Mike Napoli Red Sox Rumors: Why His Swing Is a Perfect Fit for Fenway Park
The Boston Red Sox were able to retain a significant power threat when they re-signed longtime DH David Ortiz to a two-year contract earlier this month. But with Adrian Gonzalez long gone and Cody Ross probably headed elsewhere in the coming months, they're going to need to find at least one more power source this winter.
How about Mike Napoli?
The Red Sox have been linked to Napoli pretty consistently ever since the offseason got underway, and the latest word from Rob Bradford of WEEI.com is that the Sox are still interested in the free-agent slugger even after signing backup catcher David Ross to a two-year contract over the weekend.
Napoli is a fit for the Red Sox because he could catch on a semi-everyday basis so long as a trade of Jarrod Saltalamacchia clears the way for him to do so. And just like he did with the Texas Rangers over the last two seasons, Napoli could also fill in at first base on occasion.
Napoli isn't much of a defensive gem at either position, but the Red Sox would be able to live with his questionable defense because of the other big reason why Napoli is a good fit for them:
His bat and Fenway Park are a match made in heaven.
Red Sox fans probably don't need to be reminded of the damage Napoli has inflicted on the Red Sox throughout his career. But just in case any Sox fans out there have forgotten, Napoli has a 1.075 OPS in 38 career games against the Red Sox with 15 home runs, his most against any non-AL West club.
Napoli has tended to hit Boston well regardless of the given day's venue, but he's certainly enjoyed hitting Sox pitching at Fenway Park. He has a 1.107 OPS in 19 career games at Fenway, with seven homers and four doubles.
All told, Napoli has a .710 career slugging percentage at Fenway, his highest at any ballpark in which he's played at least 19 games.
Bear in mind that we're only talking regular-season numbers here. It's worth noting that Napoli clubbed two homers at Fenway Park in Game 3 of the 2008 ALDS when he was still with the Los Angeles Angels, pretty much single-handedly leading the Angels to a 5-4 victory.
It should come as no surprise that Napoli has done so much damage at Fenway. It's not exactly fair to call him a pull hitter, as Napoli can and will hit the ball the other way, usually with pretty good power to boot. His main power alley, however, is definitely to left field.
Per FanGraphs, Napoli is a .379 hitter with a .765 slugging percentage in his career when he hits the ball to left field. He also has an ISO—a stat that essentially measures a hitter's raw power—of .387 when he hits the ball to left. Of Napoli's 146 career home runs, 77 have gone out to left field. He has good power numbers to center and right field as well, but they're not quite as prolific as his numbers towards Fenways' most famous alley.
This is the profile of a hitter who would very much enjoy taking aim at the Green Monster on a regular basis, and goodness knows Napoli wouldn't be the first right-handed hitter to have his numbers boosted by regular action at Fenway Park.
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Cody Ross is a perfect example. He posted a .735 OPS in 2010 and a .730 OPS in 2011, and then managed an .807 OPS in his first (and only?) year in Boston in 2012. The uptick had everything to do with his success at Fenway Park, as he managed a .921 OPS in home games and a mere .684 OPS on the road. He slugged .565 at home, and .390 on the road.
You can also think back to Mike Lowell when he had his great season with the Red Sox in 2007. That year, he hit 14 of his 21 homers at Fenway and his OPS at home was 226 points higher than it was on the road. A large reason for that was his slugging percentage, which was 147 points higher at home.
Napoli could easily succeed where Lowell and Ross left off before him. Put him in a Sox uniform and allow him to play half his games at Fenway Park, and he'd surely hit more than a few balls over the Monster. He'd also surely add a few more dents in the Monster itself.
Granted, we're talking about a perfect-world reality here. For all his power, Napoli has his flaws as a hitter. Most notably, he's as strikeout-prone as the next slugger, as he saw his strikeout rate jump up from 19.7 percent in 2011 to an even 30 percent in 2012. He has a 25.4 percent strikeout rate for his career, so Napoli essentially went back to being himself last season after a hugely successful outlier season in 2011.
The other thing that happened in 2012 was that Napoli's BABIP spiked from .344 to .273. A drop like that was to be expected, of course, as it's very hard to maintain a BABIP as high as .344 from one year to the next unless you have the speed to leg out infield base hits. Napoli most certainly does not.
So if the Red Sox do sign Napoli, nobody should feel comfortable enough to sit back and wait for the guy who hit .320 with a 1.046 OPS in 2011 to arrive. He's not going to be that good again.
As great as it would be for Napoli to give the Red Sox a .300-plus average and an OPS over 1.000, the truth is that he doesn't have to put up strong numbers in those departments to be a productive player. This was very much the case in 2012, as Napoli still hit 24 home runs and posted a solid .812 OPS in 108 games despite his increased strikeout rate and decreased BABIP.
A fair expectation for Napoli in 2013 regardless of where he signs consists of somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 homers and an OPS north of .800. If he ends up playing half his games at Fenway Park as a member of the Red Sox, a fair expectation would be more like 30 home runs and an OPS closer to .900.
Seeing as how no member of the 2012 Red Sox hit as many as 30 home runs and only one regular, David Ortiz, managed an OPS over .835, Napoli sounds to me like a hitter they could use.
Your call, Red Sox.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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