearances-a bit more if you include his HBP and eliminate sacrifices from the PAs. In the majors, his BB% declined each season, but through 2007 it was still 8.9% of his plate appearances.

Then in his best season of 2008 it declined still further to 7.2% before cratering last year at 4%. Why the dramatic downturn? Clearly, it seems to me, he is not Francouer; he can distinguish good from bad pitches.

I wonder if he is not trying to regain his patience this season. He leads the Rays hitters in BB% this spring having walked in 5 of 20 plate appearances. Obviously not meaningful in itself, but possibly indicative of him returning to his more normal approach. (Only Burrell, with 6 BBs in 33 PAs has more walks so far.)