Coming into the season, most considered Angels’ backstop Mike Napoli to be one of the dozen best fantasy catchers in the game, and why wouldn’t they? He had a .362 wOBA with 20 homers and 56 RBI in 432 plate appearances last season, a year after going .399-20-49 in 264 PA in 2008. CHONE forecast another 19 homers in 2010, which is fantasy gold from a catcher.
And yet, Mike Scioscia loves him some Jeff Mathis. Just loves him. Mathis has started seven of the team’s nine games (including today), relegating Napoli to backup/pinch-hitting duty. Even worse, Mathis is fueling Scioscia’s mancrush by hitting .350/.364/.500 with a .368 wOBA in the early going. However, expecting that to last is just plain foolish. Mathis has a .266 career wOBA in close to 900 plate appearances, and his slugging percentage is his 31 points lower than Napoli’s on-base percentage. I’m well aware that Mathis has a good defensive rep with Napoli has quite the opposite, but sheesh.
Napoli is owned in 67% of Yahoo! leagues, and 100% of his owners are frustrated by his lack of playing time. There is some hope though. The Halos are just 2-6 with 29 runs scored, and when teams start to lose games in bunches and struggle to score runs, one of the first things the manager will do is mix up the lineup. With his never-ending contract and status as The Greatest Manager Who Ever Lived™, Scioscia should know that swapping Mathis with Napoli is the easiest move to make if he wants his team to score more runs. Plus there’s always the possibility of an injury, given the nature of the position.
Until that happens, the fantasy owners suffer. The possibility of 20 jacks from a catcher is too good to let go this early in the season, so dropping him shouldn’t even be a consideration. Hold on to Napoli for the time being and just ride out the storm. Try to grab Chris Snyder (11% owned) or heck, even Mathis and his somewhat hot start (4%) to hold you over. Napoli and his bat will find their way into the lineup eventually, at some point Scioscia won’t have much of a choice.