A look at Mike Napoli's numbers as catcher
Napoli's work behind the plate was clearly not well regarded by the Angels, and they took steps to limit their pitching staff's exposure to his receiving skills. When Kendry Morales blew out his knee last summer, the Angels chose to shift Napoli to first base, rather than acquire a new first baseman, essentially choosing to replace Morales' bat with Mathis' -- a move that could only be described as a downgrade of epic proportions. They felt the upgrade in defensive value provided by Mathis behind the plate would compensate for some of the lost offense, and rather than shift Napoli back to catcher upon Morales' return they've decided to stick with the glove over the bat.
From a statistical standpoint, that's kind of crazy. Based on their respective career numbers, Napoli's offensive advantage over Mathis is about 40 runs per year. If we look at the numbers for things that catchers are responsible for -- fielding errors, throwing errors, passed balls and runners caught stealing -- we can see the gap between the best and worst catcher in those areas was only 20 runs last year, half of the offensive gap that Mathis needed to overcome. Napoli scores very poorly by these metrics, coming in 113th out of 120 catchers in the survey, but Mathis actually comes in dead last.
However, catcher defense is one area where we simply have to admit there are still a lot of questions to be answered. While we can look at how frequently catchers are able to gun down would-be base-stealers, Major League organizations view that as only a fraction of their responsibilities. They are also judged on their pregame preparation with pitchers, their ability to keep them focused during games, and what types of pitches they call for in certain situations. These things are much more difficult to quantify, and because of that, there can be a tendency to downplay their potential effects.
The article goes on to note that the Rangers didn't trade for Napoli so he could play behind the plate regularly. They got him for his bat off the bench and the fact that he can also play first base, which means he's versatile. I'm going to hold off judgement until Napoli settles in and get a chance to play some behind the plate. But the Rangers head into spring training with Matt Treanor as the backup catcher and Napoli as the No. 3 guy. It means they can pinch hit and do some more things without worrying if they have another catcher on the bench.
Anyway, you can read the entire entry here (insider account needed).
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