Getting to know: Mike Napoli
Ben Cherington did not make many splashes in the offseason, but the closest thing to one was when he signed Mike Napoli to a one-year deal. Napoli was the premier signing of the winter, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you see it.
The good is that the Sox have long coveted Napoli’s power and pure right-handed swing, a rarity for a catcher, and now they finally have him. Napoli has a career .306 batting average at Fenway with seven home runs in 19 games. He also boasts a career .394 on base percentage. All those are extremely good marks, and very well above his career marks. What this means is that he absolutely loves playing at Fenway Park, and considering that his swing is tailor-made for the Green Monster, that comes at no surprise.
Napoli’s statistical love for Fenway, while a great blessing, could be a curse. Could it be that a big factor in Napoli’s success in Boston is that he was facing Sox pitching? The Red Sox have not featured a dominant pitching staff since 2007, which was when Napoli was breaking into the majors. The Sox could be very disappointed to find that Napoli does not fare so well against the rest of the AL East as he did against Boston’s starting five.
There was a great deal of speculation surrounding Napoli’s delay in being announced to the media. After nearly a month of negotiation the Sox finally worked out a deal that ended up being one year rather than the original three. The reason for this is that Napoli has a degenerative bone disease in his hip which, should it progress, will end his playing career. Napoli has shown some signs of slowing down in the past couple years; should that cause concern or is it nothing more than a funk?
Mike Napoli has very big shoes to fill at first base. Former first baseman Adrian Gonzalez may not have been well liked but he was a great hitter and a formidable part of the batting order. Napoli’s power swing and grit will be refreshing though, and while he may not come close to Gonzalez’s .338 batting average in 2011 he will be a fan favorite and hopefully had many new dents to the Green Monster.