You might be asking yourself, Chris Who? That’s right, I’m talking about 28 year-old lefty Chris Narveson, who got into 47 innings last season with the big club. While names like Jeff Suppan, Manny Parra and David Bush attract most of the attention in the race for the final two rotation spots, largely due to financial commitments, track record or pure longevity, Narveson may very well be the best of the bunch and may represent the best opportunity to gain wins for the Brewers embattled rotation.
A second round draft pick by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2000 Amateur Draft, Narveson got off to a strong minor league start. He struck out nearly a batter an inning until he reached Hi-A in 2001, and then he had troubles missing bats, though he still had strong control with a walk rate approaching just two over nine innings. He spent all of 2002 back in A Ball before advancing back to Hi-A in 2003. He was no longer young for that level, and he showed a decline in his strikeouts per nine innings (just six) and saw his walks per nine rise. You can practically gloss over the next five years, where he bounced between the Colorado, St. Louis and Boston organizations before winding up with the Brewers in 2008.
Something seems to have clicked in his experience with the Brewers. His walk rate is nothing to write home about (3.8 walks per nine innings in 2008, 3.1 walks per nine innings in the minors in 2009) but his steady strikeout rate as a lefty (hovering right around nine for both seasons) has certainly drawn my attention. The fact that he’s been able to translate that success to the majors (struckout 46 batters in 47 major league innings last season) has him firmly entrenched on my radar. He’s got some quality organizations giving him continued shots as well, so I think there’s something there.
We have a bit more advanced data for his time in the majors last year, as well. He had a strong split against righties (.715 OPS against) which is something that gives me optimism. If he can manage to cut down on the ease with which lefties hit him last year, he’ll become a very effective pitcher. He struck out 22.4% of the batters he faced last season in Milwaukee, while walking under 8%. His average on balls in play was a bit low at .297, and I am concerned with his ground ball rate, but his Fielding Independent Pitching statistic was a perfectly respectable 4.19. It’s higher than his 3.83 ERA, but not substantially so to make me think that his 2009 campaign was all luck. Furthermore, if you look at the four games he started in 2009, he had 18.2 innings, 16 hits, 6 walks and 19 strikeouts. He’s also allowed no earned runs in 9 innings this spring, with 7 strikeouts and 3 walks.
In the end, as I mentioned, he’s behind Parra, Bush and Suppan … but perhaps not for the right reasons. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Narveson establishes himself as a dependable left-handed option that can miss bats and generate occasional elite outings. I don’t think his control will ever allow for repeated consistent outings, but for close to the league minimum, I think he can represent substantial value next year, and could easily be the best of the four options listed here.
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Written by Matthew Minton