posted at 7/8/2013 11:26 PM EDT
In response to dgalehouse's comment:
Some people say that Napoli is a better second half hitter. That is a pipe dream. The guy has no bat speed. The word is out. That will not change. Playing him against tough right handers , much less batting fifth, is not smart.
Stabbed by Foulke.
I do not agree at all with this assessment at all. Are you saying he is losing his batspeed? First, I really doubt any of us can see changes in batspeed while watching a game, especially for a player who is new to the team and we have no real benchmark. How fast was Napoli swinging last year, and how much has it dropped? Watching him not catch up to fastballs is not proof of anything. Did he catch up to those same fastballs last year? How about last month?
In fact, Napoli’s K% has actually decreased every month, from 35.7% in April to 31.7% is May to 28.4% in June. Also, his LD% has increased every month, from 25.0% in April, to 27.5% in May, to 32.7% in June. For those of you wondering how these LD numbers stack up, they are actually insanely good.
So Napoli is striking out less and putting more line drives in play as the season goes on. This is absolutely NOT a sign of a player with alleged batspeed issues.
Napoli’s strikeouts are largely a function of taking lots and lots of pitches, and therefore trying to hit with lots of 2 strike counts. You cannot judge batspeed on a guy swinging with 2 strikes, because sometimes there is an adjustment made by the hitter that can drastically affect his swing. He is walking less than in previous years, which is a cause for concern. While his K% is up to a career high, his BB% is actually at a career low. It would appear as though a good chunk of his strikeouts are coming at the expense of walks, and not on balls in play. His batting eye is one part of the problem. (For reference on this, I verified that his O-Swing% - or percentage of times he swings at pitches outside of the strike zone – is also at a career high level.) Granted, not all his strikeouts are coming at the expense of walks, but it would appear as though about 50% of his increase is.
Another real issue is the drop in power. His FB% is down from previous years, as is his calling card HR/FB%. If he was hitting his usual 44% flyballs instead of 37%, and if his HR/FB% was at his typical 20% instead of 13%, you would be looking at a player with 17HRs. Fans would be asking why he was left off the All Star team instead of suggesting he be dropped in the lineup behind fellow strikeout problem Jarrod Saltalamacchia, or replaced altogether with career role player Mike Carp.
So the issues are drop in power and batting eye. This could simply be an off year for Napoli, or a career turning point, and he could be morphing into a line drive hitter with less power, just like Justin Morneau or Paul Konerko have done in recent years (granted both have very different reasons for their changes). Or Napoli could be embracing a new hitting style, one that emphasizes putting his pitch in play and making solid contact as opposed to swinging for the fences as often as possible. He is hitting more line drives than in previous years, and his 27.1% line drive rate this year is tied for sixth in MLB with Joe Mauer. That he had more RBI during the month where he struck out the most and hit the fewest line drives also makes me think he has made some changes to his approach and is not swinging for the fences as often as possible anymore.
Fans will probably not like the new Napoli approach because it is very reminiscent of how JD Drew approached hitting…