There was some discussion earlier this season about whether or not Michael Young should be in consideration for the American League MVP award.
It was a case made on the narrative of Young going from trade bait to productive offensive player for a team heading to the playoffs. Detractors quickly pointed out the flaws in Young's case, starting with the fact that he wasn't even the most valuable player on his own team. Ian Kinsler and Adrian Beltre were both more valuable than Young and C.J. Wilson's season had more to do with the Rangers' strong position in the standings.
No one really mentioned Mike Napoli, but he provided two last reminders about why that was a mistake on Wednesday night. Napoli's two home runs provided all the scoring for the Rangers as they sealed home field in the first round of the playoffs, just the latest game that Texas might not have won without the player whose arrival generated very little fanfare.
Napoli wasn't supposed to be a regular this season. He was a utility part, ready to plug in at catcher, first base or designated hitter to provide support for the big guns in the lineup. His profile was that of a power hitter who couldn't field well enough or get on base often enough to merit a regular place in the lineup. That profile was true defensively, but Napoli blew his offensive projections out of the water.
He didn't have enough at-bats to qualify for the batting title, but Napoli's weighted on-base percentage of .444 was better than Jose Bautista's league-leading mark. He finished just below Bautista is weighted runs created, a tremendous feat for a player who didn't play nearly as often as the other top offensive players in the league. When all was said and done this year, Napoli was as productive as any offensive player in baseball.
So it fit that he was the guy who came up with the two biggest hits on a night when the Rangers guaranteed themselves a chance to start the postseason at home. It fit that he was the one being celebrated after a year of always hearing about how terrific every other Ranger was playing. It fit that his heroics were totally overshadowed on one of the craziest nights in the history of baseball. And it especially fit that he did it against Anaheim.
Napoli was acquired by the Rangers in a deal for Frank Francisco days after the Angels traded him to Toronto for Vernon Wells. Wells, perhaps the most overpaid player in the history of baseball, turned in a season that was barely replacement level and the Angels catchers were even worse. They lost the division to the Rangers by 10 games, a number that Napoli might not have been able to make up on his own, but both Fangraphs and Baseball Reference peg him as being worth at least five wins this year.
If he isn't in Texas, it is a very different race. If he's in Anaheim, it might even be a race that the Angels could have won. Napoli provided them with a painful memory of what they gave away on Wednesday night and he provided all of us one more reason why the greatest part of baseball is the unexpected pleasures.