Not a moment of Mike Napoli’s post-season goes by without somebody rushing to use his success as a reason to kick Mike Scioscia. Which, in and of itself, isn’t really a bad thing. Mike Scoiscia has become an avatar for knowledge and baseball The Right Way in spite of, let’s say, ample evidence to the contrary.
Many in the media love to point out the success of Scoiscia’s Angels, teams which run and gun and steal bases and put pressure on the defense. Often forgotten is the impressive draft record and oodles of money spent to re-load talent all around the diamond. Not to mention lording over a four team division for years on end.
Much of the Scioscia-criticism comes back to one man – Jeff Mathis. Mathis is one of the worst offensive players in baseball history yet continually receives playing time. Lots of playing time. Often at the expense of Napoli with the nebulous definition of catcher’s defense the explanation.
Away from Scioscia’s keen oversight, Mike Napoli thrived in Texas. How could this be? Scioscia is the catching guru?! With loads of criticism and snark headed his way, Scioscia took to the ESPN airwaves to channel his cousin Karl and declare himself sick of this. Not unlike Mr. Welzein, Scioscia misses a few key points.
In our great rush to knock Scioscia over for burying Napoli on the bench while Mathis flounders comes an important admission: Napoli caught more games as an Angel last year than he did as a Ranger this season. Napoli started 57 games behind the plate in 2011, 38 fewer than teammate Yorvit Torrealba. Compare that to 2010 when Napoli started 59 times behind the plate despite being unable to catch after August 1st (according to Scioscia via ESPN) due to a forearm strain.
Which is all well and good until you consider, as Rob Neyer details here, that Napoli actually spent a good chunk of 2011 on the disabled list.
Scioscia started Mike Napoli 84 times in 2009 (compared to 78 for Mathis), 71 times in 2008 (compared to 91! for Mathis), 68 times in 2007 (compared to 52 for Mathis and 37 for Jose Molina) and 77 times in Napoli’s rookie season of 2006. Which is the bigger issue to most people.
Starting Napoli and Mathis in a comparable amount of games makes sense if Jeff Mathis is not Jeff Mathis. If you have a good catching platoon you maybe split the time 50/50, not if one of your catchers safely reaches base less than one quarter of the time! The Red Sox only gave 64 starts this season to Jason Varitek and, terrible as Tek might be, he is still very much a more valuable player than Jeff Mathis.
I tend to agree with Neyer’s sentiment – Napoli didn’t improve simply by being away from Scioscia, he simply played more games in a safe offensive haven. The most interesting part of this saga is the way the narrative (there’s that word again) swings wildly to suit the pre-determined opinion of the speaker. Napoli’s a better catcher now because of his time with Scioscia or, just maybe, Scioscia is a fool who held the Rangers break-out star down. Neither is true but it is sure easy to see how poking holes in the Teflon Scioscia aura might be a lot of fun.