Most fans of the Boston Red Sox have recently noticed the slumping Mike Napoli. Manager John Farrell has recently toyed with his lineup due to Napoli's struggles, as Daniel Nava played first with Jonny Gomes being inserted into left field. Napoli, who originally agreed three year $39 million deal with the Red Sox to solidify first base, while adding power, is playing under a one year deal because his physical showed avascular necrosis, a degenerative hip. Many looked to the hip as a possible explanation for Napoli's terrible second half, as he is batting .203 post All Star Break and just .156 in August. An MRI showed no further damage in his hip, which surprises many, but the numbers back up that this result isn't shocking.
All season Napoli has been one of the luckiest hitters in baseball. Napoli's BABIP is .370, which is 70 points above the league average. As a player hitting .249, this means Napoli should be approximately a .220 hitter. The first half production and batting average was inflated, and his second half decline is more of baseball responding to the production he actually should be having.
Another issue for Napoli that has regularly irked fans is his ability to consistently strike out. Napoli has always had a high strike out rate, but this season has been awful. He is leading all of baseball with 155 strike outs and strikes out 34.1% of the time he steps to the plate. This is up 4.1% from last season, in which Napoli played 108 games, which is what he has played this year. It's not surprising that Napoli is swinging at 3.6% of more pitches outside the strike zone, as his plate discipline has faltered. For a guy who swings and misses often, as his swinging strike rate is up 2.5%, you cannot swing at bad pitches. Napoli has been swinging at way too many this season. It's no wonder his walk rate has also decreased by 2.4% from the last two seasons; pitchers know they can readily get him out.
Napoli's power numbers have also faltered this season. It came understood that Napoli wouldn't be anywhere close to a batting title and would have more strike outs than your average hitter, but what he's paid to do he hasn't done well enough. Napoli has 14 home runs. Through the same amount of games last season he had 24, and in 113 games in 2011 he hit 30. His home run to fly ball ratio is down 10.9%. This is where most fans would blame the hip, but it has been shown medically to be in the same condition it was when he had his physical.
It is also not surprising that Napoli has the moniker of a rally killer. With men on base he is hitting .215, and that includes when runners are in scoring position. With the bases empty Napoli is hitting .286. He is adding no protection to David Ortiz right now; pitchers can throw around Ortiz to face the strike out ready Napoli.
It should be noted that many believed Napoli would be suited for Fenway Park as well, as power hitters have regularly hit better in the hitter friendly park. His numbers are almost identical on the road, signifying no performance increase at Fenway. It was thought that he could bang balls of the Monster and use the dimensions to his advantage, but he has been unable to do so. His numbers when facing lefties and righties are much like this as well.
The issue the Red Sox face is that they are kind of stuck with Napoli for the playoff run or a very similar player. If they go to Nava at first and Gomes in left they have not solved as much as they hope. Gomes is a .240 power hitter who has a very similar game to Napoli. Gomes, whose strike out rate is below his career average this year, is a guy who regularly strikes out and produces similarly to Napoli. Gomes has been successful in high pressure situations unlike Napoli, so it might be worth a shot, but are you really confident rolling with him?
The good thing for Red Sox is that Napoli is not locked up for two more seasons after this. He visibly and statistically looks like a player on the decline, and paying him $26 million over the next two seasons would be brutal. We'll see what the Red Sox do to address the position in the future, as the free agent pool for first base is limited. I'm just glad to Red Sox will have the flexibility to address the position, but worry about their postseason chances rolling with Napoli into the playoffs.