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MLB Free Agents: Focusing on Mike Napoli and Other First Basemen

Will Mike Napoli be another Dan Uggla/Adam Dunn-like free agent flop or will he continue to post good numbers after he signs a deal?

Mike Napoli
Mike Napoli

Oct 27, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox first baseman Mike Napoli warms up prior to game four of the MLB baseball World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

As our colleague Tony Consiglio had mentioned in his assessment of the Boston Red Sox roster, they have a few tough decisions to make when it comes to determining which of their free agents they will keep for next season, including shortstop Stephen Drew.

Consiglio is beyond certain that re-signing Mike Napoli to a long-term deal would be the right move for the Sox. He also mentioned that Napoli is the best player available at this position. Because of this, it’s worth spotlighting Napoli (along with a quick quip on few other first basemen) in this installment of our Major League Baseball Free Agents’ Overview.

Here’s how the numbers have stacked up for Napoli in the last three seasons:

Mike Napoli: Production

Year

Age

BB%

K%

OBP

SLG

ISO

UBR

wSB

wOBA

2011

29

13.4%

19.7%

0.414

0.631

0.312

-2.3

-0.4

0.445

2012

30

13.4%

30.0%

0.343

0.469

0.241

0.0

-0.3

0.349

2013

31

12.6%

32.4%

0.360

0.482

0.223

-0.9

-0.7

0.367

There’s a lot to take in when it comes to Napoli. First of all, his Strikeout Rate (K%) has ballooned to over 30 percent in the last couple of seasons. Secondly, his 2011, career-high OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging Percentages) of 1.046 has returned down to more “normal” levels. Napoli’s average OPS in the two years before and after his 2011 career high stands at a decent .820. Obviously, the strikeouts are not a problem if Napoli continues to display the power that is necessary at first base. To put it in perspective, an OPS of .820 places Napoli in the top 10 at the position, just ahead of Prince Fielder (.819).

Mike Napoli: Batted Ball Rates

Year

Age

BABIP

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB%

2011

29

0.344

19.6%

39.2%

41.3%

5.1%

25.4%

2012

30

0.273

19.2%

39.7%

41.0%

7.4%

25.5%

2013

31

0.367

24.4%

36.9%

38.8%

9.1%

19.0%

The Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) along with the Line Drive Percentage are both career highs for Napoli. What’s the old adage about players playing for a contract? Napoli’s BABIP should normally hover around .300 because he’s always looking to drive the ball in the air. And since he has legit power, those fly balls will more often than not land in the bleachers for home runs. So one can argue that Napoli’s 2013 season was a bit of a fluke, but as we saw from his production table, Napoli can be a dangerous hitter, even when posting average LD%.

Mike Napoli: Plate Discipline

Year

Age

Swing%

Contact%

SwStr%

2011

29

40.8%

74.5%

10.1%

2012

30

41.1%

71.0%

11.5%

2013

31

42.2%

72.4%

13.1%

Napoli is a hitter who can go deep into counts, which explains his high K%. Not shown, however, is his propensity to chase balls outside the strike zone as he finished the season with an O-Swing Percentage (the rate at which a hitter swings at pitches outside the strike zone) of 26 percent, placing him in the top 20 among first basemen in 2013. A red flag must be raised as Napoli’s plate discipline numbers over the last three seasons are eerily similar to Dan Uggla‘s percentages after his age 31 season had been completed.

As far as fielding goes, Napoli was utilized exclusively as a first baseman in 2013. Although he ranked as a sub-par catcher from 2010-2012, he proved to be a good defensive player at first base. Here is how he ranked in two advanced defensive metrics, Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Defensive Runs Saved (DRS):

  • UZR–Ranked number one among first basemen
  • DRS–Ranked number four among first basemen

So even if Napoli’s bat proves to be suspect after signing a long-term deal, wherever that may be, it would appear Napoli will not hurt his future team’s defense. To summarize, the reason for concern about Napoli’s bat has to do with his high strikeouts, somewhat questionable pitch selection, career high BABIP and LD% in 2013. Will he be another Dan Uggla/Adam Dunn-like free agent flop or will he continue to post good numbers after he signs a deal?

BONUS PLAYER COVERAGE

Here are a few other players that are currently unemployed and might find themselves on a big league roster for the 2014 seasons:

  • Kendrys Morales–Will be 30 to start the season. Does not strike out a lot, but doesn’t take many walks either. Has decent power, but lacks consistency. Ground ball hitter. Free-swinger with low contact rate and bad Swinging Strike Percentages. Better off as a designated hitter (DH) than as an everyday, fielding first baseman.
  • Justin Morneau–Does good job controlling his strikeouts. Power is noticeably declining. LD% has been above 20 percent in the last two years, but still hits a lot of ground balls. Free-swinger, possesses some contact skills, and knows the strike zone. In terms of fielding, his UZR suggests a decline in fielding over the last two years. Will be 33 for the 2014 season.
  • Mark Reynolds–Strikeouts are out-of-control and lacks any consistent on-base skills. Typical boom or bust player, his power will be the only reason a team would want to sign him. Constantly looking to lift ball in the air, but pop ups are almost as common as home runs. Poor contact skills to go along with terrible approach at the plate. Has history of playing both at first and third base so versatility is a plus. Unfortunately, both DRS and UZR metrics rate him poorly at both positions. Will be 30 for the upcoming season.

All stats courtesy of fangraphs.com.

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