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April 15, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Whither Napoli?

by Jason Collette

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Raise your hand if you spent a high draft pick or high dollars on the reigning American League MVP this season. Now, keep your hand up if you have him in two leagues. Oh, you two? Good thing, as misery loves company. What is done is done, and the Rangers as well as fantasy owners will be without a key player for six to eight weeks, but the more pressing question is how the Rangers will adjust the at bats on the team, and how that will affect your own fantasy roster moves.

Even before Hamilton’s injury, anyone who owned Mike Napoli was already unhappy with how things were going in Texas. Fantasy owners had big expectations for Napoli’s potent power bat, first in Toronto when he was traded there, and then for Texas when the Rangers acquired him less than a day later. Yet, this far into the season, Napoli has but 23 plate appearances, less than guys such as Ivan Rodriguez, John Jaso, Ryan Hanigan, and even Jeff Mathis. Even in part-time duty, Napoli has been one of the more productive catchers: he has three home runs, six runs scored, and five RBI already to go with a lovely .333/.478/833 slash line. Compare that to the one home run, two RBI, six runs scored, and the .242/.242/394 slash line of Yorvit Torrealba.

So, why is Napoli seeing less time than his less productive counterpart? This is where defense does matter in fantasy baseball leagues. Napoli is consistently below league average at catcher in runs above replacement while Torrealba is consistently above. Since Ron Washington does not yet grasp the concept of high leverage related to closer management, I am just going to assume that he believes Torrealba to be a better defensive player based on observation rather than that kind of number crunching.

Since Napoli is struggling to get at bats, the next logical assumption would be to look at the Designated Hitter spot or first base, since he has a history of performing at both. Unfortunately for him, the Rangers already have two players in those spots that are either proven strong performers or have the potential to be strong performers in Michael Young and Mitch Moreland. The quick reaction to the Hamilton injury was to throw Young out in left field and open up the DH spot for Napoli, but Young has played all of zero games in the outfield in his major league career. Not to mention, this is already a player that complained about being moved off three other positions already.

The Rangers won't want to give up his versatility, either, as he has played both first base and second base already this season. That shifts us over to first base, where Moreland is hitting .323/.382/516, but is still seeking his first home run. He, unlike Young, has experience in the outfield, at both the minor and major league level. but the Rangers have already said that he will be the fourth outfielder while David Murphy assumes most of the at bats in left field vacated by Hamilton.

Simply put, this injury leaves Napoli right back where he started. He will look for at-bats when Moreland needs a break at first base, or if Moreland is playing left field against a tough lefty while David Murphy sits.

The Adrian Beltre signing was a no-brainer for Texas, as it upgraded both the offense and the defense, but it helped to create a logjam in the lineup as it could be argued the Rangers have too much offense on their roster right now. Most teams would kill to have a bat like Napoli’s in their starting lineup, but the Rangers enjoy the luxury of having him on the bench, usable in three different spots in their lineup.

However, Napoli’s defensive liabilities (and the fact his OPS splits are 132 points apart for his career) keep him fighting for playing time wherever he can find it. Most of us that have owned Ian Kinsler know an injury is coming at some point, and it is going to take either that injury or a trade of Napoli to another team to open up a full-time spot in the lineup for him moving forward. For now, enjoy the fact you have an above-average catcher that should still hit double-digit home runs in part-time duty, but try to ignore the fact he is not on pace to earn the $20 you spent on him during your auction.

Since the at-bats are crowded for Napoli, it most definitely tempers any excitement Chris Davis owners have now that he has been recalled to the major leagues. "Excitement" and "Chris Davis" are phrases that are rarely used in the same sentence when describing Davis’s major league career. After all, he has been a replacement level player over 872 major league plate appearances at a 0.0 WARP and, and no better than an average hitter with a TAv of just .260. He has struck out in 32 percent of those 872 plate appearances, and 2008 was his only productive season of the past three.

Some recent excitement was building for Davis once again as he started off the Triple-A season on a monster tear, hitting .429 while slugging 1095 in his first 23 plate appearances. That is not an OPS misprint–that was his slugging percentage, as six of his nine hits went for extra bases, including four home runs. Still, Davis was up to his usual tricks as he walked just once while striking out eight times in those 23 plate appearances, a 38 percent strikeout rate.

On a less fortunate team, Davis and Napoli would make an excellent platoon at DH or first base, as their splits issues complement each other quite. But, on this team, the defensively-challenged duo are going to be on the bench more often than not. Young is still going to see most if not all of the at bats at DH while Moreland is going to be the primary first baseman. David Murphy is off to a .350/.409/550 start and already has four stolen bases, as Ron Washington has put him in motion, and he stands to be the biggest beneficiary of the Hamilton injury. For Napoli and Davis, it will likely be more of the same until some other situation arises on the roster. 

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Chris Davis,  Mitch Moreland

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