Originally written on Baseball Professor  |  Last updated 12/3/12

Boston’s offseason overhaul is underway. The Red Sox have agreed to terms with Mike Napoli on a three-year contract worth $39MM. At first glance it would appear that Napoli was made for Fenway. The right-handed, power-first pull hitter will enjoy bobbing balls off and over the Green Monster just over 300 feet away, and one would expect his power numbers and batting average to rise accordingly even factoring in his departure from another hitter’s haven in Texas. During Napoli’s seven-year career, he’s played 19 games at Fenway Park and logged 62 at-bats while slashing .309/.372/.702 (ridiculous!) with 7 HR, 17 RBI, and 13 R. Of course, the Red Sox haven’t assembled the best pitching staffs since Napoli broke into the show in 2006; the team’s overall 4.31 ERA ranks 20th in the majors over that span, and their ERA at Fenway is no better at 4.32. So, is Napoli’s success more a product of the ballpark or the pitching staff? Napoli’s Numbers at Fenway The best way to answer this would be to look at compare Napoli’s career numbers against the Red Sox in games at Fenway and in games in Angels Stadium and Arlington. I’m inclined to believe his success in Boston is more a function of him really excelling versus their pitching staffs and less his love of Fenway. The two sets of numbers above are nearly identical with the greatest difference being Napoli’s BABIP at Fenway versus that in Angel Stadium or Arlington. It’s possible that Napoli will be able to maintain a higher BABIP batting in Fenway by virtue of the massive target in left field, but it’s definitely not enough to explain a 121-point gap in BABIPs. That’s just a fluke due to small sample sizes. Ballpark in Arlington vs. Fenway Park As a life-long Red Sox fan, I’ve seen all the advantages and disadvantages of hitting in that ballpark. Much is made of how pull-heavy right-handed hitters can flourish in Fenway, but batters that spray the ball to center or right-field tend to struggle (unless they’re particularly adept at pulling it around Pesky’s Pole). By comparison, The Ballpark in Arlington is incredible balanced; everyone hits well there. The park factors below bear this out. Given the homer-heavy Napoli is our player in question, I’ve highlighted each ballpark’s home run park factors. In Texas, both lefties and righties flourish. In Fenway, righties get a slight boost while lefties nosedive. This is in line with the dimensions of the ballpark we just noted. I think it’s important to note what these park factors actually mean. When it says that righties hit homers 11% more frequently at Fenway when compared to the league average, that’s because righties tend to hit the ball to left field (and the Green Monster) than they do to right field (and the vast expanse of outfield grass). If a right-handed hitter were to go the opposite way more often than they pull it, they’d essentially be displaying the hitting profile of a left-handed hitter and Fenway Park wouldn’t be very kind to them. This distinction is important because of what comes next. Napoli’s Hitting Profile Napoli isn’t exactly your typical pull hitter. ESPN Insider allows you to look at each batter’s spray chart to determine where they hit the ball and how often. Using these spray charts is actually an extremely useful and often overlooked aspect of player evaluation (usually because they’re difficult to find). I think for any serious fantasy player getting these is almost worth the ESPN Insider subscription alone. While Napoli is technically classified as a pull hitter (he hits the ball to the third base/left field side about 50% of the time), he’s actually an extremely balance hitter in terms of outfield hit direction. When projecting how Napoli will hit in Fenway, his infield spray chart is almost completely irrelevant. Projecting Napoli’s HR in Fenway Park In two years with the Rangers, Napoli posted HR/FB rates of 25.5% and 25.4%, both of which were better than any of his years with the Angels when he had a average HR/FB of 18%. (Note: I did consider that Napoli’s HR/FB rate with Texas was higher in part because he was growing into his power prime, but his HR/FB rates with the Angels were very stable before spiking with the Rangers so I don’t think this was a major factor). Seeing as Angel Stadium had park factors for home runs of 82/80 versus Arlington’s 117/116, this is hardly a surprise. Fenway Park’s 80/111 split sits somewhere in the middle. Because Napoli is a balanced outfield hitter, hitting the ball to right field exactly as much as to left field, I’m going to take the average of Statcorner.com’s LHB/RHB park factor splits for homers. This means Angel Stadium comes in at 81, Arlington at 116.5, and Fenway Park at 95.5. Using these park factors and Napoli’s career HR/FB rates, what does his HR/FB rate at Fenway project to be? Using Fenway’s average park factor for homers of 95.5 (and plugging it into the equation on the graph), we get a projected HR/FB of 21.1% with the Red Sox. Assuming Napoli hits fly balls at the same rate he has over the last several years (about 41-42%), his balanced outfield spray chart remains, well, balanced, and his strikeout rate hovers around his career rate (25.4%), we should expect Napoli to hit 33 HR per 500 at-bats. Now, that 33 HR would be a new career high. Haven’t I been saying this whole time that Napoli won’t do as well in Boston as he did in Texas? Yes, but Napoli is the flashy new first baseman for a hitting-starved Boston lineup. He won’t need days off due to the rigors of catching (Boston already has too many catchers), and he won’t need to sit like he did in Texas to make room for the team’s 47 corner infielders. Napoli will receive plenty of playing time at first base for the Red Sox, and — barring injury — that should lead to his first 450-500 at-bat season. My 2013 projection for Mike Napoli: 550 PA | 73 R | 33 HR | 88 RBI | 3 SB | .261 BA

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