It’s easy to get frustrated with Mike Napoli’s offensive style. When the going is good, it’s an impressive show to watch. When the going is bad, it’s rational to despise the very essence of streaky hitters.
Napoli’s season has been a rollercoaster ride for the Red Sox, but as John Farrell has frequently pointed out this year, Boston knew exactly what it was getting into when it signed Napoli — a player with tremendous pop who can also swing and miss with the best of them. If Red Sox fans need more assurance that things could be much worse, even during Napoli’s rough patches, they can simply turn to the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.
About 400 miles south of Fenway Park reside two sluggers whose names were frequently tossed around in conjunction with the Red Sox’ first base vacancy last offseason. It’s unclear whether Boston seriously considered either Michael Morse, who was traded to the Orioles this week, or Adam LaRoche, but the Red Sox can rest assured that they made a wise decision, even if Napoli’s all-or-nothing style makes them want to pull their hair out from time to time.
The Orioles acquired Morse this week with the hope that the 6-foot-5 bopper can put his immense power to good use down the stretch. There’s no denying that Morse is a physically imposing presence capable of adding some muscle to a big league lineup, but the 31-year-old had a train-wreck season with the Mariners. In other words, the glaring flaws in Morse’s game — mainly, terrible plate discipline — came to light.
While Morse was considered by many to be a backup plan if Napoli’s deal fell through, LaRoche was much more in demand among some Red Sox supporters. LaRoche was essentially Plan B until he re-signed with the Nationals on a two-year pact. The main drawback on LaRoche, of course, was the draft-pick compensation attached to him via the qualifying offer he was given by Washington prior to free agency. As we’ve seen this season, though, Napoli was the superior talent and better fit, regardless.
Here’s a look at how the three sluggers stack up this season as we enter September.
Napoli: 119 games, .249 average, .349 on-base percentage, .786 OPS, 17 home runs, 76 RBIs, 2.3 WAR
Morse: 76 games, .226 average, .283 on-base percentage, .693 OPS, 13 home runs, 27 RBIs, -1.2 WAR
LaRoche: 128 games, .233 average, .318 on-base percentage, .722 OPS, 18 home runs, 55 RBIs, 0.3 WAR
Since a bulk of Morse’s playing time this season has come in the outfield, it’s difficult to compare the three players defensively. Napoli has the clear edge offensively, though, while also exceeding defensive expectations in his first season as a full-time first baseman.
Obviously, the Red Sox could have explored other options via trade as well, but there was a point last winter when it looked like either Morse or LaRoche could be the Red Sox first baseman if negotiations with Napoli fell through. It speaks to the thinness of the first base market.
Fortunately for the Red Sox, they executed Plan A. No matter how frustrating Napoli’s season has been at times, things would have been even more frustrating if they called an audible.