Milwaukee Brewers catcher Omar Narváez refuses to blame his hitting struggles last year on the unusual circumstances of the pandemic-delayed 2020 season.
“Everything got out of control,” Narváez said Sunday from the Brewers’ spring training complex in Phoenix. “To me, it feels like there’s no excuses. It was a short season. Everyone talks about that. I feel like as a professional, I cannot have excuses. It didn’t go well.”
Narváez, 29, arrived in Milwaukee with a reputation as a quality hitter and not so skilled defensively. He was just the opposite in his first season in the National League after the Brewers acquired him from the Seattle Mariners in December 2019.
His batting average plunged from .278 in 2019 to .176 last year. His on-base percentage sank from .353 to .294. His OPS fell from .813 to .562.
After homering 22 times in 132 games in 2019, he had two homers in 40 games last year.
Hitting coach Andy Haines says Narváez was one of many batters putting too much pressure on themselves because of the shortened season.
“You could see him trying to do way too much,” Haines said. “I said it not (just) about Omar, but about a lot of hitters I was watching, they’re literally trying to have a good season with every swing they took. You can see it. And baseball cannot be played that way. It can’t. If the game’s ever sent us a reminder that it can’t be played that way, it sent us a pretty strong one in 2020.”
Narváez agrees he didn’t have the right approach at the plate last season.
“I was just swinging at everything,” Narváez said. “I was putting myself in bad position to try to hit the ball. That’s one of the adjustments I’m trying to make this offseason. I’m going to stick with it during the season.”
His hitting woes overshadowed the tremendous strides he made behind the plate to upgrade what had been his biggest weakness.
Narváez improved his pitch-framing abilities to such an extent that he led all catches in converting non-swing pitches bordering the strike zone into called strikes, according to metrics compiled by the Baseball Savant website. He had never ranked higher than 39th in that category before last season.
He also didn’t allow any passed balls and threw 30% of potential base stealers, up from 18% in 2019.
“Everybody says it was a bad year for me,” Narváez said. “I don’t feel like it. Offensively, yes. But the on the defensive side, it was a good year for me. I take a lot of pride in that.”
The Brewers are confident his hitting struggles last year represented an outlier while his progress on defense was something he can sustain.
Although his 2019 season in Seattle was his best year as a hitter, Narváez also was a relatively productive batter his three seasons with the Chicago White Sox before going to Seattle. His career numbers heading into last season included a .276 batting average, .361 on-base percentage and .411 slugging percentage.
“That’s the one thing you see in Omar, is just a consistent offensive player,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We didn’t get it last year. It certainly bottomed out for him, where the struggles got real. But there’s a track record there that’s pretty solid, very solid, and there’s every reason to believe he can get back there.”
Haines spent a few days in mid-January visiting the Miami area to work with Narváez and outfielder Avisaíl García as they prepared for the season. Haines left Florida feeling encouraged.
Narváez says he didn’t make any mechanical changes to his swing but tried to get his head in the right place after thinking too much last year and feeling “tired mentally” at the end of season.
He’s refreshed now and ready to bounce back.
“Right now, my confidence is to the sky,” Narváez said. “Just the way I feel, how my body is working, how good I am thinking. We’ll see. We’ll see in spring training games. I feel like everything is going to go well this year.”