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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.