POTD Mike Napoli

=== Defense Below the Waterline? ===

We might bear in mind ... no manager in the game works more closely with his catchers than Mike Scioscia. 

For those who just joined us, Scioscia was the Dodgers' catcher of the 1980's, caught Hershisher's 50-inning scoreless streak, etc etc, and from what Pitch tells us, reviews every AB with his catchers, to make sure their heads are in the game at all times.

There are a few sources in the game whose word in unimpeachable.  One of those sources, is Mike Scioscia speaking of a catcher he has worked with.  If Scioscia has issued a public announcement that Mike Napoli cannot catch in the big leagues, after all the effort that Scioscia has put in to Mike Napoli, then here is one situation where you simply take a man's word for it.

Will guarantee you that the above ----- > is precisely the way that 29 other teams regard Mike Scioscia, which is why Napoli is still playing with the Angels.  Waiver claims and non-trades notwithstanding.


=== Bat Man Dept.===

If the M's want Napoli, it's as a 1B/DH, with the 3rd-catcher emergency scenario a small bonus.

So:  does Napoli hit well enough to (a) make $5M or whatever and, more importantly to me ... (b) use up a slot in the M's 2011 9-to-make-5?


Key thing to note about Mike Napoli's career arc, is his platoon splits as he has evolved.

2011:  Though he's still ehhhhh-ok vs. RHP's, he won't be for long

2010:  1050 OPS vs LH ... 698 vs RH (19:83 EYE vs righties)

2009:  1050 OPS vs LH ... 778 vs RH (28:78 EYE vs right)

2008:  About even splits in half a season (great vs both, EYE fine against both)

2007:  About even splits in a full season (okay vs both)

Around 2008, Napoli obviously developed a serious taste for the four-bagger.  As he opened up his swing and started going for broke, he became one of the greatest lefty-mashers you will ever see ... but righties took full advantage of Napoli's penchant for overplaying his hitting count.

Dunno what specific strategies RHP's have used to neuter the guy.  Pitch could tell you.  But the powerdive in his career is well documented.  Again:  check the EYE this year vs RHP's.


=== Dr's R/X ===

Do you want a $5M lefty-masher?  Every team in baseball, with a spot on its roster, would love one for $2M.  No doubt that was the buzz this August:  hey, will you eat some of his salary there Artie?

Nobody loves lefty-mashers more than Dr. D, and Mike Napoli gives you an absolutely legitimate Albert Pujols for those 20-25% of the games when you play a lefty.

But you can only pay so much for such a specialized player (in roster space and in salary).  Right now, Mike Napoli is quite a bit more trouble than he's worth.


Dr D


Taro's picture

I strongly disagree. Nearly every catcher is going to have platoon splits and Napoli's splits against RHs are hardly even bad at all.
Napoli is 799 OPS vs RHs career (952 OPS vs LHs). He was 782 OPS just last year. Its just making too much of the yearly splits this year.
Napoli's career splits vs RHs are BETTTER than ANY regual OPS on this team. If thats his weakness, I think we can deal with it.


If his numbers vs RHP were *not* going to deteriorate from a .279 OBP and .419 SLG, then that's another argument.  It says here that his numbers vs RHP's will spiral down further.
I mean, WHY is his EYE vs righties falling off the table?  What's the cause of that?
Bear in mind:
1.  An aggregate 113 OPS+ from a 1B/DH is no ball of fire.
2.  That 113 OPS+ split this year is already semi-platooned:  he's got 35% AB's vs lefties to get up to 113.
3.  He has had to OBP .425 and slug .625 vs lefties to stay up at 113.  If that drops off at all, he's toast.
So you've got a guy where, IF you
give him a strong cocktail mix of LHP's, AND
provided he keeps hitting a sensational 425/625 vs lefties, AND
provided he doesn't spiral down vs RHP's further  ...
... gives you a 113 OPS at DH.
It's safe to say that 113 is his top end right now, and  suspect you'll be lucky to keep getting that.


He can crush any lefty in the league.  If you could find a spot for him *as a specialist* he'd be a very exciting player.

Taro's picture

I just can't agree with the premise of the article Doc. Mike Scoscia says he can't catch, so obviously he can't catch... Thats not enough IMO.
Lets break down Napoli's defense part by part and make a fair assesment of how much docks off his value.
We've covered the arm and PBs and Bref already accounts for both. Then I guess its just game-calling. Is Napoli so bad that it takes a 4.2 WAR star catcher down to replacement level?

Moe's picture

Vs. righties, Napoli OPS's nearly .800 last year and in '07.  In '08 he was over .950!  This year he stinks.  He consistently whacks lefties, although that has even iimproved over the last two years.
So, two questions can be asked.
1. Is this year an outlier year vs RH's?  if so, he will return to very tolerable (or better) RH OPS over the next couple of year.  If this year is the new norm, perhaps due to a more aggressive swing and approach, then it may be "let the buyer beware."
2. If he is a below average hitter vs. RH's, what is his worth (even considering his LH mashing) as a DH /1B?  Here, Doc is right.   He isn't worth $5M per.
3. If he is returns to near .800 OPS vs. RH's, what is his worth as a 1B/DH?  here is is probably north of $5M.
But....Branyan plays into this equation.  Resign Branyan as your principle DH, then it makes no sense to pay Napoli $5M per to platoon, assuming, of course, that Smoak is a 150 game 1B.
So....is a 29 year old (next year) Napoli worth more, perhaps as a 3-year player, than the 34 or 35 year old Branyan is as a two year player (assuming he won't sign for just one)?
Personally, I think I'll vote for Branyan right now.
Can we trade figgins for Napoli?  please!


Scioscia sees the things that are NOT obvious.
If you're not going to take Scioscia's evaluation of a catcher he's lived with for 5 years, whose evaluation are you ever going to take on anything?  :- )

Moe's picture

Make that three question


I get that.  It's why Napoli is at least third on my list of options.  But leaving aside whether Scoscia is just biased because he was a great defensive catcher and feels he needs one to validate the way he played...could Napoli help us at the C/DH position even as a part-time solution behind the plate?
I would expect Napoli to split time with Adam Moore, letting Moore grow without being responsible for the whole offensive output at the position.  But are Napoli's recent RH struggles surmountable?
Napoli vs. RHP:
2009            2010
OBP: .325    .280
SLG: .455    .420
Eye: .36       .22
His batting average is terrible against RHP.  His eye is drooping mightily vs. them. 
Our catchers, vs all pitchers:

2009            2010
OBP: .282   .273
SLG: .354   .312
Eye: .36      .33

Our catchers are significantly worse than Napoli's bad RHP numbers without the benefit of his giant clubbing of LHP.
Who here thinks Rob Johnson and Adam Moore will be significantly better next year than they were this year?
Yeah, me either.
And there's something to be said for having at least one hitter that can crush LHP, since Saunders, Ackley, and Smoak are all lefties and are bad at that besides.
Napoli's not my preferred option, but he is an option.

Taro's picture

I value the actual performance over anyone's opinion.
I actually think this is a sitatution where the coach is overrating the value of something since he was a defense-first catcher himself.
Napoli's offense and non-pitch calling defense are measurable. So it becomes a question of how much you dock him off for the pitch calling.
Obviously Sciocia doesn't hate Napoli enough to make him a pure 1B/DH since hes logged so many innings for the Angels.

Taro's picture

The assumption is that hes deteriorating vs Righties, but with the sample its just impossible to say. The fact is hes having a down season offensively all around and hes never shown as wide of a split ever before.
He not at the age for physical decline so I think its one of those one year statistical flukes.


As you said, though, paying 5 mil plus whatever prospect it took to get him out of LAAAAA is a tough pill to swallow.  I'd rather pay twice that to V-Mart but that's a tough thing to do unless somebody raises payroll...though V-Mart had RHP problems this year too (not usual for him).
Who else is there to bolster the catching dept?  Because yet another year of Moore and Johnson sure seems like a disaster waiting to happen.
Russ Martin for the Dodgers might be available.  He's a solid 90ish OPS+ catcher (thanks to his OBP) with good D and a couple of years left as an Arb player, which might be a problem for the divorce-cash-strapped Dodgers.  Feel like betting on a catcher with a serious hip injury (he tore the labrum?  Also, he's RH, so his early-career power isn't gonna come back here.
I've already expressed my interest in Iannetta.  He's what I hope Moore turns into, so I wouldn't mind adding him now and avoiding the suspense.  He's no great shakes defensively either and should be able to hit decently even outside of altitude (.757 OPS away from Coors is fine for a catcher).  He's also a righty.  His BA is terrible, though, almost like some other guy, what was his name...Napoli...and I think Chris will be available.
John Buck will be a free agent with decent power for a catcher who never, ever walks.  Like, ever. .27 Eye career, .12 at age 30 in a multi-year deal...oof.  Also right-handed.
Ramon Hernandez will be 35 after an awesome season in Cincinnati with career marks in BA and OBP.  His options isn't gonna vest, so we could have him.  Right handed.
Barajas is also 35 and doesn't have that career year.
Torrealba and Olivo won't come back even if they hit the market.
Pierzynski?  Pass.
Zaun is 97 years old.
I'm just not seeing a lot of great options.  If it's not Napoli (might not be a catcher), V-Mart (costs a lot) or Iannetta (have to get him in trade, has inflated altitude stats and defensive issues), who would you take, knowing we can't afford another collapse at the position and most of the options are gonna be park-deficient?


But we aren't talking about OBP here.
If a catcher *were* unacceptable at the big-league level, how would you know?  It would be awfully tough to measure precisely, wouldn't it?
If Mike Napoli can catch in the big leagues, then he's a very useful player, no argument.  I'm talking about him as a non-C.  You all are talking about him as a catcher.
If he can catch, and we can get him, that's a big coup.  I take Scioscia's word for it that he can't.
Predictive validity dept:  I predict that Napoli will never again catch fulltime in the majors.  If he does, then I'm wrong.


Between a lost season and a pennant.
Scioscia has invested a whale of a lot in Mike Napoli.  And the Angels are well aware that a 115 OPS+ from a catcher is huge.
Despite everything, they won't let him catch any more.  Their evaluation weighs heavily.

Taro's picture

Just a repost but..
Mike Napoli career CS% 24%. Career OPS+ 118.
Victor Martinez career CS% 24%. Career OPS+ 120.
Both are bat first catchers, and both have bad reputations as game callers. Mike Napoli is 3 years younger than V.Mart and is going to be significantly cheaper.
As a plus Victor is actually way worse than Napoli vs RHs this season and is having a down season at an age where you'd be a lot more worried about it.
Why is the perception so different betwen these two players? Is it soley due to AVG and Ks and Mike Scoscia's opinion?


About the managerial bias and validation.
But Scioscia doesn't have that rep, not at all, and he's invested 5 years in trying to bring Napoli to speed. 
It's as if Lou Piniella spent 5 years trying to get Norm Charlton straightened out, and finally cut him, and then we asked whether Lou had a chip on his shoulder against the guy.  :- )

Taro's picture

Doc, hes not Montero or Clement here. Hes actually caught in the big leagues for the vast majority of his innings. His CS is poor, but managable. His PBs are fine.
Game calling isn't measurable, so the question is, just how bad is it?
By calling Napoli a non-catcher you're saying his game-calling is more damaging 40 runs in a full season. I find that very difficult to believe.
Even in an extreme -20 runs scenario, hes better than any catcher we've had since Joh's first season. And call me skeptical, but theres no way his intagibles with cost him 20 runs.


Don't go all USSM on me here, champ.  ;- )
Anaheim is -- was, until 2010 -- an org with swagger.  If the pitchers are losing their swagger because of a catcher's ineptitude, you've got to fix that.
The Angels are -4 below .500 and suddenly they've lost their strut.  Their ERA+ is 98.  It's entirely possible that the key domino was a disconnect between the pitchers and catchers.
It is completely possible that Mike Napoli's catching ruined the Angels' season, in part because of a chemistry factor.  I didn't say probable.  But it's possible, and Scioscia's actions speak louder than anybody's words.

Taro's picture

This is exactly how undervalued players are had. Baseball loses perspective on the flaws of a player.
Its why Colby Lewis is making $2.5mil a year and Lackey is making $17.5mil.
If I'm Z, the Angels are getting a call ASAP once the season is over.

Taro's picture

Napoli has only started 58 games at catcher this season. If the argument was for '09 it would make a lot more sense since Napoli was actually getting the most playing time behind the plate.


IF ... if ... Napoli's catching woes caused a deterioration in the pitchers' well-being, then likely this syndrome did *begin* in 2009.  And reached fruition this year, under pressure from the stRangers.
If Napoli's catching was a source of ill-being for pitchers, then he might very well have caused subpar years for any number of pitchers as they got out of synch .... and here's where life becomes too complex to measure.  You're not going to capture that by comparing Napoli's CERA's with other guys'.  The pitchers come to have subpar years in general.
The lack of swagger with the pitchers then causes hitters to press, etc etc.
We should know.  We watched it happen with the pitchers' antipathy towards Johjima.


I think Victor can catch and post 100-110 OPS+ numbers for another 4-5 years.  I think he's a borderline HOF catcher (because of his defensive deficiencies, not his O) with a very steady career and dropoff who's already had his knees saved for a year, having had some arm issues that kept him off the field.
I don't view Napoli as having the same arc.  Victor's a long plateau IMO, while Napoli will have a faster fall from grace.
But as I've said before, I'm fine with Napoli behind the dish if V-Mart makes us too squeamish or if he wants to stay on the East Coast.
The reason we're disagreeing probably has to do with our assessment of the catching position in Seattle.  I've seen catchers who were terrible at handling the pitchers and lost them (Johjima) and beloved catchers with limited bats (Wilson).  If you offered me Johjima's 1st 2 years I would take them in a heartbeat right now, trusting that the park will help the pitchers more than game-calling.
So the guys I'm looking at buffering us against a Moore/Johnson epic breakdown in '11 are offensive guys.  Moore may be fine in a couple of years, but right now I want to brace him up and give us some offensive firepower for when his struggles catch up to him.
Johnson is not a brace, Johnson is an anchor.  Because Rob is terrible we can't afford to give Moore time to develop.  He needs that time and we need less of an offensive black hole at the position.

Taro's picture

And thats where the speculation gets too creative for me and not realistic.
I find it highly unlikely that a catcher could have that kind of negative impact unless hes harrassing the pitchers behind the scenes and giving death threats.
The Ms have an ERA+ of 103 with half a season of Cliff Lee. The worst game caller in the world led the Ms to a 112 ERA+ just last season.

Taro's picture

Even if you were to predict Victor lasting long (he would be an outlier for catchers), Napoli is 3 years younger.
In any case, I agree with you.. A Napoli/Moore jobshare would be fine, with Napoli getting some DH time vs LHs.
Heck, I'd extend Napoli for 3 years considering the price. We need good, cheap players right now. We can't worry about style.


And, again, I don't consider that Johjima-san performed badly.  We're just referring to the way that the American pitchers received him.
In the abstract, I'd take a catcher of his offensive and defensive quality in a nanosecond, too.
Haven't looked at Victor Martinez since the last time I played roto.  Catch me up to speed... you view him as hitting the catcher's wall here, or not?

CA's picture

You don't have a method for valuing game performance from the field-level.  That's reserved for the players, and coaches.  Its why Rob Johnson is beloved, conversely.  Comfort level on the field is not a rational, measurable phenomenon.  

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