Mike Napoli, and What Ownership Could Look Like

When the Angels traded actual value(!) for the overwhelming bulk of Vernon Wells‘ contract(!), it didn’t look like there were very many ways by which the Angels could come away looking smart. There were more ways by which the Angels could come away feeling content, though, like if Wells performed well enough, even if not well enough to be worth his salary. These days the Angels appear neither smart nor content, although in fairness the front office has since turned over. What the Angels didn’t need was for Wells to suck. What the Angels really didn’t need on top of Wells sucking was for Mike Napoli to hit the crap out of the Angels.

Sunday, the Angels and the Rangers played a critical doubleheader. The Angels won the first game, and Mike Napoli went 0-for-1 as a pinch-hitter. The Angels lost the second game, by one run, and Napoli went 3-for-3 with a walk, a double, and two homers. The loss pushed the Angels one decision from playoff elimination, and Napoli’s big game capped off a big season against his former employer.

Said Torii Hunter about Napoli in the aftermath:

“He plays with a vengeance,” the Angels’ Torii Hunter said. “I hate that he’s doing it, but that’s how you really make a statement.”

Napoli was very good against the Angels in 2011; he was even better in 2012, and it’s 2012 that we’re going to examine going forward. The easy narrative is that Napoli elevates his game against the Angels to get back at them for undervaluing him and for trading him away. Players have said before that things can be a little different when you’re playing an old team, and, statistically, things have certainly been different for Napoli. Now, we refer to this as the “easy narrative” for a reason — easy narratives are usually incorrect, because real life usually doesn’t follow along with narratives. But it’s worth breaking down just how much better Napoli has been against the Angels in 2012 than against everybody else. What follows is a big giant table.

NAPOLI vs. Angels vs. Others
BA 0.442 0.193
OBP 0.567 0.304
SLG 0.904 0.393
BB% 19% 11%
K% 18% 33%
WPA 1.12 -2.03
GB% 28% 43%
Zone% 45% 51%
Z-Swing% 63% 58%
O-Swing% 18% 22%
Contact% 78% 69%
Pace 24.3 22.2

So it’s not that big or that giant, but there’s still a lot of information in there. Napoli batted 67 times against the Angels this season, and he’s batted 339 times against everyone else. Every single stat pair in there seems to be significantly different, even though I haven’t run the math. Some of them probably don’t meet the threshold for statistical significance. That can be a difficult threshold to achieve. Anyway.

What most people are aware of is the difference in the triple-slash-line stats. That’s where Napoli’s productivity shows up. Said Mike Scioscia, in the same article linked above:

“Mike has power, but he’s hitting .220,” Angels Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Against us, obviously, those numbers are off the charts.”

What I was curious about was the rest of the picture. Against the Angels, Napoli has spiked his walks and cut his strikeouts, such that he’s averaged about three strikeouts per walk against everyone else, and one strikeout per walk against the Angels. By Win Probability Added, you see a wild swing; Napoli has a negative WPA for the year, but obviously not all of his big hits against Anaheim have come in garbage time. Napoli’s hit far more balls in the air against the Angels, which is his strength, since he’s not going to do his damage on the ground. The Angels have thrown Napoli fewer pitches in the strike zone, possibly because they’re afraid of him and possibly because of something else, and Napoli’s discipline and contact have been better. I’m particularly interested in the last stat, myself. On average, Angels pitchers have worked more than two seconds slower against Napoli this season, maybe a function of caution or maybe a function of deeper counts. If it’s been caution, it hasn’t worked.

What we can say is that, in 2012, Mike Napoli was way better against the Angels than he was against the rest of baseball. What we can’t say is how much of this, if any of this, is sustainable. Probably almost none of it. By asserting that Napoli is extra locked in against the Angels, it follows that Napoli is therefore less locked in against everyone else, and why should we believe that? Still, we can choose to believe a player usually has X focus, and in certain instances he might have X + 2% focus. Consider your own personal driving habits. You’re probably always pretty focused when you’re driving, but you’re probably not always maximally focused. This is pure speculation on my part but it’s the only way to believe there’s anything to the Napoli-pounds-the-Angels idea.

But then, wait, there’s another possibility! Maybe we’ve been looking at this all wrong. Maybe it isn’t about Napoli vs. the Angels. Maybe it’s about the Angels vs. Mike Napoli. Naturally, there’s no way to prove this, either. Below, two .gifs of Mike Napoli hitting mistakes for home runs, and one .gif of Mike Napoli hitting a good pitch for a home run.

We’re all smart enough to understand that one player probably can’t “own” an opposing team, and that Mike Napoli probably doesn’t “own” the Angels. Odds are this is but a curious coincidence that would even out over a long enough period of time. If one player were to own an opposing team, though, it would probably look a lot like Napoli’s 2012 against his old organization. Without the Vernon Wells angle, this would be remarkable. With the Vernon Wells angle, this is simply delicious.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Tom SInclair
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Tom SInclair
3 years 9 months ago

Is any any validity to a catcher hitting better against a former battery mate? Granted, the entire league homered off Irvin Santana, but Napoli had four homers in two games. Any data that looks at this issue?

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 9 months ago

Well, he hasn’t caught the Angels pitchers since 2010 so I doubt he has a good enough memory to have any sort of impact. And this may be completely wrong, but Napoli never struck me as the type of intellectual catcher who would recall such things.

Choo
Member
3 years 9 months ago

Some of the smartest baseball players I ever played with were some of the least intellectual human beings on the planet. I mean, some of those guys were so dumb, I wondered how they managed to stay alive.

Curtis
Guest
Curtis
3 years 9 months ago

Scioscia let it go, man.

Roster Management
Guest
Roster Management
3 years 9 months ago

He didn’t know what the Angels pitchers were throwing when he caught them, don’t see how it would help him at the plate.

Terry
Guest
Terry
3 years 9 months ago

Vlad and Tim Salmon used to do the same thing to the Rangers when they played for the Angels. It’s good to be on the other end occasionally.

Jack
Guest
Jack
3 years 9 months ago

He’s alright, but he’s no Frank Francisco.

Wat
Guest
Wat
3 years 9 months ago

The Magic of AA!©

Petetown Matt
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Petetown Matt
3 years 9 months ago

Should read: “He’s alright, but he’s no Frank Francisco plus a supplemental first round draft pick.”

tbjfan
Guest
tbjfan
3 years 9 months ago

At least GM AA’s fetish with supplemental draft picks are now over.

In the past, It seemed like that was his excuse for fielding a bad bullpen.

maguro
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maguro
3 years 9 months ago

Ninja!

Preston
Guest
Preston
3 years 9 months ago

I wonder about Tom’s point as well, he’s caught Weaver, Santana and Haren with the Angels and CJ Wilson with the Rangers. Another thought I had is that this might be a little bit of Mike Scoicia huberis, from that quote he doesn’t seem to respect Napoli as a hitter, disparaging his avg. Maybe he tells his pitchers to challenge him in the zone more than other pitchers. Although the increased walk rate would contradict that.

Chris from Bothell
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Chris from Bothell
3 years 9 months ago

Tom Sinclair beat me to it. Napoli probably has a good idea how former teammates pitch, or how pitchers are coached and catching works, in his former team. So when he’s facing them when only just last year he was thinking along with them.

Makes it easier to punish mistakes and be a guess hitter when you were thinking the same way they were just last season…

Average_Casey
Guest
Average_Casey
3 years 9 months ago

If that really is the case, then sign him up for the Mariners next year. They play enough games against the Angels and the Rangers that it would be worth seeing him in the uniform. I’ll take that many games against a divsion rival who the Mariners can’t seem to beat.

Kampfer
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Kampfer
3 years 9 months ago

The M’s is not even close to contending, while Oakland can really use Napoli.

I Hate Elephants On Baseballs
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I Hate Elephants On Baseballs
3 years 8 months ago

Kampfer,

Just to be clear, Oakland’s team is not as good as their record indicated. They pretty much hit a homerun in terms of peak potential deriving from trades, which is going to lead to a huge team regression and that’s after calculating in development for the young players. I mean EVERY move they made, not only worked, but almost every one of their moves exceeded expectations, which is not typical to say the least. I guarantee you that Reddick and others will under-perform, Chris Young and/or Cespedes will get hurt, and they will look very underwhelming up the middle (2B/SS/C) offensively, starting with Weeks and whoever they throw out at SS to impersonate a poorman’s Brandon Crawford.

Their prospects are interesting to good and there are even some really great prospects in there as well, but the Athletics have busted far more of the time than most teams do with their prospects. I will be surprised if they win more than 81 games next year and that’s with the 17 gimme games they play against the Astros.

The facts are that the Mariners have the best farm system in baseball, they could meet the real cost of trading for Stanton and J. Upton both right now, without even dropping their farm system out of the top 15 in baseball, while having under-27 year-old-players at 7 or more key positions. An example:

SP Taijuan Walker, C/1B Jesus Montero, 2B Nick Frankin, 3B Stefen Romero, SP Jordan Shipers, SP Blake Beavan, RF Denny Almonte

for Giancarlo Stanton

CP Tom Wilhelmsen, SP Brandon Maurer, SS Brad Miller, 3B Vincent Catricala, RP Tyler Burgoon

for Justin Upton

That would still leave Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Victor Sanchez, Tyler Pike, and Anthony Fernandez for starters, Carson Smith and Chance Ruffin as AAA relief prospects, with guys like Mike Zunino, Francisco Martinez, Julio Morban, Jack Marder,John Hicks, some of the recent draft picks less known around baseball (Ard, DeCarlo.Taylor, Lopes, etc, and then there are the high ceiling guys (like Guillermo Pimentel, Alfredo Morales, Phillips Castillo, and Ji-Man Choi, etc.). Add in another year of improvements from a farm system drafted and signed by some of the best scounts in the business and I’m sure they’d be back to a top 10 farm system in a year following the 2013 draft and the advancements from existing players.

To summarize:

The Mariners already have more talent than the Athletics on the field in the Major Leagues, they’re just younger and aren’t finished developing.

The Mariners already have more talent in the minors and they are more desired among the baseball industry than just about any other prospects in baseball.

The Mariners have more money and are 2 years away from signing a new television deal on top of the already signed MLB t.v. deal that takes effect in two years and offers each team $25M extra each year above the already $35-$50M they receive as part of the profit sharing. So figuring each team will start with a payroll limit of atleast $75M in two years and the Mariners will have a bigger private t.v. deal than 80% of the teams in baseball.

I’m pretty sure that they can maximize that a little better than the Athletics can maximize their resources… it’s not like Oakland has been winning pennant after pennant since the early part of the last decade. One 5-game playoff series in almost 10 years, a dynasty it does not make.

I apologize to all non-Mariners/non-Athletics fans for my rant, but I really want to drive home my point because ever since they squeezed their fatasses into the postseason with a miracle series against the Rangers, all their fans act like they just coasted through the AL West free from luck or devine intervention. I mean, if the Mariners stay hot through September, they could’ve probably finished with as many wins as the Athletics, just considering the almost 10 times they played each other in September alone. The Athletics are an 80 win team and they will always be an 80 win team as long as they spend 75M or less each year on payroll. The years that they win more than 80 wins will be luck or devine intervention, just like 2012.

Radivel
Guest
Radivel
3 years 9 months ago

It’d be nice if someone could calculate the overall value for every piece of those series of trades (including the new head to head matchups), and see what the end result is for each team involved.

vivalajeter
Guest
vivalajeter
3 years 9 months ago

I nominate you.

Captain Willard
Guest
3 years 9 months ago

People don’t perform better when focused and motivated?

Someanalyst
Guest
Someanalyst
3 years 9 months ago

It would have been cool to compute Napoli’s WAR against the angels and against others. Seems likely that, as with his WPA, he may have negative WAR against everybody but the Angels…

Also, no need to bother with the arbitrary 95% CI for “significance” (which many fields don’t use; physics is like 6 sigma, sociology is like p > 0.5); you could have added a column with p-values to show hopw likely such a thing is. My bet is some of those p -values would be minuscule. This is a crazy data set which Napoli has produced…

StatsNut83
Guest
StatsNut83
3 years 9 months ago

I was wondering throughout the article as well if Jeff was going to bring up the fact that Napoli caught quite a few of the Angels pitchers. Maybe he wasn’t the best at handling pitchers, but surely he has a memory of how they like to approach hitters.
This may not be the entire reason, along with focus and motivation…but surely it doesn’t hurt his ability to hit the Angels’ staff.

Tom SInclair
Guest
Tom SInclair
3 years 9 months ago

If anyone is still following this thread, is there anyone who wants to look at other catchers’ performance against former pitchers they have caught? As my wife said, “What? You mean there’s a stat nobody has looked at?” Thanks.

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