X Marks the Spot: Evaluating Xavier Nady

 

On Saturday, the Yankees acquired Damaso Marte and Xavier Nady from the Pirates in exchange for four players. While Marte should prove to be a valuable bullpen arm, Xavier Nady is the biggest name in this trade. Let’s delve into his season and see what we can expect from him going forward.

Nady was consigned to a platoon role for most of his career, and his splits show you why: in his career, Nady has hit lefties quite well, posting a .320/.396/.483 line. Against righties, however, he has struggled, batting .268/.314/.447*.

This year, Nady’s line against lefties is similar to his career numbers: .313/.434/.522. However, he has also crushed righties to the tune of .335/.368/.538. Considering that Nady is 29 years old and has a fairly extensive big-league track record, it is unlikely that he has significantly improved his ability to hit right-handed pitching, and is instead enjoying some rather flukey batting-average-driven success against righties. For the graphically inclined:

 

Against righties:

 

This year

Career

BA vs righties

0.335

0.268

OBP vs righties

0.368

0.314

SLG vs righties

0.538

0.44

 

And against lefties:

 

This year

Career

BA vs lefties

0.313

0.320

OBP vs lefties

0.434

0.396

SLG vs lefties

0.522

0.483

 

If we look at Nady’s underlying statistics, we can see that he is making more contact when he swings this year (81.7% of the time) than in his career (78.7%) – but not by that much. He’s striking out less often this year (16.8% of the time) than in his career (19.7%) – but again, not by that much. Same goes for his relatively improved walk rate (7.1% of plate appearances this year, as compared to 6.1% in his career).

 

This year

Career

Contact %

81.7%

78.7%

Strikeout %

16.8%

19.7%

Walk %

7.1%

6.1

 

We can also see that Nady has had more of his fly balls fall for hits this year than in the past. This season, he is hitting .255 on grounders, .293 on fly balls, and .757 on line drives. His career line is .252 on grounders, .248 on fly balls, and .737 on line drives.

 

This Year

Career

BA on ground balls

0.255

0.252

BA on fly balls

0.293

0.248

BA on line drives

0.757

0.737

 

While we cannot necessarily simply compare Nady’s 2008 season to his career line – because it is quite likely that Nady is a better player today than he was earlier in his career – it is fair to wonder whether Nady’s improved batting average on fly balls is due to some improved skill, or simply good luck. It’s likely that the true answer is a combination of both.

Nady is scorching the ball this season, to the tune of a 26.5% line-drive percentage, besting his previous career best LD% by over 5 points. This high LD% supports his inflated BABIP of .363, but we have to wonder whether he can sustain the LD% for the course of the season. Considering his career track record, the best guess would be that his LD% regresses towards his career mean, with his batting average regressing as well.

 

Nady’s season has combined real – albeit rather small – improvement (slightly lower strikeout rate, slightly higher walk rate, higher line-drive percentage) with some good luck (flukey season versus righties, high rate of fly balls becoming hits) and, as a result, his season line is far out of whack with previous seasons. In reality, Nady’s true ability is probably closer to his career line of .281/.337/.456. If you believe that Nady has indeed improved against righties, his true ability is probably somewhere above this line. However, it would be unusual for a 29-year-old to suddenly figure out how to hit right-handed pitching after having over 1600 career at bats in the majors. Not unprecedented, but certainly unusual.

As such, the Yankees are most likely going to be getting a guy with an slightly-above-average OBP and above-average power, who can absolutely crush lefties. Considering the roster flexibility that the Yankees now possess, Nady’s lefty-mashing abilities are particularly helpful, as he can be sat against some tougher right-handed hitters if necessary.

 

The Yankees are filling a hole with a guy who’s on the better side of 30 years old and will be under their control through next season as well. They are dealing from a position of strength, as their farm system is strong enough that they can part with excess prospects. Furthermore, they are not just getting Nady, but also Damaso Marte, a truly valuable piece in the bullpen.

While Xavier Nady is unlikely to continue hitting at his current pace, even if he regresses to somewhere around his career norm, he will still be an asset for the Yankees against lefties. The jury is out on whether he can be useful against right-handers.

 

 

*All numbers are through Saturday’s games

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