Mike Napoli: The Next Tom Haller?

So, you may recall that I used Baseball Reference's super-duper Play Index back in December to compile a list of hitters comparable to Jeff Mathis through this point in his career, in order to see if bad hitters his age ever turned it around to at least be decent. (Short answer: a couple, barely.)

I thought it might be mildly enlightening/entertaining to systematize the exercise for all the Angels' players before the season gathers much steam, and see what we come up with. Get a conversation going, if nothing else. If you're bored with things like search parameters, skip over the next paragraph.

This is how I ran it: Start with the player's age (through the 2009) season. Then create a band +/- 25% of that player's opportunities (either plate appearances or innings pitched), and another band of +/- 10 percentage points of the player's basic adjusted performance measurement (either OPS+ or ERA+, both of which adjust for era and park). If the player has a primary position, limit the search to that position; if he plays multiple positions then finagle as necessary. These parameters, which should NOT be interpreted as any kind of actual projection system, nonetheless have one advantage over Baseball Reference's traditional "comp" list, which is that you typically produce a list of more than 10 other guys, and you don't see such a wild disparity in the actual quality of the players, (due to the fact that the comp formula under-weights ERA+ and OPS+, and over-weights surface similarities in counting numbers produced in wildly different offensive contexts). Finally, I will not be 100% strict about listing the "bottom" player in every comparison, if, let's say, the next-to-last guy is just much more similar (basically, I prefer post-war players).

OK, it's safe to look up now. Let's start with Mathis' best buddy and main competitor, the intriguing Mr. Mike Napoli.

#comps: 9
topper: .255/.367/.441, 129 OPS+ Joe Ferguson
middle: .249/.347/.441, 119 OPS+ Tom Haller
ourboy: .256/.358/.493, 120 OPS+ Mike Napoli
bottom: .226/.326/.388, 110 OPS+ Duke Sims

Any other interesting people on this list? Nig Clarke!

Top-125 Rankings in Bill James' 2001 Historical Abstract? Tom Haller 26, Smoky Burgess 28, Ed Bailey 39, Joe Ferguson 79, Earl Smith 100.

In your heart, you know this comp is right: Tom Haller. This list is weird (and small), because why would a catcher with a 120 OPS+ only have the equivalent of 2.5 years worth of full-time ABs through his age-27 year? Joe Ferguson did because of a late-ish start, and the simultaneous emergence of his very own Jeff Mathis, guy by the name of Steve Yeager. Tom Haller, too, had to split time early in his career, because of yet another guy on Napoli's comp list -- Ed Bailey (who himself had a career full of time-splitting issues, with people like ... Smoky Burgess!). Haller (like Ferguson, and Napoli) was a huge dude: 6'4", though not quite as buff as the other two guys. He walked slightly less than Naps, struck out half as much, and also hit for impressive power (you try hitting 27 home runs in Candlestick in 1966). In the five years that they finally let him play 130 games, from ages 28-32, he made three All-Star teams and got MVP votes in two seasons. The Dead Ball 2.0 fluctuations, and playing in both Candlestick and Chavez Ravine, dampened his counting stats, but the guy was a very good offensive player. He also has Napoli's consistency, at least in terms of end-of-the-year stats. As we'll see below, a bunch of guys on this list had monster years followed by mediocrity.

Other interesting facts about this group? With the exception of Smoky Burgess, they were all washed up by (and sometimes long before) age 34. Tough position. Also, Ferguson, Bailey, and Rick Wilkins had huge seasons the first time they were given a full-time job (ages 26, 25, and 26, respectively), then never again even approached the same level.

NM   G  AB  R   H  2B 3 HR RB BB  BA   OBP  SLG OPS+ 
JF: 136 487 84 128 26 0 25 88 87 .263 .369 .470 135
EB: 118 383 59 115 8 2 28 75 52 .300 .385 .551 142
RW: 136 446 78 135 23 1 30 73 50 .303 .376 .561 150

In 1973, Ferguson (who retired as an Angel!) had career highs in every major offensive category except on-base percentage. Bailey (who retired as an Angel!) never hit above .264 after that 1956 breakout, and never again earned MVP votes (though he did make four more All-Star teams). Wilkins was a career .244 hitter who never again hit more than 15 homers after his jaw-dropping 1993.

And for whatever it's worth, Ferguson, Haller, and Sims all played on the 1971 Dodgers.

Oh wait you didn't run the exact same parameters on Jeff Mathis, did you? Nope! So here goes:

#comps: 19
topper: .222/.317/.327, 67 OPS+ Mark Johnson
middle: .198/.254/.314, 55 OPS+ Brandon Inge
ourboy: .200/.277/.320, 56 OPS+ Jeff Mathis
bottom: .230/.269/.302, 47 OPS+ Matt Walbeck

Any other interesting people on this list? Buck Martinez and Mike Matheny were useful players.

Top-125 Rankings in Bill James' 2001 Historical Abstract? Surprisingly, yes: Birdie Tebbetts 64, George Gibson 95.

In your heart, you know this comp is right: Well, read the original post, but I think there's a triple-fingers-crossed blind-optimistic case to be made for Eli Marrero.

Other interesting facts about this group? Only that there are waaaay too many Angels among them.

See you next time, when we talk Kendry Morales!

This FanPost is authored by an independent fan. Tell us what you think and how you feel.

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