With the Catching situation now taken care of, it's time for the Red Sox organization to turn their head to another position: First Base.
And because of their depth, they needn't look far.
If you surveyed all of Red Sox Nation about who should be playing first, as many have, the overwhelming winner would be Mike Napoli. Nap gave us a great '13 season, and there's no doubt about that. However, there are some concerns with him that could give pause to the organization.
Let's take a look at some of the biggest possible issues about signing Mike Napoli back.
1) Beyond the shadow of a doubt would require a 3-year, 14+/year deal.
3) While health wasn't an issue in 2013, that doesn't mean it won't be. Time doesn't help.
A streaky, health-concerned, expensive first baseman that's going to strike out 250 times. Now that's not exactly a flattering review- nor is it fully accurate. To be fair...
Let's take a look at some of the best possible returns from signing Mike Napoli back.
1) Maintain elite defense at first base.
2) 20+ bombs provide good protection for Papi.
3) Maintain excellent clubhouse chemistry and leadership.
So an objective look would provide us with the following write-up on Nap: An excellent clubhouse presence that will give you a good middle of the order bat, however has a tendency to strike out a tremendous amount of times, and will go on long streaks. Degenerative hip condition provides cause. Would require more than a 40 million dollar commitment. Excellent defense at first is a plus.
Now, let's look at an alternative. The Red Sox being a short-term type team, I'll isolate contracts to just 2014, so we can determine whether last year's offensive performance would warrant this upcoming year's projected/actual pay.
I'll give you a hint: his name is Daniel Nava.
"What?", you ask. "Daniel Nava?"
Yes! Now, everybody loves Daniel and can see his tremendous upside. I mean, look at that swing. That's the kinda swing that makes people drool.
To be fair to Nap, let's do the same analysis of Daniel.
Biggest concerns with starting Daniel Nava at 1b:
1) Defense has been shaky.
2) Tends to drop off significantly after the break.
3) Lack of real experience at 1b.
A defensively weak, inexperienced first baseman who loses it after the break. Great...?
Biggest upsides with starting Nava at first:
1) Gorgeous swing, shows excellent follow through, doesn't sell out for power.
2) Excellent on base and hit for average tools.
3) What's that? He's making about four percent of what Mike Napoli is going to make?
An on-base and high-average first baseman that knows his swing and is beyond cheap.
So, let's combine the pros and cons again:
Daniel Nava is an excellent hitter that will provide you with high average and decent pop, while certainly able to take a walk. Defense is shaky, but ever improving. Not a lot of experience at first base. Extremely cheap, however may take a bit of a hit after the break.
So we have two guys who are really the antithises of each other: in on-base, average, defense, and cost, these guys are polar opposites. To get a better view of production, there's one stat I like to incorporate when talking about the future.
BABIP is batting average on balls in play- essentially what made Jose Iglesias the second coming of the bambino before reality crept in. Essentially, it calculates average minus strikeouts, sac flies, and homers, basically any ball that isn't in play. It's a good determinant of luck- if your BABIP is super high, it essentially means the ball is dropping abnormally high for you, or defenders just aren't making plays, or whatever reason causes you to get hits where you really shouldn't, which is represented by BABIP minus AVG. The higher that number is, the less likely your performance is to be maintained.
So let's take a look. Fangraphs has Napoli listed with a .367 BABIP and .259 AVG. Nava, however, is listed with a .352 BABIP and .303 AVG.
That's a differential of .108 for Nap and .49 for Nava. That means that Nava's production is more than twice as likely to maintain as well as Napoli's.
Finally, we'll take a look at another number that is flawed- however for our purposes, it is useful.
WAR is essentially a number to determine how many more games your team won with you than a replacement level player- AKA the average utility guy.
Napoli is listed with a 3.9 WAR to Nava's 1.8. This paints a stunningly different picture than the BABIP differential.
Why, you ask? Well, a big part could be that Napoli played a little more- Nap had about 40 more ABs than Nava- but a more realistic assumption would be the homer differential.
Nap crushed nearly twice as many of 'em as Nava- and those are valuable runs in the WAR formula.
So let's look at another great stat for offensive production.
Don't be scared, it just means weighted runs created plus. Basically, a number encompassing how many runs the player's presence was valued, the plus meaning that it is put against the rest of the league, and the weighted narrows it down to similar conditions.
Nap's 129 is only very slightly better than Nava's 128- which means that while Nap had 40 more ABs than Nava, the league average in overall offensive value was 129% worse than him rather than Nava's 128%. (Be careful- it's not that Nap was 129% better, it's that the league average was 129% worse)
So if we put all these numbers together, we get an interesting picture.
It is widely accepted that the formula for value is $5million for each 1 WAR. By this number, Nap was worth nearly $20million this past year while Nava was worth $9million.
Now, we can boil down expected salary vs real salary, and say that Nap was worth about 1.5 times his contract, and Nava was worth about 16 times his contract, and when you put that against the fact that they both created about the same offensive impact- differing by less than a percent- Nava is the far better idea at first.
You can now try out a lineup that looks like this:
Shane Victorino, RF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Daniel Nava, 1B
David Ortiz, DH
Xander Bogaerts, SS
Jonny Gomes, LF
Will Middlebrooks (on thin ice), 3B
Jackie Bradley Jr., CF
And that's a lineup that won't win you 97 games, but it'll do you better than if you spend 25 times as much at first.