Never Say Nava; Royals Acquire Daniel Nava

Daniel Nava? You already know him. If you don’t, you should.

Rewind yourself to September of 2014. The Royals are hot on the chase of their first postseason appearance in 29 years. It wasn’t going to be easy. With the Royals holding a half-game lead over Seattle to open the day, Jason Vargas appropriately Vargas’d his way through five-plus innings and held a 4-3 lead entering the sixth. After he allowed a pair of singles to open the frame, he somehow got David Ortiz out. That’s when Ned Yost pulled him in favor of Aaron Crow.

The 2014 version of Crow wasn’t particularly good. His strikeout rate had tumbled and his walk rate was always a touch elevated. At the time of this game, he held a 3.84 ERA. Decent, but not great. The Red Sox had touched him for a pair of runs earlier in the series. By this point, the H-D-H trio had been solidified. You had three lock-down relievers. You had a game the Royals needed to win in a postseason race. You had an extremely high-leverage situation. You had Aaron Crow.

That afternoon, Crow was struggling with his command. He went to a full count on each of his first two hitters, getting a walk and a strikeout. Then, Daniel Nava strode to the plate.

After the game, Yost lamented not getting the ball to Kelvin Herrera. When asked why that didn’t happen, he dropped this memorable line:

“Because I had confidence in Aaron Crow, that’s why. Aaron Crow’s inning is the sixth. Kelvin’s is the seventh.”


The story goes that Yost was convinced by several on his staff and within the organization that late September was no time to be rigid in the use of the bullpen. Outs are precious and match-ups are key. From that moment forward, Yost seemed to find a better grip on the situational usage of his bullpen. When to bring in his best arms (and there have been plenty) and when to burn the filler.

Of course, after that day the Royals would go on to win eight of their final 13 regular season games before setting fire to the Wild Card and marching all the way to the World Series. Lesson learned. Thankfully.

So, back to Daniel Nava. Exactly who is this guy?

For starters, he followed a circuitous route to the big leagues. Nava failed as a walk-on at Santa Clara, played junior college ball, was offered a scholarship at Santa Clara, was undrafted coming out of college, hooked on with an independent league team, was cut by said independent league team, re-signed with indy-league team and was ultimately named the league’s top prospect by Baseball America. Signed by the Red Sox, he finally broke through to the majors in a season where he couldn’t even earn a non-roster invite to spring training. To top it all, Nava hit a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the majors. Jeez. He’s like the baseball Zelig.

When he broke through, Nava averaged 2.5 WARP for Boston in 2013 and 2014. Although, like his rocky path of his career, 2014 featured a struggle to open the year and ultimate demotion to the minors for a spell. He rebounded upon his recall and hit .297/.369/.382 once he returned to Boston.

A rough 2015 saw him post a .194 TAv and was worth -0.2 WARP with the Sox before they designated for assignment ahead of the trade deadline. Claimed by Tampa, he finished the season with the Rays. The Rays let him walk rather than pay him arbitration money and he found a home in Anaheim. New address, familiar struggles. Nava owned a .248 TAv with a 0.0 WARP before he was designated for assignment again. This time, he cleared waivers and took up residence in Triple-A for the Angels top affiliate. He’s doing much better, batting .365/.413/.471 at the time of the trade.

Nava will report to Omaha to finish out the season with the Chasers. Placed on waivers by the Angels to send him to their Triple-A affiliate, he was unclaimed and removed from their 40-man roster. That means if the Royals decide to bring him to Kansas City when rosters expand in a couple of days, there will be a corresponding move as their own 40-man is full.

He could serve as a bat off the bench against right-handed pitching. A switch hitter, his career splits are stark.

vs LHP – .215/.293/.298

vs RHP – .276/.370/.398

Nava was an atrocious defender when he came up through the Boston system, but has worked at improving that facet of his game and is now a passable defender. He’s insurance and a bat to come off the bench down the stretch. With the Royals outfield stocked with Alex Gordon in left, the Jarrod Dyson/Paulo Orlando combo set in center and Lorenzo Cain in right, Nava won’t figure for much playing time. And since Yost so rarely uses pinch hitters (the Royals have 33 pinch hit at bats, the fewest in the AL), it’s difficult to see exactly who Nava would come off the bench for and in what situation.

Still, there could be a moment. Josh Willingham in the Wild Card game anyone? Useful inventory, if deployed properly can reap benefits. And as we learned from a previous grand slam, it’s usually a good idea to properly leverage your match-ups.

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