Much of the Mets likely starting lineup for 2023 seems set at this point, the one exception might be the catcher spot. James McCann, of course, is (mercifully) out of the picture. Francisco Alvarez is likely to be the catcher of the future, but is probably not quite ready to slip into the starting nine yet. That leaves veteran Met Tomas Nido, and trade acquisition Omar Narvaez, to duke it out for the bulk of the playing time.
The mainstream sports media (did I just coin a new term?) is leaning toward Narvaez as the starter. FanGraphs, MLB.com, and ESPN all have depth charts that show Narvaez as the number one catcher ahead of Nido for 2023. I would beg to differ. Please note, statistics cited will be from FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.
Lefty-batting Narvaez toiled for the Brewers in 2022, and in 296 PA had an OPS total of .597, not very good. Nido, in 313 PA, had an OPS of .600, just about statistically tied. But if we dig a little deeper we will start to see the batting pendulum move more to Nido.
Let’s look at BA RISP, a stat that is a good judge of clutch-hitting. Narvaez hit at .237 for that stat, with Nido significantly higher at .282. With respect to hard-hit percentage, Narvaez has a 24.2% figure, with Nido just a bit better at 28.4 %. But if we look at Stacast figures for the same stat, Nido has a much bigger lead with 32.9% to Narvaez at 18.4%. This indicates that Nido was hitting the ball harder, but he was getting some bad luck, probably a proportionately higher percentage of hard-hit balls going right at fielders. That luck could even out some in the future.
Since whoever is at catcher will likely be batting ninth, a sometimes-overlooked stat like sacrifices could have more significance. Nido lead the League with 12 sacrifice bunts, compared to Narvaez who had just one.
Some might suggest a platoon could work at catcher, since our 2 candidates bat from the opposite sides. However Narvaez hit only .205 against right-handers while the righty Nido hit .227 against right-handed hurlers.
The one broad category where Narvaez does better on the offensive side is lifetime stats, with a lifetime slash line of .258/.343/.386, with Nido checking with a LT figure of .220/.257/.323. However, with Narvaez coming up on his age-31 season, it figures he is going to be on a downslope with respect to offensive production, while Nido is going to be 29, still in a prime year.
Analyzing the defense, the scales tip toward Nido. He was one of the three finalists for the NL Gold Glove catcher award, ultimately won by J.T. Realmuto. Nido had an excellent DRS figure of 8 last year, with Narvaez at 2, although his lifetime total is a very bad -34, with Nido at plus 19. Narvaez has improved quite a bit as a framer, with a 7.5 figure, with Nido at 7.2, a statistically insignificant difference. They are about the same at throwing out runners with Nido sporting a 21% CS rate and Narvaez at 22%.
Looking at a few intangibles, Mets starting pitchers have been known to prefer pitching to Nido. Of course, most of the Met starters are gone from last year, but Max Scherzer, who did favor Niddo returns. We know that skipper Buck Showalter appreciates the work Nido has put in, inviting him into his office to tell him that last year. It was a bit of a nervous moment for Nido as the office visit was around trade deadline time and Nido thought he might be called to the office to be told he would be wearing a different uniform. During the key games down the stretch last year, including the three playoff games, Nido was behind the plate for the Mets.
Prospects Alvarez and Kevin Parada will be in the mix for starting catcher in the not-too-distant future, but at least for the start of the season, Nido deserves to get the bulk of the starts, despite what ESPN, et al., put on their Mets depth charts.