Monday, January 30, 2012
Question No. 3: Can they maximize Albert Pujols' impact?
By Mark Saxon
In the weeks leading up to spring training, we're counting down the biggest questions the Angels face in 2012.
When you add a hitter as good as Albert Pujols, the setting is crucial.
That's part of the reason the St. Louis Cardinals gave Matt Holliday so much money and traded with the Dodgers for Rafael Furcal. Holliday had enough power to protect Pujols in the order and Furcal helped catalyze rallies Pujols often ended with a bang.
So, one of the biggest concerns for the Angels this spring is sorting through players capable of setting the table for Pujols and others capable of punishing pitchers who walk him. It just so happens that the Angels' biggest offensive shortcomings, it would seem, are at leadoff and cleanup.
Angels leadoff men last year, mostly Maicer Izturis and Erick Aybar, scored 79 runs, worst in the American League. Their on-base percentage was .325, seventh in the AL.
Here are the candidates for the leadoff spot, and their age and career on-base percentages: Izturis, 31, .339; Aybar, 28, .319; Peter Bourjos, 24, .303; and Bobby Abreu, 37, .397.
The young, fast guys -- Bourjos and Aybar -- haven't historically been very good at getting on base, which is probably a bigger problem than the fact the older guys -- Abreu and Izturis -- don't run as well as they once did. Either way, the candidates are far from ideal. The Angels would love it if Bourjos continued to make strides as a hitter, cut down on his strikeouts and started taking more walks (his minor league .346 OBP is encouraging).
But right now, the leadoff spot is both fluid and worrisome. Cleanup hitter might be a bigger problem.
Angels who batted fourth, mostly Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells, drove in 100 runs, eighth in the AL and two behind the anemic Oakland A's. They slugged .433, sixth in the league.
Wells, 33, is coming off the worst season of his career; Hunter, 36, has seen his batting average decline for three straight years and has never driven in more than 90 runs as an Angel; Kendrys Morales, 28, hasn't played since he jumped on home plate and broke his ankle in May 2010; and Mark Trumbo might not even have a daily spot in the lineup since Pujols plays his position.
Believe it or not, the Angel who got the third-most at-bats hitting cleanup last year was Abreu, who managed eight home runs in 502 at-bats.
Like the leadoff question, the youngest solution is the least-reliable but the most enticing. If Morales returns to 2009 form (.306/.355/.569), the Angels could rival the Detroit Tigers for the most menacing 3-4 combination in the American League.
Until that happens and Bourjos grows into the leadoff job, the numbers one and four will continue to occupy Mike Scioscia's attention.