Mike Napoli Isn’t Done Shaping the 2011 Season

As far as team sports go, baseball is a bit odd. Unlike the constant motion sports like hockey and basketball and soccer, baseball is incredibly granular, with each event taking part in its own discrete space. The only major team sport (at least in America) that shares this granularity is football, but even football shares more with the aforementioned three than it does with baseball, due to the necessity of exceptionally coordinated team movements.

Instead, baseball is a series of individual vs. individual events. Oddly enough, this highly individual-based game seems to prevent all but the very greatest players of all time from carrying teams on their backs to championships — and even then, the production of a Barry Bonds or an Albert Pujols cannot hold a candle to what a Michael Jordan or a Bill Russell ever did for their teams, largely because these highly individualized events can actually exclude baseball’s superstars from even participating at all when the game is on the line.

Perhaps it is because of this phenomenon of the sport that we’ve seen Mike Napoli — a semi-platooned catcher-slash-designated hitter who was cast off by not one but two general managers by February– define so much of the American League in 2011.

Of course, while the above labeling of Napoli is true, it is a bit dramatic. As it turns out, the guy can flat out rake. Upon the move to Texas, Napoli discovered the ability to make contact and a true beast was unleashed on the American League. With a career low 19.7% strikeout rate (and the help of The Ballpark in Arlington), Napoli’s fantastic power was truly freed, manifesting itself in a career high 30 home runs in just 432 plate appearances. Although he does other things well — like take a walk once every eight plate appearances — this power was largely the basis beyond his excellent 5.6 wins above replacement.

Seeing as the Rangers finished ten games in front of the Angels, it’s probably fair to say they would have had the inside track without Napoli, but as I wrote in September it’s a much closer proposition.

Put Napoli back on the Angels and Vernon Wells back on the Toronto Blue Jays? The division-winning Rangers lose their best hitter of the season, and the second place Angels funnel some plate appearances from their three worst players (Wells, Jeff Mathis, and Bobby Wilson, who combined for -0.7 WAR in 937 trips) to some of their best (Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout along with Napoli, with 10.7 WAR in 1,119 trips). With that lineup to go with the two-headed monster that is Dan Haren and Jered Weaver, it isn’t difficult to envision the Angels with 96 wins instead of Texas, especially seeing as a few of the 12 victories the Rangers took over the Angels could be flipped in this wild what-if scenario.

Of course, all this is is one massive what-if, and it was a Texas team that Napoli helped to the playoffs instead of one in Anaheim of Los Angeles. Still, if Napoli wasn’t the most valuable player of the American League West, his overarching story was definitely the most influential.

And his impact doesn’t end there — although Texas was carried through the playoffs by Nelson Cruz (and an amazing bullpen), Napoli made his mark in each of the first two playoff series as well. The 29-year-old righty went 4-for-14 in the series against the Rays, punching home two RBI in the Rangers’ first win of the postseason in Game Two and delivering the death blow of Game Three with a two-run home run in the seventh inning off Rays ace David Price. He followed that up with a 7-for-24 performance in the ALCS, with his lone RBI coming as the go-ahead single off Jose Valverde in the tenth inning of Game Four, putting the Rangers in control of the series.

As the attention centers around Cruz and his stellar six-homer postseason — and rightfully so — Napoli, just as in April, sits outside the spotlight. But of any of the hitters participating in the 2011 World Series, Napoli put together the most impressive offensive output of the year, with his 1.046 OPS, .444 wOBA, and 178 wRC+ all leading the pack, and by a rather wide margin — 87 points of OPS, 42 points of wOBA, and 24 points of wRC+ over Lance Berkman. Although I wouldn’t say Napoli is the most talented hitter of the bunch — I would probably have to give Albert Pujols that nod — Napoli’s ability to produce in the World Series should not be questioned. He has been shaping the landscape of the season since January, and there is no reason to believe he will stop now.



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Kevin S.
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Kevin S.
4 years 9 months ago

How did Napoli hit that well and still only manage to get 430 PA? I blame Michael Young.

Telo
Guest
Telo
4 years 9 months ago

I blame the crack.

GotHeem
Guest
GotHeem
4 years 9 months ago

Society

Steve
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Steve
4 years 9 months ago

He wasn’t the starting catcher for about half the season. He was splitting time with Torrealba and getting some burn at 1B and DH.

joser
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joser
4 years 9 months ago

He was injured for about 3 weeks at the end of June, costing him 75-80 PA

Josh
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Josh
4 years 9 months ago

He was platooned at the beginning of the year while he wasnt swinging the bat well. He also battled injuries for a good part of the first half. Once he started hitting well he didn’t sit.

Mike H
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Mike H
4 years 9 months ago

If Napoli was on the Angels, he wouldn’t have played nearly as much.

drewcorb
Member
drewcorb
4 years 9 months ago

Is it kind of accepted that Napoli’s numbers wouldn’t be quite so amazing with a full season of plate appearances? I would expect the numbers to regress a little if he wasn’t getting withheld from the lineup in the cases of bad matchups. So I do not consider Napoli’s output to be the most impressive.

Isn’t his WAR a little propped up by his primary position being catcher? (If WAR accounts for him playing multiple positions, please make me aware) He’s not exactly Pudge Rodriguez back there. I’m sure Big Papi’s WAR would go way up if you slapped a catcher’s mitt and chest protector on him and told him to have at it, even though he has nothing defensively to offer from that position.

Ira
Guest
Ira
4 years 9 months ago

To answer your question, his WAR is boosted a bit by being a catcher. But he was also a very good catcher as well. he caught 12 of 33 runners attempting to steal, and was universally lauded for his game calling and framing of pitches.

Years ago there was the Nichols Law of Catcher Defense which states:
“a catcher’s defensive reputation is inversely proportional to their offensive abilities. Therefore light-hitting catchers get good defensive reputations and top hitters like Ted Simmons wind up with lousy reputations. One can note that many catchers have lost a reputation for glovework once they began hitting better and that the opposite is also true, further reinforcing Nichols’ Law. ”

But in truth Napoli has been great both at the plate and behind it. so much so that the guy the Rangers signed to be the everyday Catcher, Yorvit Torrealba, saw time at DH this post season.

bluecaboose
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bluecaboose
4 years 9 months ago

even if you add 100 empty pa to napoli’s line, you wind up with .252/.336/.497, which ranks him second in qualified OPS behind avila. If you add 100 PA of napoli at his worst (i used a .217/.280/.435 line, vaguely extrapolated out from last years statistics), and you’re looking at .299/.389/.592. He had a pretty tremendous year any way you look at it.

Bryan
Guest
4 years 9 months ago

Kevin, I blame Young too. In fact, I made the case a few weeks ago that the Rangers would have been even better this year if someone had taken Young off their hands (though to be fair, injuries played a role too).
http://replacementlevel.wordpress.com/2011/10/05/napoli-and-young/

Ed Miller
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Ed Miller
4 years 9 months ago

I’m guessing his WAR was mostly propped up by the .444 wOBA.

And yeah WAR counts the position you play in each game.

Mike Scioscia
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Mike Scioscia
4 years 9 months ago

This article is terrible. I read it three times through and it still sounds like you’re trying to say that Mike Napoli is good at baseball.

Get a clue.

Grebe
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Grebe
4 years 9 months ago

This guy’s got a point. Napoli rarely ever goes first-to-third… what with all those doubles and home runs he hits.

Andrew
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Andrew
4 years 9 months ago

Napoli also doesn’t make enough productive outs and his knee angle in his squat is unacceptable.

Grebe
Guest
Grebe
4 years 9 months ago

I heard one time Jeff Mathis grounded out, and on the way back to the dugout saw a lost kitten with a broken leg, which he then rescued and nursed back to health. I bet that jerk Napoli would have been too busy trotting around the bases or something dumb like that to even notice the poor thing.

MrKnowNothing
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MrKnowNothing
4 years 9 months ago

I think it’s safe to say that he’s more then PROBABLY a better hitter than Albert Pujols.

adr3
Guest
adr3
4 years 9 months ago

I keep hearing everyone talk about the Texas lineup….. but after adjusting for park effects and the DH, the Cards are actually a bit better according to OPS+. It should be a fun series!

wings of joy
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wings of joy
4 years 9 months ago

the rangers have a higher wOBA, better baserunning, and far superior defense. also, they don’t have a conventional DH so their offense wouldn’t really suffer without it.

Telo
Guest
Telo
4 years 9 months ago

Also, let’s not misrepresent reality…

“catcher-slash-designated hitter who was cast off by not one but two general managers by February– define so much of the American League in 2011.”

AA had no intentions of keeping him.

Telo
Guest
Telo
4 years 9 months ago

I mean, it’s hard to be “cast off” when he was never really “on”.

Abreutime
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Abreutime
4 years 9 months ago

“Traded for a RP” might be one definition of castoff.

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