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Napoli celebrates his assist on the final put-out of the Rangers' game 5 win.
It's a no-brainer right now but with one or maybe even two games left there's room for this to change. Mike Napoli is the World Series MVP as of Tuesday morning.
He's hitting .308, his ops is 1.235, he has two home runs and 11 runs batted in. The numbers are nice—until you consider that Pujols eclipsed them in just one outrageous Game 3 performance. What makes him the prohibitive MVP favorite right now is the circumstances under which he's performed.
It was Napoli's three-run home run that provided Derek Holland with enough breathing room to pitch into the ninth inning in Sunday's crucial Game 4. It was Napoli's bases loaded eighth inning double that provided the go-ahead and eventual game winning runs in Monday's Game 5.
The catching position is one of the few in baseball where the glove is afforded equal or even superior standing in the overall evaluation of an individual's performance. Indeed many (myself included) felt that the Cardinals had entered the series with an advantage at the catcher position. Yet Napoli has provided not just solid but great defense in this series. He's blocked some balls and in last night's low scoring and crucial Game 5 he threw out two would-be base-stealers as well as assisting on the game's final put-out.
Yadier Molina, the Cardinals catcher, has won the last three national league gold gloves for catching and seems poised to possibly win a fourth soon after the conclusion of this World Series. His offense was solid too. He led all major league catchers with over 400 at-bats in batting average this past season with a .305 average.
Napoli to his credit was coming off his finest defensive season as a catcher. He still managed to log only 369 at-bats this past season. That's in large part to arriving in Texas with a reputation for somewhat subpar defense and a questionable record of handling pitching staffs.
A result of years of platooning in Los Angeles under Mike Scioscia, indeed Napoli had been dealt, not once but twice this past offseason. First he went from Los Angeles to Toronto who decided to allow Jeff Mathis to platoon with up and coming youngster Hank Conger as well as take on the burdensome contract of Vernon Wells. Then he was sent from Toronto to Texas less than a week later in exchange for relief pitcher Frank Francisco and some cash.
What stands out about Napoli's season even before his World Series heroics is what he did in those 369 at-bats. He hit 30 home runs—if Napoli had managed even 500 at-bats this past season (DH/Catcher, whatever) he would be projected to have hit 41 home runs. Jose Bautista led the majors with 43. Would a catcher hitting over .300 with over 40 home runs and over 100 rbi have been an MVP favorite? Yes, he would have been.
Well Napoli defenders and loyalists need not be too worried because as of now he's a World Series MVP favorite.