Mike Napoli has struck out 178 times this year. That means 178 times you have used inappropriate language, 178 times you have wondered what would have happened if that wild, powerful swing had just made contact, 178 times you have remembered Mark
Bellhorn, and 178 times you have sworn off Mike Napoli.
Perhaps one of the times you furiously clicked your remote as another Napoli K sent you to commercial break, you switched to the movie “Big” and saw a child assuming he wants to be big, only to find out the future is not as rosy as it seems in our ill-conceived dreams. Maybe you found your way to the Little Mermaid, when Sebastian is suggesting to a dreaming mermaid princess that “the seaweed is [not] always greener in somebody else’s lake.”
Then, perhaps you remembered James Loney manning first base last September, which seems like years before his semi-Renaissance with the Rays this season. What you remembered is that, before you jettison a highly frustrating player – even one with 178 (!) strike outs, perhaps you should remember that the seaweed is still fairly green in Napoli’s lake.
In fact, Adrian Gonzalez, and his $23 million a year salary, and Mike Napoli have the similar OPS+ (126 for Napoli, 125 Gonzalez), similar bWAR (3.6 for Napoli and 3.5 for Gonzalez), and Napoli has a strikingly higher fWAR (3.5 to 2.6). For all of the strikeouts,
Napoli has been a revelation on defense (it appears that borderline catching skills can translate to strong first base skills. Perhaps that is the new market inefficiency?), a decent - if still aggravatingly slow – baserunner, and maintains impressive on base skills even
with his frustrating aptness to swing and miss (.357 OBP for career and season).
In fact, Napoli’s season is strikingly in line with his career numbers. The Red Sox are getting what they could reasonably expected. His career line is .259/.357/.503, and this season is posting a .262/.357/.485.
Further, Mike Napoli has seen a whopping 2,5oo pitches this season, which means that Napoli is seeing an average of 4.58 pitches per plate appearance. If Napoli gets 4 plate appearances in a game, he accounts for 18 pitches a night. In a world where starting
pitchers are the best pitchers, yet they are yanked after 100 pitches, this is a sneaky valuable stat. Napoli helps get to bullpens, and bullpens are where teams put up crooked numbers.
Add the above average defense (Fangraphs has him worth 8.2 runs saved above average, which is nearly 1 win worth of value) and this is Napoli’s second best season of his career according to WAR. So valuable, in fact, that FanGraphs values Napoli’s production on the open market to be worth $17.4 million dollars this season alone.
Meanwhile, Red Sox Nation seems to be hung up on the strike outs. We all know that a strike out is mildly less valuable than a normal out because there is nothing that can be done after strike three is recorded. No tag ups, no errors, no indecision. But, an out is an
out. Let us discard our antique notions that some outs are better or worse than others. Outs suck. They kill rallies. But even with the strikeouts, Napoli is very good at avoiding outs, as his .357 OBP reminds us.
So, enough with “move Middlebrooks to 1b” nonsense. Middlebrooks has potential value because of his bat potential at a premium defensive position that he can handle (namely third base). WMB cannot hit like Napoli. Go ahead and count out the possibility, it is not
likely. So, unless the Red Sox sign Jose Abreu – which would be AWESOME – let’s resign a less expensive Adrian Gonzalez. Actually, let me get that right. Let’s re-sign the player we already have, who also happens to be better than Adrian Gonzalez.