Friday, January 8, 2010

Chris Narveson: Viable Option?

It is widely accepted the Milwaukee Brewers are still seeking help with their starting rotation. It seems they have been connected to just about every available pitcher on the free agent market, but could the void be filled internally?

The best option in house seems to be Chris Narveson. One of the most enjoyable pitching performances last season at Miller Park occurred in a spot start from Narveson. On September 23rd, Narveson pitched 5 2/3 innings against the Chicago Cubs. While it was just Narveson's third start of the season, the control and movement on his pitches was simply incredible. In his start, Narveson threw just 70 pitches, but still managed to strike out ten, without walking anyone. He gave up just four hits and allowed one run.

So, the question is what do the Brewers really have with Chris Narveson?

Up until his move to Milwaukee, Narveson's career was quickly fading. He was drafted in the second round of the 2000 amateur draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. Over the next five seasons, Narveson became the #2 rated prospect in the Cardinals organization, and for good reason. In that time frame, Narveson was used almost entirely as a starter, logging 447 innings. He struck out 407 batters, while only walking 133. Those numbers equated to a nifty 3.06:1 K:BB ratio.

Narveson was then sent to the Colorado Rockies as part of the trade that landed Larry Walker in St. Louis. It seemed as soon as that trade was completed, Narveson lost his effectiveness.

He finished out the 2004 season with the Colorado Rockies' AA affiliate Tulsa, where he struck out 14 batters in 20 innings, while walking 13. Narveson's time with the Rockies didn't last long. He was traded just before the 2005 season to Boston for Byung-Hyun Kim. After struggling again, now with the Red Sox organization, Narveson was placed on waivers and claimed by the Cardinals. After struggling to find his command in two more seasons with the Cardinals, he was granted free agency after 2007.

The Brewers signed Narveson and gave him an invite to spring training, where he impressed. The Brewers decided to send Narveson to AAA for the 2008 season, where he regained some of his form. While his 2008 ERA of 5.43 would suggest otherwise, Narveson pitched a solid 136 AAA innings. He struck out 125 batters, while walking 57 for a 2.2:1 K:BB ratio. A high BABIP (batting average of balls in play) was the reason for the abnormally high ERA. In 2009, Narveson continued his success at the AAA level. In 26 appearances, six starts, was able to post a 3.70 ERA in 75 innings. He struck out an incredible 76 batters, while walking just 26. The strong work allowed Narveson to earn a promotion to Milwaukee.

After a brief mid-season call up, Narveson remained in major leagues for good after being recalled in late August. He was able to respond over the next month and a half. In that time frame, Narveson struck out 37 batters, while walking just 11 in 36 1/3 innings. He was given four starts, including his incredible outing against the Cubs. For the entire season, Narveson finished 2-0 with a 3.83 ERA.

Even after his incredible finish to the 2009 season, it's tough to know what to expect going forward. Many often discredit performances later in the season, because teams usually load their rosters with young talent to see what they have. I'm not so quick to discredit Narveson's finish considering the incredible control and movement of his pitches he showed at the end of 2009. Would I lock him into my 2010 rotation? No, but he has to be looked at as an option.

Narveson's current projections for 2010 are all over the place. Bill James projects an ERA of 4.73 in 78 innings (65K's, 34BB). CHONE has Chris at a much more respectable 4.18 ERA in 56 innings (54 K's, 23BB). I bring up these projections, because they are very similar to a starting pitcher the Brewers have been linked to. Jarrod Washburn currently projects for a 4.09 ERA with Bill James, and a 4.63 ERA with CHONE. The only difference between Narveson and Washburn is the price tag on each. Narveson will make the league minimum, while Washburn is currently seeking a three year deal, worth around $20 million.

Obviously Narveson's ability to go deep into games is in question, but he has shown in the minor leagues he can be a starter. In the last two seasons, Narveson has started 28 games for Nashville. He was drafted, and pitched almost entirely as a starting pitcher. He throws multiple (I've seen three, but heard four) pitches relatively effectively. I just can't fathom why the Brewers would overpay Jarrod Washburn when they have an equally talented pitcher currently in house.

No comments: