ALDS Game One Preview: Unhappy about Napoli

In conjunction with R.J.’s article on Jon Lester, I thought it might make sense to take a look at what batters he (Lester, that is — not R.J. Anderson) would probably be facing in Game One. Here are the last four lineups that Scioscia deployed versus lefty starters before L.A. of Anaheim clinched on September 28 (versus Eveland, Gio Gonzalez, Pettite, and Holland, respectively).

Sep 26		Sep 25		Sep 21		Sep 20
C Figgins 3B	C Figgins 3B	C Figgins 3B	C Figgins 3B
B Abreu	RF	E Aybar	SS	E Aybar	SS	E Aybar	SS
T Hunter CF	B Abreu	RF	B Abreu RF	T Hunter CF
V Guerrero DH	V Guerrero DH	V Guerrero DH	V Guerrero DH
J Rivera LF	T Hunter CF	T Hunter CF	J Rivera LF
K Morales 1B	J Rivera LF	J Rivera LF	H Kendrick 2B
H Kendrick 2B	K Morales 1B	H Kendrick 2B	K Morales 1B
J Mathis C	H Kendrick 2B	K Morales 1B	G Matthews Jr. RF
M Izturis SS	J Mathis C	J Mathis C	J Mathis C

The two from Sep 25 and 21 contain exactly the same personnel, just with Morales and Kendrick switched. Morales moved back ahead of Kendrick on the 26th. September 26 features Izturis at shortstop in lieu of Aybar, although Aybar is the starter. Gary Matthews Jr. spelled Abreu in right field on Sep 20.

Using those lineups as a guide, here’s a probable lineup for tonight’s game (with this year’s platoon split, for what it’s worth):

Probable	2009 v L
C Figgins 3B	.246/.325/.305  	
E Aybar	SS	.325/.356/.448
B Abreu	RF	.267/.348/.386
V Guerrero DH	.250/.276/.410
T Hunter CF	.336/.400/.578
J Rivera LF	.333/.385/.645  	
K Morales 1B	.296/.319/.481
H Kendrick 2B	.313/.331/.500
J Mathis C	.228/.295/.329

If you want to be dogmatic about lineup optimization, then you probably move Abreu or Hunter into the two-hole and move Aybar back to sixth or seventh. Still, this isn’t as crazy as some lineups we see where you have a “good bat-handler” (a la Willie Bloomquist) batting in the most important spot in the lineup.

Well, okay, it is a crazy for one reason: it has Jeff Mathis in it.

While Scioscia is on record as saying that he doesn’t employ either a strict platoon or personal catchers, he’s fielded Mathis for John Lackey‘s last 16 starts. That suggests that Mathis will start tonight.

Do you want to know Jeff Mathis‘s wOBA? It’s .267.

Do you want to know Mike Napoli‘s? I’ll give you a hint: it’s better. (.362 to be exact.)

Of course, the book on Mathis is that he’s the better defender and/or that the pitching staff works better with him. The former point is tough to be conclusive about. There’s no UZR for catchers. According to Baseball Reference, Mathis’s CS% is 26% on 70 attempts. Napoli’s is 22% on 95 attempts*. As for the latter point, it’s also hard to effectively analyze a catcher’s effect on pitcher performance. You wanna use Catcher ERA, you say? Fine with me; just don’t tell R.J. Anderson that. (Or Keith Woolner, for that matter.)

*One bizarre thing: Napoli has registered an assist on only 13 of the 21 caught-stealings that’ve occurred while he’s been catching. Which, that means his CS numbers aren’t as good, but also that a lot of guys are getting picked-off for some reason that probably has to do with the pitcher.

Here’s something we do know: that, according to StatCorner, Napoli is worth 0.037 runs above-average per plate appearance. Mathis, meanwhile, has posted a -0.053 RV/PA. That means Napoli is worth about 0.09 runs more per plate appearance than Mathis. Over four plate appearances (pretty typical for a game), that comes out to about 0.36 runs!

Of course, RV/PA presupposes a league average run environment and Jon Lester does a pretty good job suppressing runs. Even acknowledging that point, you have to be pretty sure that Mathis is worth about three-tenths of a run per game defensively. Odds are, he isn’t.

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Carson Cistulli occasionally publishes spirited ejaculations at The New Enthusiast.

21 Responses to “ALDS Game One Preview: Unhappy about Napoli”

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  1. Trev says:

    “…you have to be pretty sure that Mathis is worth about three-tenths of run per game defensively.”

    Let’s see, 0.36 Runs/Game * 150 Games = +54 runs saved/game

    Fielders who’ve recorded a +54 UZR/150 in the Fangraphs database? Zero.

    League leader in UZR/150 (qualified);
    2009: Franklin Gutierrez, CF — 19.2
    2008: Carl Crawford, LF — 25.6
    2007: Alfonso Soriano, LF — 22.4
    2006: Adam Everett, SS — 27.2
    2005: Andruw Jones, CF — 34.7
    2004: Corey Patterson, CF — 33.8
    2003: Andruw Jones, CF — 23.4
    2002: Andruw Jones, CF — 23.0

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Well, UZR compares against a baseline of average. If you were to look at the differences between the best and worst defenders at premium positions (say, Jack Wilson and Yuniesky Betancourt), you’ll come up with a spread that is closer to 30-40 runs.

      If the Angels saw Napoli as a terrible defender and Mathis as a great one, then the difference would be the sum of Mathis’ positive value and the absolute value of Napoli’s negative value.

      Toss in the fact that Napoli can pinch-hit for Mathis, so the real PA/game multiplier is probably more like 3 than 4, and it becomes at least arguable. Maybe.

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  2. Dirty Water says:

    As ridiculous a selection as Mathis may be, I’m going to defer to the manager of the LAA on the decision. Scioscia knows the nuances of the game, knows his roster, and is no idiot, although he often times plays one when facing the Sox.

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    • I agree that, for the sake of legitimacy, it’s important to pick one’s spots when criticizing managerial decisions — esp when it’s someone like Scioscia, who’s generally proven himself to be pretty sharp.

      That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that, on account of his own experience as a catcher, he (i.e. Scioscia) is likely to be a little more emotional about his own catchers. However, I admit that this is wholly conjecture on my part.

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      • Kevin S. says:

        Someone (I think K-Law) speculated the same thing about Girardi – since he was basically an all-defense catcher, he would overly value the all-defense Molina.

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    • scatterbrian says:

      I happen to think Scioscia is the best manager in the game, but he’s not infallible. We are allowed to second-guess this decision without saying Scioscia’s an idiot. I watch a lot of Angels ball, and if I were a fan I’d be pissed about the lack of playing time Napoli has gotten the last two years…..or the PT that Mathis has gotten. Not that they’re hurting for wins, but playing Mathis over Napoli has cost the Angels about three wins each of the last two years.

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      • Daniel says:

        I wonder though (and this is complete speculation), if Napoli didn’t tire out from the increased playing time this year. He played more than he ever has before, so Scioscia did recognize Napoli’s value. But last September, Napoli hit his stride and started crushing the ball when he got regular playing time. This September (and even some of August) he was terrible, striking out a ton, not walking as much, and seeing his batting average drop by 30+ points.

        Maybe that was just him reverting to career norms, but it might also have had to do with tiring out.

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  3. Ray says:

    Before anyone comes in here pointing at Napoli v. Mathis’ ERA when they’re catching (something like 5 to 3.5 last time I checked), Mathis usually catches the Lackey/Weavers of the staff while Napoli is stuck with the Sean O’Sullivans and Matt Palmers

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  4. Chad says:

    Scioscia lets Napoli catch when he knows the Angels SP is likely to need 5+ runs of support, eh? Genius, really.

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  5. stolenbases says:

    This man crush that Scioscia has on Mathis is insane. Just so frustrating to watch.

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  6. Jason461 says:

    Unrelated: I am all for you guys making money off this site, but is there anything you can do about those Subaru adds? Because they are annoying. Nothing makes me leave a site faster than adds like that.

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    • Bill says:

      Yes, but where else can you find some of the information you get here (for free)? If I had a choice between an ad and a subscription fee, I’d choose ads everytime. Try Baseball Prospecticus. They charge a fee so I doubt they have ads.

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      • Jason461 says:

        I don’t mind the ads, I really don’t and I appreciate that the site is free, but why have annoying ads? I have to believe that they have enough traffic that they can say to Google or whoever provides the ads, “Hey, enough of that,” and be listened to.

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  7. Chad says:

    I haven’t seen any Subaru ads. Is that because I am in a warm climate?

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  8. Alireza says:

    I don’t think Napoli is nearly as bad a defensive player as to justify playing Mathis over him. Perhaps let Mathis caddy part time for Lackey and full time for Santana, but nothing else. Then again, Napoli is also prone to being extremely streaky at the plate, so Scioscia may well factor that into the equation.

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  9. JCA says:

    “*One bizarre thing: Napoli has registered an assist on only 13 of the 21 caught-stealings that’ve occurred while he’s been catching. Which, that means his CS numbers aren’t as good, but also that a lot of guys are getting picked-off for some reason that probably has to do with the pitcher”

    Not sure if the numbers back this up, but if Scioscia thinks Napoli is a worse throwing catcher than Mathis, wouldn’t it make sense that he’d team Napoli up with pitchers who are better picking guys off and controlling base stealers themselves and let Mathis catch pitchers who are less able at that skill? Who knows, maybe he’s thinking he can bait guys into trying to run whenhe starts Napoli. And by “make sense,” all I mean is maybe this is what he’s thinking, not that he’s struck the right balance based on run scoring v run prevention.

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  10. Steve says:

    so Lackey and his personal catcher throws a shutout…

    of course, we have no idea if he’d have done just as well with Napoli or not, but i also don’t understand why, after spending the last few years trying so hard to quantify defense, this part of it has been thrown out the window by the SABR crowd in the last week.

    is it b/c we don’t have the numbers for catcher’s defense? because if we did, isn’t it possible that there exists a breakeven point where better d/worse o and worse d/better o crossover? same as for, say, a LFer??

    yet all i’ve read about the last week, re: Posada/Napoli is their offensive superiority. yes, we know this.

    why are we all of a sudden completely dismissing the effect a catcher might have on a pitcher’s performance? b/c there is no stat for it?

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  11. Judy says:

    Well, this is sort of becoming the issue of the moment, as Girardi has decided to have Molina catch Burnett, while Franconca has chosen Victor Martinez to catch Beckett, even though it’s believed(assumed? guessed? imagined?) he would prefer Varitek.

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  12. Justin R. says:

    Jeff Mathis is at 4 Defensive Runs Saved this year. Mike Napoli is at -7.

    Mathis is the far superior defensive catcher but Napoli is far better at the plate. They, basically, even out.

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  13. ineedanap says:

    “Using those lineups as a guide, here’s a probable lineup for tonight’s game”

    Why would you use those lineups as a guide when the lineup was announced days before the game?

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