Sign Mike Napoli (to a reasonable contract)
It’s been twitter-reported by Jim Bowden that the Sox are in on Mike Napoli but he wants a fourth guaranteed year before he’ll sign. I assume Napoli is looking for a contract in the range of $10-15M per season. I’m not so much sold on that fourth guaranteed year, as Napoli is a bad body hitter with old player skills. But I’m going to get to the part where I contradict myself later. I begin with the case for Mike Napoli.
First, he’s one heck of a hitter. Napoli has hit 261/355/520 over the last three years, good for a 132 OPS+ and a .377 wOBA. He projects as a well above average hitter for a first baseman. Further, he’s not just a good hitter, he’s the prototype of a guy who will succeed in Fenway - a right-handed dead-pull flyball hitter. (And indeed, Voros’ law aside, Napoli has a 400/700 batting line in 70 career Fenway PA.)
Second, Napoli will most likely be a converted 1B and no longer a catcher for the Red Sox. The primary weakness that has kept Mike Napoli from being a legitimate major league star has been his durability or lack of playing time. Moving Napoli from C to 1B should result in less wear on Napoli’s body and a much better chance of getting 140-150 games with his 130 OPS+ bat in the lineup.
Third, and this one will take a little longer, Napoli’s bat might be even better than that. Tangotiger put together a study of “position effects” a month ago which showed a highly relevant result. Tango looked at all players between 1993-2010 who, between the ages of the 25-29, had played significantly at both catcher and at other positions. Over this period, these players had a .323 wOBA as catchers and a .342 wOBA at other positions in the field (1B, 3B, LF, RF combined).
This effect is even larger when you look at part-time catchers. That is, players who between 25-29, played under 90% of their games at catcher. As Tango says, most of these guys will be players who began as catchers but were moved off the position. These players show an even larger effect: .321 at C and .350 elsewhere. So, if the Sox sign Mike Napoli and install him at 1B, he may well be a better hitter than that 130 OPS+ he’s put up over the last three seasons.
Now, I said there were caveats. Napoli’s durability might not just be a catching problem, and he doesn’t have the skills that project a gentle aging trajectory. Napoli’s 2012 hitting line has a couple possible red flags, the biggest being a spike in K rate. So he might be getting worse already. Napoli doesn’t show the typical C/Non-C splits, as he’s actually been a slightly better hitter over his career as a C than as a 1B/DH. As I said, I’m not sold on that fourth year. I buy the first caveat. I don’t buy the second – it’s possible Napoli’s declined, but I’m skeptical of stat-slicing on 400 PAs when the top lines are pretty normal. I think the third is worth noting, but since Tango’s study suggests that hitters will improve after being moved off C, it’s not necessarily evidence that Napoli won’t do that.
To put some numbers to it, I think 3/30 is a no-brainer, 3/36 works just fine, and I start to get antsy around 3/42 or 4/48 or so. Tango’s study has me feeling a lot more all right with 4/44 than I’d been before, and legitimately excited about anything less than that.
Matt Clement of Alexandria
Posted: November 23, 2012 at 03:07 PM | 59 comment(s)
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