First Things First

With the notoriously streaky Mike Napoli streaking in the wrong direction (again) what, if anything, should the Red Sox do at first base?

Brian Butterfield congratulates Mike Carp as he rounds third base after a home run. (Keith Allison on Flickr)

If you follow me on Twitter (and really, why wouldn’t you?) then you know that this column was completed minutes before Napoli hit a 9th inning, 2-run, game-tying home run on Wednesday night in Toronto. While one home run does not necessarily end a slump, when Napoli gets going he tends to really turn it on. We will see. I decided to leave the column as it was prior to the home run, except for a few added italicized comments.) 

In the July Roster Power Rankings, I referred to Mike Napoli as a “Tale of Two Cities Player”. He’s been the best of times, and he’s been the worst of times.

On multiple occasions he’s even been both during the same game. Consider his performance against the Yankees on July 21. What you and I both remember about that game is that he hit a monster home run off of CC Sabathia to deep left in the third inning, and a walk-off homer in the 11th inning to give the Sox the 7-6 win. But do you know what happened in his other four at-bats? He struck out three times and grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded. It may sound harsh given the two huge home runs, but two-thirds of his at bats in that game were awful. 

That game represented Napoli’s season in a nutshell. He’s been an all (29 2B, 14 HR) or nothing (league-leading 158K) player.

Take a look at his monthly splits:

April 104 13 4 40 6 .269 .321 .529 .850
May 103 7 4 38 16 .252 .358 .437 .795
June 76 1 1 25 10 .263 .352 .316 .668
July 83 7 5 37 11 .241 .330 .530 .860
August 37 1 0 18 7 .135 .304 .162


His numbers are flat out schizophrenic. He had 13 doubles in April, and only 16 since then. While he was busy hitting for solid power in the first month of the season, he wasn’t walking at all. He went from slugging .529 in April to .316 in June. In April, May, and July he hit 18 home runs, while in the other month and a half of the season he has hit only one. He’s hitting a meager .212 with runners in scoring position. All of that has combined to make Napoli one of the most exciting, and most frustrating Red Sox players in recent memory.

As frustrations begin to mount during his miserable August showing, other alternatives begin to surface. On Wednesday, John Farrell dropped Napoli to the 7th hole, a far cry from the coveted cleanup spot where he started the season. So, let’s take a look at some of the other options that have been suggested in recent days.

Not Going to Happen:

Trade for Justin Morneau — With Mike Carp hitting .309/.370/.564 and making just over $500,000, why exactly would you trade for another left-handed first baseman who is hitting .262/.318/.423 for 28 times the cost? That’s right, you wouldn’t.

Trade for Paul Konerko — At least he’s a right handed hitter, because without Napoli and Middlebrooks hitting home runs this team is really lacking for a consistent right-handed power hitting threat. Unfortunately, Paul Konerko, while still right-handed no longer qualifies as a consistent power hitting threat. After a decade and a half of solid home run numbers, he has managed to accumulate only nine home runs to this point of the season. His putrid .240/.304/.354 stat line comes with a price tag of $13,500,000. Unless Kenny Williams is going to trade you Konerko and a time machine in a package deal, it’s advisable to stay away. The Red Sox will.

Move Will Middlebrooks to 1B, bring up Xander Bogaerts to play 3B — Everyone needs to settle down. If you only allowed someone to look at Twitter or listen to sports talk radio and not permit them to check the actual league standings, they would probably think that the Sox are 10 games out of the Wild Card right now.  If you want to move Napoli out of the lineup because he strikes out too much (34.3 K%) and your solution is to move Middlebrooks (27.5 K%) into that slot, you have a screw loose. Middlebrooks has never played first base in his life, and there is not much evidence to suggest that his bat has enough value to play at first base on a regular basis.

Promote Mark Hamilton – He’s hitting .265/.373/.496 with 12 HR in Pawtucket, which are fine numbers for a AAA player. But not the numbers of a player who is about to be promoted. He’d be like Mauro Gomez with less power, which may be one of the most insulting thing I’ve ever written.

May Actually Happen:

Temporarily Bench Napoli in favor of Mike Carp — You may see this as soon as Thursday’s game against the Blue Jays, the question is how long Farrell would be willing to let Napoli sit out. Farrell said on Wednesday that he is happy with Nap’s defense, so he’s not planning to take him out of the lineup for any extended amount of time. Yet.

The issue with benching a player as wildly inconsistent as Napoli is that you’ve already suffered through the most recent valley, and if you bench him now you might miss out on the next peak. After all, the only people who get hurt on roller coasters are the ones who jump off. (Foreshadowing alert! Like I was saying, Farrell, don’t bench Napoli you might miss out on some game-changing home runs!) 

Should Happen:

Platoon Mike Napoli and Mike Carp — Carp’s numbers suggest this is a great idea. He’s a .315 hitter against right-handed pitching, with 13 2B, 7 HR and a .959 OPS. He wears righties out. Conversely, against left-handed pitching, he hasn’t been nearly as strong (.273 BA, 1 2B, 1 HR, .759 OPS). Unfortunately, Napoli has not been as effective against lefties this season as he has over the course of his career. For his career he’s a .269/.375/.508 hitter against LHP. However, this season he sits at only .244/.338/.395. His numbers are actually slightly better against right-handed pitching across the board. Still, a Napoli/Carp platoon certainly has appeal and it makes sense. (Napoli’s homer came against lefty Brett Cecil, so in my plan he still would have been batting in that situation. I’m not going down without a fight!) 

In 184 plate appearances Mike Carp has posted an oWAR of 1.5. Napoli has had 276 more plate appearances, and has managed to accumulate an oWAR of only 1.0.

Based on Carp’s performance, it’s pretty easy to say that he deserves more playing time. (This is still true.) 

Based on Napoli’s performance, it’s getting increasingly easier to say that he deserves less. (This may end up making me look like a moron when Napoli goes on another tear. I hope that’s the case.) 

Categories: Boston Red Sox Daniel Nava Justin Morneau Mike Carp Mike Napoli Paul Konerko Will Middlebrooks Xander Bogaerts

I'm a native Mainer and life-long Red Sox fan living among way too many Yankees fans in New York. I spent most of my childhood convinced that Spike Owen was going to be awesome, sooner or later. The last time I punched a wall was October 16, 2003. My bucket list included personally thanking a Red Sox player for 2004, something I was finally able to check off when I met Trot Nixon. Follow @JK7_

3 Responses to “First Things First” Subscribe

  1. Mike in VA Beach August 16, 2013 at 9:17 AM #

    How about a trade with Colorado for Michael Cuddyer?

    • JK7_ August 16, 2013 at 3:18 PM #

      Mike in VA Beach Yeah, for this I was just looking at options from now until the end of the year (and Cuddyer’s salary isn’t bad enough that I can imagine he would clear waivers, or make it all the way to Boston for a trade). 
       If Colorado wanted to move him, cheaply (I’m not paying much in the way of prospects with some of the other options out there), he’d be an interesting option in 2014, and his $10.5M isn’t out of line at all for his salary. Personally I would rather see Carp get the shot, or a free agent signing (like Morales) that would cost money but not prospects, like Cuddyer.
      Most of all, though, I want Jose Daniel Abreu playing 1B for the Red Sox in the near future.

  2. Boourns76 August 19, 2013 at 1:31 PM #

    I think the BoSox would be best served by trading one or more of their pitching prospects (where they’re loaded) for Allen Craig or Matt Adams.  St. Louis may have a lot of public pressure to re-sign Beltran, and so an attractive offer for one of their young 1bs might make sense for them.  Craig would solve our RH issue, and Adams could be a potential replacement for Ortiz’s lefthanded power down the line.  Either would be a nice addition to the lineup, and given how clogged our pitching pipeline is, would basically be at close to negligible marginal cost for the parent club.  Ranaudo + de la Rosa would probably get this done, right?