Mike Napoli didn’t have quite the campaign in 2014 fantasy baseball players hoped he would. But, given the mid-round price they paid in mixed leagues, they were clearly prepared for some downside. He batted .248 with a .370 OBP in 500 plate appearances, but it’s the 17 home runs (and largely resultant 55 RBIs) that were a bit disappointing and largely the reason he was basically a replacement-level asset in roto leagues this season.
There aren’t any glaring signs of an immediate rebound, either. Napoli will be 33 next year. He has a bad body type. He’s already dealt with various health issues for the past few seasons. He has platoon-split issues. He strikes out pretty frequently. If he isn’t going to hit 25 bombs, then he’s probably not going to be much good in the fake baseball game.
Perhaps there’s some salvageable value, though. Those negatives could drive down his cost significantly. Fantasy owners tend to steer clear of hitters like Napoli. Will he fall, and how much will he, if he does?
Health hasn’t been on Napoli’s side. He’s spent time on the disabled list in each of the past four seasons. He’s also missed a game or six here and there with other ailments, recurrences of past minor injuries, or issues related to the reason he went on the DL. His body has taken a bit of a beating. Never mind the degenerative hip condition he revealed in January 2013 that he has and which cost him some serious guaranteed money from the Boston Red Sox initially.
The good news is that Napoli isn’t yet debilitated. Yay. Seriously, though, all reports indicated at the time of the discovery of Napoli’s avascular necrosis that doctors caught it in its early stages and assured him that it was manageable with medication. The BoSox scaled back their free-agent offer to the slugger that winter to an incentive-laden deal, but the sides re-upped for two years and $32 million this past winter. Boston tends to do its homework and appeared to be convinced enough to see that risk as worthwhile.
As for Napoli’s other maladies, well, it won’t hurt that he’ll have an extra month of rest and recovery this offseason thanks to Boston’s failure to make the playoffs. It also can’t hurt that he’ll have surgery on Nov. 4 in an attempt to alleviate his sleep apnea. That procedure will lay him up for a while, but it has a high success rate, according to the literature. Most fantasy owners probably don’t really care if Napoli gets a better night’s sleep, but sleep deprivation has severe effects on the body. Napoli is likely to be in a better place in 2015.
As for Napoli’s performance, there were a couple of disappointing signs in 2014. His fly-ball rate declined for the second straight season, to 35.8%, and the trade-off was more ground balls (a career-high 45.3%). In combination with a 16.7% HR/FB, his power production wasn’t in a good place. And he’s well past his peak. This season, he posted a .171 ISO, his first sub-.200 mark in the category since 2007, when he was still catching and a part-timer for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
One might view his improved disciplined as something on the plus side. He struck out this year 26.6% of the time, an improvement on the previous two seasons, as was his swinging-strike rate of 10.3%. His improved contact rate didn’t come with a bunch more bad contact (on pitches outsize the zone), also encouraging. But this is just a bad pool to begin with, nothing from which to take inspiration. Napoli is still basically a .230 to .260 hitter.
Really, the main bit of good news is that there wasn’t much different, minus the batted-ball spread. The power dipped again, but it remained strong to the opposite field, a staple of his career performance. The issues against right-handed pitching are nothing new, but they show no signs of having worsened, other than along the same lines (dipping ISO) displayed overall this past season.
Napoli’s production may have gone off a cliff in 2014. But I wouldn’t be so quick to bury him. I’m willing to chalk a good bit of this up to the foot, hand, and back problems that plagued him and just call it a down year. Of course, given his age and health history, he’s likely to deal with some sort of injury again in 2015. There’s at least a plan in place for the offseason that gives him a reasonable opportunity to be refreshed, health-wise, going into next season.
A big key to Napoli’s 2015 fantasy value will be whether the Red Sox bring in a left-handed complement at first base or plan to play switch hitter Daniel Nava there in that capacity. If the price on right-handed slugger hasn’t come down much next draft season, then he may not be worth an investment. There aren’t a slew of reasons to believe that a bounce-back is imminent, just a couple of reasons to hope for some positive regression to a fading mean. In my experience, the crowd tends to be down exceedingly on players like this one, though. There’s still enough upside that a cheap Napoli would be a profit-earning Napoli at a corner position, with a fair Steamer projection making him so. He’s almost assured to remain a plus OBP leagues, too.
Nicholas Minnix oversaw baseball content for six years at KFFL, where he held the loose title of Managing Editor for seven and a half before he joined FanGraphs. He played in both Tout Wars and LABR from 2010 through 2014. Follow him on Twitter @NicholasMinnix.