Year of the Breakout: Mike Napoli

The Angels and Blue Jays made one of the worst trades of the year when they pretty much gave away Mike Napoli to the Texas Rangers. For some reason, the Angels believed that Jeff Mathis was a better player than the current World Series hero. However, Ron Washington really isn’t using his best hitter of the season well at all, as he usually hits the 5.6 WAR catcher seventh in the order. Although it isn’t quite as criminal as what the Angels were doing with the back-to-back 20 HR hitter, the Rangers could stand to give him some better chances at the plate.

We always have to take the good with the bad, and it’s usually best to start with the bad. Napoli’s .320 batting average is largely unsustainable as his BABIP of .344 was well above his career average of .303. One thing to remember is that his contact rate has increased, and his line drive rate and groundball rates have increased a little as well. Those factors lead me to believe that he should hit at least .280 most years (career BA of .264). The main reason for this increase in batting average is BABIP, but some of it should be attributed to an increased walk rate met with a strikeout rate last season that was significantly less than his career average. As for the increased groundball rate, that’s only a concern if he isn’t mashing. And man, he is driving the ball further on fly balls than he ever has over his career. The groundball rate has helped his average, but it hasn’t hurt his power.

For Napoli, the power has always been there, career ISO of .249, but he really turned it up a notch this season with 30 HRs and a .312 ISO. I do want to note that Napoli once had an ISO of .313 in 2008 when he hit 20 taters in just 274 plate appearances. I expect him to hit at least 25 home runs for the next few seasons. At 29, he is beginning to enter his peak years, and it leaves us wondering what he could have accomplished had the Angels not been so ignorant of his obvious ability. Catchers don’t last very long in the MLB, so it is in the team’s best interest to give him a little more playing time as a DH- or at first base if they can handle his poor defense- to lengthen his peak years a little more. They are doing a pretty good job of that right now though, so I expect Napoli to continue mashing for at least three more seasons.

The scouting data says that he isn’t fooled by pitchers changing speeds anymore, and he finally started hitting changeups well. He’s always been death to fastballs, but he has finally stepped back and erased one of his weaknesses as a hitter. However, I don’t expect pitchers to keep throwing fastballs more than 60% of their pitches against him (a career-high). Although he is a hero now, he has struggled in his career- especially this season- in high-leverage situations. But of course, we can just chalk that up to statistical noise. The pressure does get to him at times, but it doesn’t hinder his hitting ability in a noticeable way at all. I mean, just look at what he has been doing to the Cards; insane.

Mike Napoli‘s power is simply unreal for a catcher, and he actually played solid D behind the plate for the first time in his career (something not likely to continue). However, his wRC+ of 178 for the season speaks for itself, as does his career wRC+ of 130. He should continue to be at least a 4 WAR player as his career continues, and the Rangers have finally uncovered his true value as one of the best offensive catchers (players) in baseball.

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Tags: Jeff Mathis LA Angels Mike Napoli Texas Rangers

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