Mike Napoli Stands Alone

There’s been quite a bit of chatter on blogs and Twitter about Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington‘s decision to bat Mike Napoli seventh in World Series Games 1, 2 and 3 — and eighth in Games 4 and 5. This author has been a part of the chatter, going so far as to start a Napoli Support Group with the Twitter hashtag #BatNapoliHigher.

So why the hubbub?

Napoli has been the Rangers best hitter in the postseason. In 51 at bats, he has 16 hits, including one (game-winning) double and three home runs. His postseason slash through 16 games is .314/.383/.570. Napoli’s playoff run comes on the heels of his superb regular season: .320/.414/.631 in 432 at-bats with a wOBA of .444 and a wRC+ of 178. He led the Rangers in every one of those offensive categories.

It’s not every day that you see a manager bat his best offensive player seventh or eighth in the lineup — especially in the World Series.

In fact, I wasn’t able to identify any other instance in the past 25 years where a manager batted his most productive regular-season player seventh or lower during any one playoff series.

To be sure, since 1986, there have been several players who hit out of the seven, eight or nine hole and posted the best offensive numbers for their teams in a single postseason. But none was the most productive player on his team during the regular season.

Mark Lemke is the prime example of a player who came out of nowhere to lead his team offensively in the playoffs. During the 1991 season, the Braves second baseman hit a paltry .234/.305/.312. His wOBA was .279 and he managed a wRC+ of just 70. Not typically the stats of a future postseason star.

But in the 1991 World Series, Lemke was the Braves’ most-potent offensive force, batting .417/.462/.708 in 24 at bats over six games. In three games he batted seventh; in the other three he batted eighth. The next most-productive Braves hitter in the Series was Terry Pendleton, who hit .367/.424/.667 in 30 at bats over seven games. Pendleton hit second in all but one World Series game; in the other, he batted third.

In 2003, the unsuspecting hero was Florida Marlins left fielder Jeff Conine. The Marlins got Conine from the Baltimore Orioles late that season. In 84 at-bats with the Fish, he batted only .238/.337/.452 with five home runs. Derrick Lee, Mike Lowell and Ivan Rodriguez all had better numbers than Conine in the regular season. But the postseason was a different story. Batting out of the seventh spot in the lineup for 14 of the Marlins’ 17 games, Conine put together a team-leading slash of .367/.437/.483 in 60 at bats. He had 22 hits, including two doubles and a home run. He also walked nine times. Only Rodriguez came close to matching Conine’s postseason offensive output, hitting third in the lineup.

Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz revved the Phillies’ offensive engine in the 2009 postseason from the eighth and ninth spots in the batting order. In 15 games, Ruiz hit .341/.491/.591 with three doubles, one triple and two home runs. He outperformed Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino — all of whom posted significantly better numbers than Ruiz during the regular season.

And then there’s last year’s World Series MVP, Edgar Renteria. To say that Renteria wasn’t an offensive force for San Francisco in 2010 is an understatement. A big understatement. He played only 72 games, hitting .276/.332/.374 with a wOBA of .313 and a wRC+ of 93. His power was all but gone, leading to an ISO of .099 and just three home runs.

In late October, Renteria came alive. In just 17 at bats during the five-game series, Renteria hit two home runs, including the game-winning shot in Game 5 in Arlington. His overall line was .412/.444/.765, the best among Giants’ hitters. And he did it hitting eighth in the lineup in all five games.

There are others including Minnesota’s light-hitting second baseman, Steve Lombardozzi (7-for-17 in the 1987 World Series hitting eighth and ninth), and Toronto Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders (9-for-20 in the 1992 World Series, while hitting eighth).

But Napoli stands alone.

Stop the insanity. Join the Mike Napoli Support Group and use the hashtag #BatNapoliHigher.

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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

26 Responses to “Mike Napoli Stands Alone”

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  1. Nick V says:

    Over the course of a full season, the optimal batting order provides only a few more runs than a random one. I imagine that a difference of, what, 3-4 spots for a single player is the definition of negligible. And if I had to guess, I’d bet that if any lineup decision is costing the Rangers runs, it’s batting Andrus 2nd or Mitch Moreland at all.

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    • Josh says:

      Couldn’t disagree more. I mean, I see where you are coming from with a “big league hitters are good overall” type standpoint, but over the course of the season the guys hitting in the top of the order will get significantly more ABs than the guys at the bottom, so it does make a huge difference what the order is.

      Anyway, at this point if it were me I would (for tonight):

      Then again, I coach 12 year olds haha.

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    • JC says:

      But in the course of the World Series only 1 extra run could be really important. And he gets more at bats if he’s higher in the order.

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  2. Telo says:

    Don’t you get it yet? When Mike Napoli and Jeff Francoeur were born, God took all of Nap’s “It Factor” and gave it to Frenchy, (probably because he was so cool and kept everyone loose up in heaven). Forever will Napoli give managers that feeling of “meh…I can’t really explain it, but despite your obvious elite power and solid plate discipline, I just have this urge to bench you in favor of a .250 wOBA hitter. Sorry bro.”

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  3. Scout Finch says:


    Why not switch Napoli and Young ? It’s crazy.

    Both of these teams deserve to lose given their managerial idiocies. Call a draw.

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    • Ron Washington says:

      Why not switch Napoli and Young? Young out-hit Napoli by .018 points this season, and has out-hit him by .040 points in his career.

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  4. Yirmiyahu says:

    But he’s a catcher. Rules say you’re not allowed to bat a catcher higher than 7th. And your #1 and #2 hitters need to play center, 2B, or SS. Rules is rules.

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  5. AndyS says:

    What about when Joe Torre batted A-Rod 8th for a game?

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    • Spunky says:

      Yeah but A-Rod wasn’t the Yankees’ best hitter that year. Derek Jeter was the Yankees’ best hitter in 2006.

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  6. Sean says:

    Re: Batting Napoli 8th.

    It worked.

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  7. Richie says:

    Making such a move long before would’ve been a good idea. At this point? Bumming out one of your performers in the middle of the playoffs just to change a batting order? Great idea if you’re playing with baseball cards.

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    • Bill says:

      Exactly, Richie!

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      • Zach says:

        Exactly what? The goal is to win. If a player can’t take being pushed down in the batting order to give a better batter a better chance of helping your team win then he needs to go play beer league softball. This is the bigs and there’s no crying in baseball.

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  8. Ian R. says:

    Sure, it’s a small difference. It’s also a difference that a team can get entirely for free. If Napoli gets one more at-bat in Game 6 or 7 because of being a few spots higher in the order, that could be a huge difference maker. It could also come to nothing, but the best percentage play would involve putting the team’s most productive hitter somewhere in the top half of the order.

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  9. Matt says:

    If this was a baseball card replay, of course you hit Napoli 3rd or 4th. But it isn’t a replay. And some hitters, for whatever reason, do NOT thrive in the 3rd or 4th slot in the lineup.

    Michael Morse hit .326 – .382 – .660 in the 5 spot in 141 at bats, but those numbers dropped to .298 – .366 – .532 in the 4 spot in 325 at bats. Why did his OPS drop 144 points? I don’t know, but it did. Jason Bay had a .576 OPS batting 4th but an .860 OPS batting 6th (over 100 plate apps in both scenarios). Why the huge discrepancy? I’m fairly sure nobody knows. But it happened.

    Mike Napoli had his best numbers while batting in the 8th spot during the regular season. I don’t know why, but he did. Maybe that is why RW is keeping him there for the playoffs. A bird in the hand and all that.

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