The Napoli Conundrum

ESPN.com reports that Mike Napoli is the choice as the Red Sox’ first baseman in 2015. Maybe the big contract ($15 million) dictates that, but not Napoli’s consistency.

Because he has awesome power, Mike Napoli has always taken the spot behind David Ortiz in the line-up, but not always consistently. He had a respectable year in 2013, but even then he ran aground for two months, when he couldn’t hit anything. In 2014 he never hit his stride, as he was sidelined with multiple injuries.

If we assume good health and a consistent approach to the plate, Napoli might be good for 25 homers and some clutch hits, but we haven’t really seen that Napoli, except for August, September and October in 2013. Why should we expect more in 2015 with another year’s mileage on an aging slugger?

Mike Napoli would be enough in a line-up with some pop, but really the Red Sox have only one player who will hit 30 or more homers in 2015: David Ortiz. Yoenis Cespedes has power, but he has yet to crack 30 homers in a season, and there is no one to protect him in a lineup where he bats behind Ortiz. Napoli would be that guy if he was reliable and healthy, but this remains to be seen.

It all turns on a theory that power hitters are the answer to baseball’s tilt toward the pitcher. The Red Sox have proven they can get men on base, but one ground ball can kill a rally. The Sox are also adept at hitting into double plays.

However, one pitch missing the perfect spot can drive in runs. Good power hitters hack until they get that pitch, the one that grabs too much of the plate on hangs above the knees. Mike Napoli can do that when he’s healthy and patient. But he is also a sucker for the high fastball, as the scouting report goes. How will he deal with relief pitchers throwing high heat?

I was wrong about Napoli in 2013, and I could be again. But I know the Red Sox need power in their line-up to deal with rally-killers. It takes one pitch to kill a rally and one pitch to clinch one. Bring me a hitter who can wait for that pitch and pulverize it.

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