ARLINGTON, TX: Mike Napoli #25 of the Texas Rangers stands on the field during batting practice prior to Game Five of the MLB World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Was Mike Napoli underappreciated when he played for Mike Scioscia? Does the rooster crow at dawn? That's the story, anyway. Finally, somebody asked Scioscia if it's true...
Hey, kudos. I've been waiting for someone to ask Mike Scioscia about Mike Napoli, and finally someone's done it.
See, for a few weeks -- actually, for a few months -- we've all been shaking our heads and tsk-tsking over the Angels' foolish decision to trade Napoli for Vernon Wells last winter, a deal that looks all the more ridiculous considering that a) the Angels' catchers were a disaster this season, and b) the Rangers finished 10 games ahead of the Angels in the standings.
Fair or not, Scioscia has been seen as the driving force behind that trade, since the ex-catcher never seemed to warm up to the idea of Napoli behind the plate. Is that fair, though? From Mike Saxon's piece, quoting a radio interview:
Scioscia said a forearm injury meant Napoli couldn't catch from Aug. 1 until the end of the 2010 season. He batted .238 in his final season with the Angels, including .182 with runners in scoring position.
"I think we have to wait a couple years first. Right now, it's obvious. Mike Napoli is having an incredible run with Texas," Scioscia said. "He was certainly capable of doing what he did and we valued him. The thing that cracks me up is when people say we didn't think he was any good. We played him a lot more than Texas has this year over his career with us."
I don't think we'll have to wait too many more years to evaluate the deals that sent Napoli to the Rangers and Vernon Wells to the Angels. When you look at the dollars and the statistics and the relative ages of Napoli and Wells, it's probably going to stay obvious. Which isn't to say Wells can't bounce back next season; he's bounced back from lousy seasons twice before, and might do it again. But the Angels owe Wells $63 million over the next three seasons. I mean, c'mon.
Scioscia's other point is worth a deeper look. Did the Angels really play Napoli "a lot more than Texas has this year"?
Well, that depends.
Napoli played in only 113 games for the Rangers this season, in part because he spent a big chunk of June on the Disabled List with a strained oblique muscle. If not for the injury, he presumably would have played in 125-130 games for the Rangers ... which would still be fewer than the 140 games he played for the Angels in 2010.
Doesn't really square with the meme, does it? Looking just at these two seasons, one might guess that the Angels were more enamored of Napoli's talents than the Rangers are.
Of course, we've got more than just these two seasons.
In 2009, Napoli played in 114 games. And in 2007 and '8, he played in 75 and 78 games. Granted, he spent significant time on the DL in both seasons, but I think it's telling that from 2006 (when he played 99 games) through 2008, Napoli didn't get a single at-bat as a first baseman or a DH. What this says, to me anyway, is that Scioscia undervalued Napoli's value as a catcher and as a hitter.
It wasn't until 2010 that the Angels made a real effort to get Napoli into the lineup regularly -- giving him 27 starts at first base and 18 as DH -- and immediately after finally letting him play almost every day, they traded him for some magic beans.
Some really, really, really expensive magic beans.
Meanwhile, the argument will be made that Napoli has blossomed this season because he doesn't have Mike Scioscia breathing down his neck any more. Napoli in August:
"I always felt like I was looking over my shoulder to see if I was doing things right," Napoli said. "I had 'bad hands.' I was so worried about my setup and the mechanics all the time. I learned a lot. I learned a lot of what I do there, but playing there just wasn't much fun."
We get it: In Mike Napoli's world, Ron Washington > Mike Scioscia.
Scioscia's right about one thing, though: We have to wait a couple years. I'm already convinced that trading Napoli for Wells was sublimely foolish. I'm not yet convinced that getting out from under Mike Scioscia's thumb has made Mike Napoli a fundamentally better player.