Flight of the Nava-gator

If you’re the sort of baseball fan who’s worth his salt, you’re probably aware that, Saturday afternoon, 27-year-old rookie Daniel Nava of the Boston Red Sox hit a grand slam — not only in his first major league plate appearance, but on the very first pitch of his very first major league plate appearance.

If you’re also the sort of baseball fan who found himself reading FanGraphs back on January 21st of this year, you might remember an article I wrote singing Nava’s praises — not just for his climb out of baseballing obscurity, but also for the serviceable numbers he’d posted along the way.

As much as I enjoy saying “I told you so,” that’s not really the point of this dispatch. I mean, yeah, I did tell everybody so, but it wasn’t so much his future excellence I was predicting (nor his grand-slamming capabilities) as much as it was the potential for joy he represented to the baseball nerd.

Mission accomplished, so far as that goes.

Anyway, I’d like to use this space to discuss, very briefly, Nava’s slampiece. If you haven’t seen it already, watch it this very second.

The excellent things about this video, in order of best to still pretty great, are as follows:

1. Francona’s Reaction
Let’s be clear about this: I love my father. He’s done a lot for me and genuinely cares about me. Also, he taught me how to hit the sweet kick serve that is the calling card of the Cistulli Male. For that, I’ll always be in his debt. Thanks, Dad!

That said, were I to have been born fatherless, and were I — having been born fatherless — were I allowed to then choose from every American male between the ages, say, of 50 and 65, the one who I wanted to play the role of my father, I would choose Terry Francona.

For one thing, Francona is the God of the Post-Game Interview. I don’t have any specific moments to which I can point in support of this claim, so I’m just asking you to believe me: he is. For another thing, Francona emanates fatherly pride.

What you’ll notice about Francona in that video is the way in which — as Nava makes his way back to the dugout — the way in which he glows with paternal joy. Actually, even before Nava walks backs to the dugout, Francona is already kinda giddy. Then, as Nava approached the dugout, Francona definitely says something like “At’a boy” and then slaps Nava on the butt.

2. Nava’s Swing
Despite the fact that I’d previously championed Nava in these electronic pages, I’d done so only using the tools of the nerd (minor league numbers and equivalencies) combined with Nava’s obviously excellent backstory. What I didn’t know about is how awesome Daniel Nava’s swing is.

The main observation I have to make about it (i.e. Nava’s swing) comes in the form of a question to Joe Blanton. “Mr. Blanton,” my question begins, “between the way Nava kinda cocks the bat with his wrist, and also how straight he stands up in the batter’s box, why would you ever throw him a fastball on the inner half of the plate?”

Thanks to Pitch f/x and Brooks Baseball, we see that Blanton actually changed his approach between Nava’s plate appearances. Sort of.

First, here’s the first at-bat. It’s only one pitch:

Now, here’s the second:

I said “sort of” because, actually, Blanton first pitch in the second AB looks alot like the first pitch in the first AB. After that, though, as you can see, Blanton is basically going outside, outside, outside. And, in this case, it worked: Blanton K-ed Nava in the latter’s second PA.

3. Nerd Victory
Briefly, from that January article:

Despite the absence of anything like a draft pedigree, Nava posted an MLE of .274/.355/.407 across High-A and Double-A last year — that according to Minor League Splits. Baseball Prospectus rates his 124 Double-A ABs as a major league equivalent of .298/.374/.460 — the best in the Eastern League. The fact is that Nava has never played poorly, regardless of where he’s been.

What’s nice about those lines is how little they contain in the way of idle speculation. The the thing that nerds do best is use facts to suggest that so-and-so might be major league ready or that other so-and-so (ahem, Livan Hernandez) might currently be sporting a historically high strand rate that will soon see his ERA balloon. In other words, we the nerds prefer to utilize the sharpest tools in the proverbial shed, whatever they might be in the given situation. Nava’s numbers suggested that, despite his lack of general baseballing cred, he might be a serviceable ballplayer. Hurray for that.

The moral of the story is that any success Daniel Nava experiences is success for the whole of the human race. Is that completely overstating the case? Duh, of course. But on a sunny day in June, with the improbable surrounding us, hyperbole feels like the only reasonable mode of discourse.

Carson Cistulli has published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.

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12 years ago

I can absolutely confirm that Francona is, indeed, the God of Post-Games. The thing I miss most about NESN is not Don and Jerry, because I can get them via mlb.tv, but rather watching those post-game interviews in full after every game. It’s hard to quantify what’s so great about them, but I’m especially a fan of his dry wit.