Last Monday, Mike Napoli agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract with the Boston Red Sox, primarily to play first base, but will also see some time at catcher and designated hitter. Napoli has a favorable 2013 to look forward to, especially hitting in the heart of the Red Sox order, and should come at quite a discount after a disappointing 2012 season.
Napoli, 31, is coming off a down year which saw him hit just .227/.343/.469 (Average/On-base percentage/Slugging percentage) with 24 home runs and a meager 56 RBIs. $13 million a year seems like a lot for a player coming off of that kind of season, but there’s reason to believe that Napoli will return to his productive ways, at least in year one of the deal.
Last season, much of Napoli’s struggles can be attributed to a .273 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), against a career average of .299. This simply means that more balls Napoli hit were finding gloves than usual. Sometimes, this can be a sign of decline; a red flag that the player isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he used to. I’m not buying it just yet, though. All of Napoli’s skills seem right in line with his career norms. He’s made contact at about the same rate—70.7% of his swings made contact against a rate of 72.2% for his career.
His power remained not just intact, but at his 2011 level of production with over a quarter of all of his fly balls leaving the ballpark. Napoli even had the exact same walk rate as he did in 2011, when he was an absolute monster. Truthfully, Napoli’s talent likely lies somewhere between his 2011 and 2012 seasons—don’t expect him to slug .600 again, but over .500 is certainly not out of the question.
When talking about Napoli’s change in value, though, it’s important to look at his spray chart:
As you can see, Napoli has power to both left and right field, though most of his hits go to left field. This bodes well for Napoli, considering that he will get to turn a couple of those red dots that are now outs into pop-up home runs or doubles off of the Green Monster (or singles, with his speed). Fenway Park’s right field fence should be kind to Napoli as well, considering that most of his opposite field power is to straightaway right field or down the line. At 309 feet, there’s a good chance Napoli will get a few cheap home runs wrapping around the Pesky pole.
Considering Napoli will still have catcher eligibility in 2013, and should maintain it by playing a few games there, Napoli should definitely be somewhere in the top five on your list of catchers. The only surer bets I can think of are Buster Posey, Brian McCann, and Yadier Molina. With his luck returning to normal, you can probably expect something closer to Napoli’s career numbers—.259/.356/.507—with close to 30 home runs. Having Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury hitting in front of him should also provide ample RBI opportunities for the slugging catcher; it would be surprising to see Napoli rack up less than 80 if he remains healthy in 2013.
Napoli’s value would increase in 2013 if he simply sees his luck return to normal. Moving to Fenway Park, however, should raise his power output, making him a valuable option at catcher, even in mixed leagues. Throw in that the fact that he can spot start at first if your normal first baseman has a day off, and it makes Napoli one of the best options at catcher for fantasy players in 2013. The Red Sox may regret this deal by year three, but in year one, he’s a good bet to produce for both the Red Sox, and your fantasy team.
Brett Miller is a communications student at Washington State University, and unfortunately, a Mariners fan. You can find more of his work at www.wcoastbias.com or follow him on Twitter at @KingFelixsCourt.