After one great year with the Rangers and one successful, but disappointing season, Mike Napoli was going to be one of the Red Sox’ big free agent signings. And then a physical detected a chronic hip ailment despite Napoli feeling just fine. Instead of a three year deal for big bucks, Mike Napoli still signed with the Red Sox for only $5 million, which has been a bargain. Despite the health concerns, Napoli has still managed a .344 wOBA and a 113 wRC+. The strange thing about Napoli’s season is how he has arrived there.
Everything about Napoli’s season is weird. All his peripherals seem out of whack with what he has traditionally done before. The most obvious statistic, of course, is the strikeouts. Mike Napoli has become a strikeout machine. His 123 whiffs lead the American League. Napoli has always been prone to the strikeout, but it was generally in the mid-20% range. His career strikeout percentage is 26.4%, a number that has gone up with a big uptick in K’s the last two seasons.
Napoli has good plate discipline. He does not swing at pitches out of the strike zone with regularity. And that has remained constant. But his strikeout percentage has still risen over the past two years. Last year, he finished with a whiff rate of 30%. This year, he is at a career high of 33.5%. His swing and miss rate of 13.1% is also a career high. And pitchers are pitching him differently. They have thrown first pitch strikes 60% of the time on Napoli, also a career high for him.
So the strikeouts are up…way up. And his walk percentage is down. During Napoli’s two seasons in Texas, his walk percentage was exactly the same in both seasons at 13.4%. That seems like a pretty constant and would thus be predictable this season. But instead, his walk rate is down to 10.4%, a number that is below his career average too.
So his strikeouts are way up. His walks are down. And yet, he has nearly the same exact on-base percentage as last year at .343. Very strange. How can his on-base percentage stay the same when he strikes out more and walks less? His batting average is higher…32 points higher than last season.
And why is his batting average higher? The answer lies in his BABIP, which is sitting at an incredibly high .382. Why is his BABIP so high? Luck? Perhaps some. But his BABIP is high because his line drive percentage has gone all Willy Wonka.
Mike Napoli has a career line drive percentage of 19.4%. His highest line drive total was in 2010 at 19.7%. This season, Napoli has gone all Votto on us and his line drive percentage is at 26.7%!
So let’s review what we have so far. Mike Napoli is striking out more, walking less and yet hitting ropes when he does make contact. Is that weird enough for one article? Wait, there is more.
For his career, 19.7% of Mike Napoli’s fly balls have gone over the fence for homers. That figure was over 25% in both seasons for Texas. In his season with the Angels, that figure was at 19.5%. That is a pretty consistent homer to fly ball rate and one you can count on, right? Wrong. His homer to fly ball rate this season sits at 14.5%.
And because of his lower homer to fly ball rate, Mike Napoli’s slugging percentage is his lowest since his second season in 2007 and his OPS currently is the lowest of his career. Add in another head scratching statistic.
I will add in one more final one to finish out my point that Napoli is having a strange season. Napoli is playing more first base. In fact, he has nearly tripled his innings at first over any other season. The experience may in part explain why his UZR at first was -1.2 and -2.1 over the last two seasons, only to jump up to a plus six this season. Suddenly, he has become a first base whiz?
So how do you predict the rest of the season based on that hot mess? Well, here is my take. He will walk slightly more, strike out just as often, hit less line drives, but hit much more homers in the second half. All that said, his batting average will go down, his OPS will remain the same and his slugging percentage will go up. In other words, if some of his peripherals go back to his normal ranges, he will still improve slightly in OPS and wOBA and will be more than worth the $5 million the Red Sox paid for him.