Posted by John Autin on May 30, 2011
Mike Napoli had a big game Monday that was more in character than Sunday's romp around the bases, hitting 2 HRs and a double for Texas. It was his 3rd straight day with a HR, and gave him 10 HRs in 104 AB this year, and 102 HRs in 1,654 career AB. Only one catcher with at least 100 HRs has a higher HR% than Napoli (HR as % of AB):
- Mike Piazza, 6.18%
- Napoli, 6.17%
Now, it's not fair to compare Napoli to catchers whose careers are over, since he has yet to experience his decline phase. But even if we restrict the search to "through age 29" or "first 6 seasons," only Napoli and Piazza meet the criteria of 100 HRs and a 6% HR rate.
Napoli's not a great player, of course. By all accounts, he's a poor defensive catcher; he's had negative dWAR in each of his 5 prior seasons, and the Angels essentially dumped him last winter, preferring to enter the season with a historically bad offensive catcher who's no Gold Glover, either. But Napoli is a better offensive player than most people realize. Besides the raw power, he takes some walks, adding almost 100 points of OBP to his modest .250 BA. He's not slow, stealing a few bases a year and occasionally making the highlight reel with his wheels. He averages just 10 GDP per 162 games, which is darn low for a RHB catcher.
But he reminds me of Piazza's last few years, in terms of posing a positional dilemma for their clubs. Their offense is excellent for a catcher, but the defense is a serious problem. If you put them at 1B or DH, their offensive edge at the position takes a big hit; a 120 OPS+ is only average for a 1B. And they're not exactly going to help you with the glove at 1B, either. Piazza's dWAR in 2004, when the Mets tried to convert him to 1B, was about as damaging as his worst years behind the plate.
I'd rather have the Rangers' dilemma with Napoli than the Mets' with Piazza. Nobody is expecting Napoli to play every day or to anchor any one position; Texas has started him in 15 games behind the plate, 11 at 1B and 5 at DH, and he's not interfering with any well-established players at those positions. And so far, it's working; they're 18-13 when he starts, 11-12 when he sits.
If you ran a club with Napoli on the roster, what would you do with him?
P.S. Here are the 7 catchers who, in their first 6 seasons, had at least 50 HRs and a 5% HR rate: