Daniel Nava Could Be the Boston Red Sox's Surprise 2013 Playoff Hero

Joe Giglio@@JoeGiglioSportsContributor ISeptember 25, 2013

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 1: Daniel Nava #29 of the Boston Red Sox doubles in the winning run against the Seattle Mariners in the 9th inning at Fenway Park on August 1, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

With the MLB postseason less than a week away, it's not hard to make a case for potential Red Sox heroes in October. From superstars like David Ortiz to Dustin Pedroia to October tested arms like Jon Lester and John Lackey to a dominant relief pitcher like Koji Uehara, star power is in abundance in New England.

If the Red Sox do make a sustained run towards their first World Series berth since 2007, a surprise hero could play a major role.

He's no longer a secret in Boston, and the rest of the country could get to know Daniel Nava over the next few weeks. At the age of 30, receiving the first regular playing time of his career, Nava has emerged as a major piece of the Red Sox puzzle.

The managerial change, pitching turnaround, emergence from Uehara and acquisitions of under-the-radar free agents like Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli have changed the culture and results in Boston.

But the Red Sox would not be on the path to home field advantage in the American League postseason without the contributions of Daniel Nava.

For the season, Nava has posted a .295/.380/.435 slash line and provided John Farrell and Ben Cherington with roster flexibility by playing roles in right field, left field, center field, first base and designated hitter.

As Boston's manager told Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe last week, Nava's versatility is akin to having multiple players on the roster.

“In terms of roster structure, it’s almost like having two players because of what he’s capable of,” Farrell said.

Of course, many utility players, like Detroit's Don Kelly, can play all over the field, but the reason for Nava's inclusion as a potential October hero: the ability to crush right-handed pitching.

The following at-bat shows Nava doing what he does best: working a long at-bat and eventually punishing a pitch off of a right-handed pitcher. 

As noted above, Nava has had a stellar season against all pitching, including a .380 on-base percentage that ranks 17th in the sport, ahead of stars like Adrian Beltre, Chris Davis, Buster Posey and Jose Bautista.

If you look at Nava's numbers strictly against right-handed pitching, a game-changing weapon emerges.

Through the end of play on Tuesday, Nava had 390 plate appearances against righties. In those opportunities, the left-handed hitter has posted a .316/.408/.473/.881 line.

To put that into perspective, that's nearly equal to the season batting average of Jayson Werth, on-base of Andrew McCutchen, slugging of Chase Utley and OPS of Joe Mauer.

Nava is a star when he enters the batters box to face a right-handed pitcher.

Now for the practical part of this lesson in Daniel Nava history. With the American League wild-card participants still up in the air, the only two teams, outside of Boston, guaranteed postseason berths in the league are Oakland and Detroit.

There's a very good chance that neither of those teams, or, in other words, the likely ALCS foe of Boston, will use a single left-handed starter in their respective postseason rotations.

Here's a look at the four projected starters, respectively, for Detroit and Oakland in the upcoming postseason. If Nava and the Red Sox can advance to the ALCS, the breakout hitter will have a chance to shine against the type of pitchers that he crushes.

Heading into the 2013 season, few thought the Boston Red Sox would be in position to make a run towards the World Series.

In the aftermath of a 69-93 campaign in 2012, a large number of changes and improvements were expected, but Nava's emergence as a potential 2013 postseason star might be the biggest surprise of all.

Consider yourself warned, baseball fans.

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