Mythbusters: The Angels Baseball Edition

Baseball reality is so often legendary that it shouldn’t be surprising when the opposite occurs and baseball myths, oft repeated, begin to take on an aura of reality. As an Angels fan, there were two such recent myths that caught my attention more than any others, as they were repeated throughout the regular season, the post season and on into November. Both myths “explain” Mike Napoli’s rising star post trade from the Angels.

Napoli: Texas Ranger. Yup. That one's going to hurt for a while, I think. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

Myth 1: Of course Mike Napoli blossomed under the Rangers, the guy just needed to get some real playing time.

I actually fell victim to this myth myself for a little while. It certainly sounds plausible. And it’s been repeated so often that it really started to seem like Naps got a lot more playing time with the Rangers…until I started thinking about all of the games I attended where Napoli played. Hmmm…so I looked up some real numbers.

In 2011, for the Texas Rangers, Mike Napoli had: 369 at bats in 113 games and played a position in 96 games, 61 at catcher and 35 at first base.

In 2010, for the Angels, Mike Napoli had: 453 at bats in 140 games and played a position in 126 games, 59 at catcher and 67 at first base, significantly more playing time than he enjoyed with Texas in 2011.

In 2009, for the Angels, Mike Napoli had: 382 at bats in 114 games and played a position in 96 games, all of them at catcher, roughly the same amount of playing time as he enjoyed with Texas in 2011.

Prior to 2009, Mike Napoli did experience less playing time, making an appearance in 78 games in 2008, 75 in 2007 and 99 in 2006. But for the two season prior to his trade, Naps saw as much or playing time in Anaheim as he saw in Arlington.

As the Mythbuster boys would say, I call this myth busted.

Myth 2: Mike Scioscia is too hard on catchers.

I only have anecdotal evidence against this myth, but I feel it’s significant. While I have no doubt that Mike Scioscia is hard on catchers, I question the implication that this is universally detrimental. Yes, Mike Napoli played better for the Rangers and the current crop of catchers all need improvements in different ways but, come on, two out of three Molina brothers can’t be wrong, right? Especially when the third isn’t so much a dissenting vote as not included in the sample size. So, apparently, some catchers do just fine under Sosh. Myth busted.

Mike Napoli, showing off those improved defensive catching skills with Bobby Abreu at bat. Oh well. Angels vs. Rangers, August 16, 2011. Photo by This is a very simple game...

And the reality?

Okay, if it wasn’t more playing time and Mike Scioscia isn’t a crippling influence on catchers, then why did Mike Napoli have so much stronger a season in 2011 than in 2010 or 2009? Well, in part, I would never underestimate the power of batting in the middle of that crazy good Texas lineup. Do they have a weak spot in their lineup? Because we sure never saw one. Talk about protection!

But, more than that, I suppose the greatest myth of all is that past performance is a guarantee of future performance, especially once you change any of the variables: new team, new manager, new coaches, new lineup, new clubhouse culture and so on. Some players in this situation adapt immediately and pick up right where they left off, give or take a little benefit/detriment from combining their talents with those of their new teammates. Adrian Gonzalez and Adrian Beltre, for example. Some players experience a (hopefully temporary?) set back in their new digs and perform well below expectations. Carl Crawford and Vernon Wells, for example. And others absolutely shine, like our current example Mike Napoli.

In Naps particular case, I think there is a slight, skewed truth to Myth #2. It’s not that Mike Scioscia is too hard on catchers, but that way in which Mike Scioscia handles catchers, be it hard or not, simply didn’t work for Mike Napoli, much like a particular teacher might be just the ticket for one student but ineffective at best for their siblings. So, significant lineup protection? New manager with whom he clicked better? Perhaps even added drive to prove himself after being traded twice in less than a week? Take your pick, but I think it’s a combination of all of these reasons and perhaps a few more. Interesting food for thought as Hot Stove heats up and GMs begin to throw large sums of money about banking, quite literally, on past performances.

11 Comments

Losing Napoli did hurt, but the Angels still have a good catcher in Mathis I think. He plays the position very well and is definitely a guy the Angels should hang on to.
The Rays Rant- http://yossif.mlblogs.com/

Mathis can be a good defensive catcher Yossif, but he makes a lot of mental errors and can’t hit his way out of a paper bag. I wish we could somehow merge his pitcher whisperer and defense of the plate skills with someone who could hit, if not for power at least for average…and there are a lot of freeagent catchers right now. It’s an intriguing prosect.

– Kristen

Great post. I like Napoli and it seems to me that he benefits offensively playing in Texas and in their lineup.

Ron

Thanks Ron! Yeah, I definitely think there is a lot about Texas that helps him. I like Napoli a lot too. It was hard to put on a happy face about that trade, even in the few seconds before he went to Texas.

Kristen

I hear ya. Batting in that Texas lineup definitely insured he would see a lot of good pitches AND it’s Arlington, where my little sister could fist one out oppo-taco style.

Too true about Arlington Jeff, especially when the wind is blowing just right…though that lineup can hit pretty much anywhere. And I never underestimate the power of a trade induced chip on the shoulder.

– Kristen

Napoli did need playing time, but being in a lineup with a lot more power will help a hitter as well.
Steve
http://fishfry55.mlblogs.com

Thanks for dropping by my blog and commenting, Steve! Yes, more playing time was clearly the reason…except, you know, for the part where Naps actually got less playing time in Arlington than he did last season in Anaheim and the exact same amount as he did in Anaheim in 2009. ;)

– Kristen

I can’t help but wonder how Napoli would have fared in Toronto. But then the Jays are overloaded with catchers as it is. I just wish they’d have gotten more for him.

In any event, if I could explain why some players go from supporting cast members to stars on other teams, I’d be a very rich GM right now. The Pirates are still kicking themselves for letting Jose Bautista go. The Twins let David Ortiz go for nothing. Sometimes a new team and a different coach just seems to make it all click for a player…. it just hurts twice as much when he clicks on a team within your division.

http://bluejaysnest.mlblogs.com/

I would have preferred Napoli in the AL East to still in our division Bluejaysnest, that’s for sure. But yeah, that’s exactly my point. Past performance is mostly all anyone has to go one, but there are so many variables that determine success and your Jose Bautista really clicking with the Jays hitting coach and some of his team mates is a prime example.

– Kristen

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