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Napoli won't be a top-10 catcher post-break

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - A feeling of deja vu surrounding Rangers catcher Mike Napoli may cause some fantasy owners to follow what will ultimately prove to be a fruitless path.

At first glance, Napoli appears to be following the blueprint he laid down last season -- underwhelming first-half, torrid finish -- but holding onto the Rangers catcher instead of taking a flier on a number of backstops with upside who are readily available will only lead to more disappointment for Napoli owners.

Going into July 4 of last season, Napoli was hitting .221 with 10 home runs and 25 RBI, but he finished with a .383 average, 18 homers and 42 RBI after the All-Star break, likely helping many owners win their leagues.

Since Napoli's line -- .233, 12 HRs, 30 RBI -- heading into Independence Day 2012 is similarly lousy, it would be easy to assume that the catcher is just a poor first-half performer in the mold of Mark Teixeira, and that another big second half is on the horizon. However, making assumptions without looking at the whole picture is the best way to set ourselves up for failure. If we dig a little deeper, we'll see that there isn't much hope for improvement based on Napoli's performance at the plate this season.

Let's start with the fact that Napoli has played in 71 games; last season he played 52 games in the first half, so his mediocrity has already lasted much longer in 2012.

In his 70 games this year, Napoli has managed to whiff 83 times, two less than all of last season and 45 more than he had at the All-Star break last year.

The catcher's spike in strikeouts is simple to explain -- he's swinging and missing far more often. In 269 plate appearances, Napoli's swing-and-miss percentage is 22 percent, up four percent from last season. His contact rate is down five percent to 68 percent, and his ball-in-play percentage is also down five percent, to 21 percent, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

With so few balls put in play, Napoli is fairly lucky that his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .307. If more of the balls Napoli put in play had found leather, his real batting average may be around the Mendoza Line instead of above .230.

It's possible that Napoli's performance in the second half of 2011 was a fluke. After all, the catcher never batted above .273 in any of his previous five seasons. Napoli's 2.7 K/BB ratio this season is also more in line with his last two seasons with the Angels, when he posted a 2.9 K/BB ratio and had a .254 batting average in 835 at-bats, than last season's 1.5 K/BB.

The Rangers catcher finished last season as the second ranked backstop and 58th overall player in Yahoo! leagues, five spots behind Tigers C/DH Victor Martinez. Now, Napoli doesn't even make my top 10 catcher rankings for the second half of 2012. Here are those rankings.

1. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals - The superstar gloveman has turned himself into .300 hitter, and he's added some pop this season to boot. His ability to swipe some bases makes him the clear-cut No. 1 catcher for the second half.

2. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants - Posey has bounced back nicely from his season-ending injury in 2011 by hitting .300 with 10 homers, 42 RBI and an .841 OPS. Expect more of the same in the second half, as Posey will likely finish the season with a .310 average, 20 home runs and 88 RBI.

3. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies - Ruiz already has a career-high 13 homers this season to go along with a batting average north of .350 and an OPS over 1.000. While both those will come down, Ruiz will get more protection in the lineup when Ryan Howard rejoins the team after the break.

4. Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins - The Twins catcher hit .397 in 20 games last month and has six hits in his first 13 at-bats this month as his average has risen to .332. Mauer will likely contend for another batting title, but his lack of pop and history of injuries knocks him out of my top three.

5. A.J. Pierzynski, Chicago White Sox - On more than one occasion, Pierzynski has ranked in the top five in player polls of the most hated players in baseball. He's one of the most beloved in fantasy baseball this season, as he's already posted the third highest homer total of his career with 15. He'll easily eclipse his career high of 18 homers later this season.

6. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals - The 22-year-old Perez tore cartilage in his knee during spring training and missed the entire season up until late June. He's played 10 games since he returned and posted a .371 batting average (13-for-35) with three home runs and seven RBI. In 49 career games over the last two seasons, Perez is hitting .339 with six home runs and an .882 OPS. He's a must-add in all formats.

7. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves - McCann has been terribly disappointing this season after six-straight All-Star campaigns, batting just .225 with nine homers and 35 RBI through Wednesday. However, I expect the catcher to turn things around in the second half. He's worth a flier if a frustrated owner discarded him.

8. Miguel Montero, Arizona Diamondbacks - Montero won't carry any fantasy offenses, but he won't subtract from them either. The catcher drove in 86 runs last season and he'll likely post a similar total this year, as he has 43 RBI in 68 games. The D-Backs catcher hit .329 in June after a slow April and awful May, so there is hope for a second-half surge.

9. Wilin Rosario, Colorado Rockies - Rosario may have Wally Pipped Ramon Hernandez in Colorado. Rosario took over for Hernandez in late May after the veteran went down with a strained muscle in his left hand and has taken advantage of the opportunity, blasting 14 homers with 36 RBI. Hernandez began a minor league rehab assignment Wednesday, but he'll likely have to accept a backup role when he returns to the Rockies.

10. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox - The next home run Saltalamacchia hits will be a career high, as he's already matched his previous high of 16 in 65 games this season. Salty was the centerpiece of the Rangers' haul for Mark Teixeira in 2007, but he washed out in Texas and joined Boston in 2010. Don't let the failed prospect label deter you from grabbing Saltalamacchia, as the catcher has slugged 26 homers in his last 112 games dating back to the 2011 All-Star break.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.


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