"Regression" has become something of a buzzword for the 2014 Red Sox, and Mike Napoli may just be the poster child for the naysayers. His postseason heroics (and shirtless post-victory antics) left many fans desperate to have him back in Boston for 2014, and the Red Sox capitulated, agreeing to a two-year contract extension. It seems like the ideal situation: a productive fan favorite coming back on a relatively team-friendly deal. What could go wrong?
That depends on which Mike Napoli shows up in 2014.
His 2013 numbers, taken at face value, were quite good. A .259/.360/.482 batting line translated to a 129 wRC+, and with Napoli proving surprisingly reliable at first base, the only real complaint fans could have was with his ugly slumps in the dog days of summer. The good certainly outweighed the bad, though, and if the Red Sox got this same Mike Napoli back for 2014, they'd have to be happy.
In 2012, however, it was a different story. Napoli hit just .227/.343/.469 in 108 games, providing just 1.6 rWAR despite catching 619 innings. This would be easy enough to brush off in the face of 2013 were in not for the fact that Napoli really played much more like his 2012 self than it might seem.
It was in 2012 that Napoli's strikeout rate jumped by half over the previous year, going from 19.7% to 30.0%. While he's never been great at avoiding the K, those massive strikeout numbers that plagued Napoli in 2013? Those started in 2012. They actually ticked upwards last year, finishing at 32.4% with his walk rate dipping slightly to boot.
So what kept Napoli afloat? Well, BABIP. That figure ballooned from .273 in 2012 to .367 in 2013. If 2012 was low compared to his .310 career average, 2013 was an even bigger outlier.
That's not to say that Napoli is going to drop back down to 2012 form. Just to say that the possibility exists. The question for you is: why the difference between these figures in 2012 and 2013? Is it because Napoli got lucky, or is it because Napoli changed parks and stopped getting unlucky.
Arlington is, of course, known for it's hitting-friendly environment, but it's not necessarily known for it's BABIP-friendly environment. Indeed, Napoli's HR/FB rates spiked noticeably in his two seasons there to a career high 25.5%. In coming to Fenway, that figure fell to 19.0%, which is not terribly surprising. What Arlington is to homers, Fenway is to doubles and triples. It turns fly balls, most of which would have been outs, into extra base hits. But in the process it steals a home run or two. All of which goes towards pumping up that BABIP figure, particularly for a right-handed hitter who has been known to love hitting in Fenway.
So what do you think? Was Napoli lucky in 2013, or unlucky in 2012? Is he going to fall back to Earth, or could he even head in the other direction? What lies in store for the Sox at first base?