Mike Napoli, Red Sox most dangerous hitter

When Boston reportedly signed Mike Napoli to a three-year, $39 million back in December, the reaction from Red Sox Nation was that of mild excitement. He was no Josh Hamilton, but at least he could hit home runs, right? It seemed like it took forever for the Red Sox to finally agree to terms with Napoli as his physical exam brought to light some long term injury issues. He was diagnosed with avascular necrosis in his hip joint, and eventually signed a one-year deal guaranteeing $5 million with up to $9 million in incentives.

Coming into Spring Training, excitement of the Napoli signing seemed to wane. Some people thought he was now damaged goods; if you imagine our first baseman as somebody with your grandfather's degenerative hip and needing a cane, then I can understand the lack of enthusiasm. However, there really should be no concerns with Napoli, and in fact, he has the potential to be Boston's most dangerous hitter.

Napoli has played in four games so far this Spring; in his three Grapefruit games he is batting .571, has 5 RBI, has hit 2 home runs, and has 10 total bases. He added another long home run during the exhibition game against Puerto Rico. Three home runs in four games: are you excited yet?

What can we reasonably expect from Napoli this year in a Red Sox uniform? Over his last five seasons the slugger's home run totals look like this:
HR    20    20    26    30    24
Then consider his games played in those seasons:
G    78    114    140    113    108
Projected over 162 games, Napoli's power numbers look quite prodigious:
HR/162    42    28    30    43    36
Of course, any logical fan would ask, "If Napoli was such a good hitter, why didn't he play every day? He must be an injury risk." Injuries explain part of his absence, but Napoli was also part of crowded lineups in LA and Texas. He played in 553 of 810 possible games since 2008; however, according to Baseball Prospectus, Napoli was only injured for 140 of those absent 257 games. That means for 117 games, he was sitting on the bench, healthy. Or, in the past five seasons, Napoli was healthy enough to play in 134 games each season. If he had played 134 games each season, his home run totals would have looked like this:
HR/134    34    23    25    36    30

Now that Napoli will not be relied on to catch, we can expect him to stay healthier throughout the season. His hip condition is more of a long term concern, and should not restrict him this season. If Napoli can play 140-145 games, why couldn't he hit 30-35 home runs? His home runs were slightly stifled hitting in LA, and slightly aided hitting in Texas; however, he has hit 19 points better and has 2 more home runs in 18 less games on the road than at home in his career. Napoli is not a pull hitter, and has said that he will not change his swing to conform to Fenway Park, but considering he is a career .306 hitter with 7 home runs in 19 games at Fenway, I think it's safe to say he'll like his new home.

Napoli might bat a below average .250, but his OBP (career .356, .378 last two years) and BB% (11.9% career, 13.4% last two years) have been great in recent seasons. If Ortiz is healthy, expect to see the righty batting 5th in the lineup come April. If Ortiz is not healthy to start the year (which is looking more and more likely), Napoli would be a great cleanup hitter that will strike fear into any opposing pitcher.

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