Mike Napoli does something very few players who wear the tools of ignorance can do – he strikes fear into pitchers when he strides to the dish. It’s fair to point out that he isn’t a fantastic defender, he’s certainly competent, but when his potent bat is added to the mix he’s one of the unique weapons at the catcher position (it should be noted that he’s also played a lot of first base the past three years). Add in that he was born on Halloween and he has to be a great player, right? Don’t tell that to people that owned Napoli in 2012 though as his effort was seen as a whopper of a downer after his massive 2011 effort (.320-30-75 with a 1.046 OPS). I’m here to tell you though that his ’12 production was right in line with expectations, that is unless you were expecting too much as most of us were.
NOTE: For those of you living in a cave, Napoli signed a three year deal with the Red Sox for a reported $39 million. They plan on slotting him at first base on most days, though he will still see some time behind the dish.
As I pointed out in my 2012 Positional Review of Catchers, Napoli’s power stroke in 2012 was exactly what you should have expected. From 2008-11 he averaged 24 homers. In 2012 he hit 24 homers. Of course people were disappointed when he failed to match his career best total of 30 homers from 2011, but as I always touch on with players, many times their “failures” are based on our unrealistic expectations. Napoli is the poster boy for out of control expectations. How is a guy who matches his previous four year average in anything seen as a disappointment? The real problem is that Napoli can’t convince anyone to give him at-bats. Only once has he been given 400 at-bats in a season, and that’s what’s holding down his power output, not a lack of talent. That will likely change this year in Boston. More on that in a moment.
Napoli saw his RBI total dip from 75 to 56, so again, total failure right? Well, not really. From 2008-10 Napoli averaged 58 RBIs a season. Just like with the homers, this really wasn’t as big a drop off as many suspected.
Napoli’s runs scored drop from 72 to 53 is discouraging. Still, as with his HR/RBI totals, you should have expected a fall off. Not only did his OBP go down, more on that in a second, but he was never a big run producer before. In fact, from 2008-10 Napoli averaged exactly… 53 runs a season.
‘But what about the batting average Ray, how in the world can you explain a .093 point drop and make us feel good about it?’ Other than the .320 average in 2011, Napoli has never hit .275 in a season (that’s six other seasons under .275). Napoli also owns a career .259 batting average. So let’s put it this way. Which number, .320 or .227, is further from his career mark? His .227 batting average last season is .032 points off his career mark while his .320 batting average in ’11 is .061 points off. That’s nearly double the difference from his 2012 mark to his career average. Looking at it that way, which number is the outlier? Exactly.
Napoli saw his OBP tank in ’12 from his career best .414 down to .343. Again, which of those two numbers fits in better with his career given that his career mark is .356? I’m concerned that his K-rate exploded, it was 30 percent last season (25.4 for his career) and that didn’t help matters at all, but the fact is that his 0.45 BB/K rate was right on his career 0.47 mark. Again, 2011 was the outlier, not 2012.
I won’t even bother going through the same analysis for his SLG percentage. I’ll just list the numbers and let you draw your own conclusions: .631 in 2011, .469 in 2012, .507 for his career.
Let me boil this down for you. The 2011 season is the outlier, not everything else Napoli has done for his career. He will never hit .320 again. He will never have a .414 OBP again. He will never have a .631 SLG again. He will never have a 1.046 OPS again. If he could get 500 at-bats he could easily challenge his counting number career bests (30 HR, 75 RBIs and 72 runs scored), and it certainly sounds like the Red Sox plan on giving him those at-bats this season, but the ratio marks are out of reach (this is likely the best time to own Napoli in the fantasy game as a catcher eligible player looking at 500+ ABs). So stop doing what everyone is doing with Napoli – comparing himself to his ’11 career effort. If you remove the season from the back of his ball card his 2012 season shouldn’t be seen as anything other than a solid effort from a power hitting catcher. It’s not Napoli’s fault that your expectations for him were unreasonable heading into 2012, so get over it.
By Ray Flowers