More to like about Napoli every day

More to like about Napoli every day
May 8, 2014, 6:15 pm
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It's only Year 2 of Mike Napoli's stay here in Boston, but with the way he's been playing, how does another 10 sound?

He wasn't exactly welcomed with open arms right off the bat, though. What was the story surrounding Napoli when the Sox looked to sign him?

Well, let's go back . .  .

He strikes out a lot! He just hits for power, and that's it! I mean, have you SEEN his average?! Plus, where does he play in the field? He can't play catcher anymore… can he even PLAY first?! What if he sucks at it? They already HAVE a DH!

And then to make matters worse . . . his hips are falling off!

Yeah . . .

We were wrong. Heck, even Sox GM Ben Cherington probably freaked himself out a bit too much based on the one-year deal Napoli ended up with instead of the three-year deal (and yes, I know it was because of the hip and not the other stuff).

Nonetheless, he stayed healthy all season and hit all his bonuses. He was extremely influential in the team's World Series championship and ensuing parties around Boston. The Sox didn't hesitate to re-sign him this time, and it's a good thing.

But he did strike out a ton in his first year with Boston - that much we were right on. He K'd a whopping 189 times, or 20th most in MLB history, in 139 games (578 plate appearances). And he did hit for some power, although 23 homers were shy of his career-high 30 back in 2011.

Otherwise, he had a career-high in runs (79) and RBI (92), a .259 batting average and a .360 OBP - both of which were higher than the year prior, but not quite that of 2011 (.320 and .414, respectively).

Napoli also lead the league in another category: pitches per plate appearance (for players who qualified for the stat). In 2013, he saw an average of 4.59 pitches per plate appearance. He's always seen a good number of pitches at the plate, but never that many, and never over that many at-bats.

And the fielding? Let's just say one of the great travesties of the 2013 season is that Napoli didn't win - let alone get nominated - for a Gold Glove at first base. Yes, I'll put his performance up there with any AL first baseman's.

Now fast-forward to this season.

How's this for a line? 32 games (139 at-bats), 5 HR, 20 RBI, 14 R, 33 K, 23 BB, .289 AVG, .417 OBP.

As good as Napoli was last season, he's far and away better at the plate this season. Clearly, he's cut down on the strikeouts and raised the walks. He's seeing an average of 4.68 pitches per plate appearance, again tops in MLB.

To put that in perspective, Kevin Youkilis was always praised for his long, grinding at-bats, but even his best seasons doing so - 4.43 in 2006 and 4.42 in 2009 - aren't as good as Napoli's 2013 number or what he's on pace for in 2014.

Napoli has worked 38 full counts this season, walking in 17 of them while striking out in 8. He's hitting .286 with that count.

With last night's 1-for-3 performance including a double, RBI, and walk, Napoli has now reached base in 30 of 31 games with a plate appearance this season, including 28 straight games since April 4.

And the fielding? If Napoli keeps it up, there's no way he can't be considered for a Gold Glove this time. Wednesday night's snag was the latest example.

The secret is out on Napoli: he's much more than any of us expected.