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2017 Player Profiles: Mike Napoli

There was much debate in the comments of my previous profile of Jose Abreu about whether Napoli will be better in 2017. Let’s find out!

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Seven Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you want to catch up on all the previous 2017 player profiles, check out my archive here.

In the comments section of my 2017 profile on Jose Abreu, a lively discussion broke out. You can check it out for yourself. The tl;dr version is: will Mike Napoli be a better fantasy asset in 2017 than Jose Abreu? They both play the same position and thus have the same offensive bar to meet.

How they go about producing offense is very different between the two of them, however. Abreu hits for a very high average and above average power. Napoli hits for great power and a poor average. Napoli walks 4% more than Abreu, but still finished 0.020 OBP behind Abreu because his batting average was 0.054 points worse.

Let’s look at how they both did in 2016 first. On ESPN’s player rater (5 x 5), Abreu finished at #12 for first basemen, with Napoli back at #15. So, they were close in value, even with batting average instead of OBP. If you throw in OBP and slugging and remove average, Napoli finished 15th and Abreu fell all the way to 20th.

Jose Abreu 25 67 100 0.293 0.353 0.468 0.327 0.175 0
Mike Napoli 34 92 101 0.239 0.335 0.465 0.296 0.226 5

This table shows how the two did in 2016. Napoli’s primary advantages were in power, lineup around him (runs), and speed (?!). I already wrote about how I think Abreu will do in 2017 based on the underlying skills he showed last season, so now I will turn to Napoli. Can he maintain his power advantage over Abreu? Spoiler alert about his steals: he’s not getting five again in a season. Ever. Book it. So, I’m not going to discuss that anymore. He’s very slow, is what I’m saying.

Oh, and I’ve gotten this far without mentioning that Napoli has no team to play for right now. Someone will give him a job after the season he just had, but we don’t know where he will be playing, what kind of lineup will be around him, and if he will get regular playing time, so a chunk of his value is still up in the air. I will focus on things we can look at right now.

“Napper” just set a career high in HR at age 35. That’s certainly a red-ish flag. He hasn’t hit more than 24 since 2011. It’s worth digging further here.

As usual, there are a few things to look at to determine the legitimacy of a power burst. Was his HR/FB% way out of whack with his previous history? No, not really. His 20.5% was very high for most players, but his career average is 19.3%. Did he pull the ball more and hit more fly balls? Check and check. His 47.6% Pull% was his highest since 2012 and his 45.1% fly ball rate was his best since 2008. So far, all three things point to a legitimate effort to increase power output.

His Hard% was a good 36.7%, but that wasn’t any higher than two of his previous three seasons, so that isn’t very useful. Moving on to Statcast data, he was #21 in all of baseball in average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives. That’s good. Averaging 96.3 mph on balls in the air is a very good thing. His 232-foot average hit distance was good for top-50. Adding more fuel to the fire, he was #17 in average home run distance. Finally, he was 13th in barrelled (hit squarely) balls per batted ball event.

I’ve been writing profiles all offseason and looking at other players on occasion and this is the most impressive power profile I have looked at. Sure, Stanton, Cruz, Trumbo, Carter, and Crush Davis hit for more power than Napoli, but the list isn’t much longer than that. He was easily in the top 10% of hitters in legitimate power production in 2016.

As for the other stats, his lack of team means I’ll just be using educated guesses for runs and RBI (I guess they are usually guesses anyway, but even more so this time) in his projection and I’ve already covered steals. His batting average has bounced around quite a bit, but it always seems to settle on 0.240. His 30% K% was quite high, even for him, but his 12.2% SwStr% wasn’t out of line with previous seasons. He’s had many seasons with lower contact rates than his 72.1% from 2016.

You can probably guess what all this means for his 2017 projection, but here it is anyway.

2017 Projection

550 PA, 0.240/0.330/0.460, with 30 HR, 85 R, 90 RBI, and 2 steals

This is obviously close to his 2016 line, with good reason. All of his power gains were clearly legit, despite his advanced age, so I kept the HR and slugging up in the same area. His average and OBP should be similar to 2016 because of the reasons I talked about above. I think he will hit fifth or sixth for whatever team he ends up with, making his RBI a little higher than his runs.

To answer the initial question, then, who will be better in 2017? Well, my projection for Abreu was: 26 HR, 85 RBI, 81 R, 0 SB 0.296/0.355/0.475 and that gives him the advantage in batting average, OBP, and slugging while only trailing Napoli by two steals, four homers, and nine RBI. In my book, that gives Abreu the edge. They are closer in value than most will consider, but Abreu should still be drafted first. Tschus!