Mike Napoli was an enormous part of the World Series winning 2013 Red Sox, anchoring Boston’s lineup as the fifth hitter while sparking the “get beard” campaign. En route to a title, Napoli slashed .259/.360/.482 with excellent defense at first base through 139 games in his Boston debut season. However, like many others, Napoli’s 2014 season was not nearly so strong. Napoli missed time due to finger, toe, and back injuries, playing just 119 games for the Red Sox, and when he did play he wasn’t nearly as large a force in the middle of the Red Sox lineup, slashing just .248/.370/.419 with 17 home runs. As we enter 2015, Napoli still is a major figure in the revamped Red Sox lineup though, as a fully healthy Napoli could put this offense over the top.
Ever since the trade deadline of 2013, when the Red Sox acquired Yoenis Cespedes (whom they later flipped to Detroit in exchange for Rick Porcello) and Allen Craig, the Red Sox have been adding offense. Shortly after landing those two names at the deadline, the Red Sox signed Cuban defector Rusney Castillo to a 7 year/$72.5M contract and they’ve continued their lineup makeover in the offseason, signing two big-name free agents in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.
Even amongst all those changes, Napoli will still be batting right in the middle of the Red Sox lineup. With power an increasingly valuable commodity in the game today, Napoli’s raw right-handed power is a huge asset to Boston’s offense. And while Napoli did see his isolated power drop to a career-low .171 last season, it’s impressive that he even managed to keep it that high while dealing with a dislocated finger, a very painful injury for hitters.
Plus, while Napoli’s power did drop a bit in 2014, he made up for it by walking at the best rate of his career; his 15.6% walk rate would have been the second-best in baseball if had enough plate appearances. With Napoli fully recovered from his injuries, particularly the finger, it’s likely that his power will return to some degree and there’s no reason that he won’t be able to continue walking at a remarkable rate.
So, even though Napoli might not post the sheer home run totals of David Ortiz or the batting average of Ramirez or Sandoval, he’s just as important as any of them (expect maybe Ortiz) in the Red Sox lineup. Napoli is the ideal fifth hitter with his elite right-handed power and walk rate; plus, the depth around him in this lineup will only make him better. If Napoli is able to stay healthy next season, expect him to take on the role of run producer and have one of the best seasons of his career at the age of 33.