The twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth men on a roster are the overlooked ones. If they were Little Leaguers, they would be the ones parents groaned over whenever they made their mandatory at bat in a game. If they’re your friends, they’re the guys that tag along with you when you’re spending the night with other friends in the city, the ones you roll your eyes at when they text asking what you are up to that night. However, in the major leagues, they can sometimes prove to be an extremely useful part.
Flashback to April 2016. We as Phillies fans were subjected to the scintillating spring training battle between Cedric Hunter, David Lough and Darin Ruf to see who would head north with the club when they opened in Cincinnati. Not only did Hunter win that battle, he ended up somehow starting for the team on Opening Day. From there, the outfield and bench situation was like watching April the giraffe give birth. We’d tune in to the Phillies each day to see if there was anything happening with their outfielders (there wasn’t) until we were finally subjected to an unsightly pile of mass (in this case, an .088/.139/.176 line), crumpling like the newborn giraffe in a heap of bloody goo, wondering “Is he even alive?”
This year, though, we have been treated to something close to competency when it comes to the final man on the roster. Daniel Nava has been what can only be considered a revelation. Now, I must give the disclaimer that this is an optimistic outlook on a player that in the grand scheme of things won’t matter much to the team’s chances of playoff contention. Yet being subjected to the torture of having to watch guys like Hunter and Lough makes us as fans glad that we don’t have a punchless bench to be called upon when needed.
Nava has shown that he is able to come off the bench and provide an effective plate appearance. As a pinch hitter, he has two hits in six at bats, with a walk mixed in. Overall, his batting line sits at .297/460/.514 with two home runs and eight RBI. His 11 walks is tied with Maikel Franco for the team lead, coming in half of the plate appearances. He’s played a competent outfield at both corners, and during spring training, showed he can fill in at first in a pinch. He’s exactly what the team is looking for as a twenty-fifth man.
It’s not something that should come as a surprise, either. For his career, he’s put up a 104 wRC+ to go with a .262/.355/.378 batting line. He’s never really been a starter (you can only really look at 2013 as the only year he’s been a considered a starter), but his defense has proven to be good enough that when called upon, he’s produced. Sustainability shouldn’t be that much of a concern, even though his current walk rate (22%) is pretty well above his career average (9.6%). That could lead to a drop in production, but one must take into account the fact that he is currently playing for the Phillies, who under Matt Stairs, have this year made it a point of working the count more often. One can look at the fact he’s swinging at pitches out of the zone less often (21.1% vs. 23.6% career) as a reflection of this mantra Stairs has been sharing.
Basically, Daniel Nava has been doing Daniel Nava things. A team doesn’t really want to see him start too much, but the once or twice a week he is in the lineup, he’s been really useful. That could prove to be beneficial for his future with the team. With the bullpen in, let’s call it “a state of flux”, management will be looking as perhaps jettisoning players if the current crop continues its ineffectiveness. 40 man roster spots will be needed and usually, that means the last few guys on the list will be gone. If Nava continues to prove to be a useful tool Pete Mackanin can call upon, they will look elsewhere for that 40 man spot, allowing Nava to continue being an effective bench piece this team sorely has lacked the past few seasons.