Angels' lineup strikes fear ... in nobody
December, 16, 2011
By David Schoenfield | ESPN.com
Kirby Lee/US PresswireThe Angels got the prize of the offseason, Albert Pujols, but he'll likely be their only .800 OPS hitter.Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com asks: Why pitch to Albert Pujols?
In other words: There's a reason the Angels finished 10th in the American League in runs scored in 2011.
Let's examine the Angels' lineup. Let's stick to what we know, and right now we don't now if (A) Kendrys Morales will be healthy; or (B) if Mark Trumbo can play third base. In the past 25 years, only Kevin Youkilis and Todd Zeile have played 100 games at first base in one season and 100 games at third base the next season, and both of them had previous experience at the hot corner.
CF Peter Bourjos
The Angels lack an obvious leadoff hitter on the team, as the only regulars with an OBP above .340 were Bobby Abreu and Alberto Callaspo. Bourjos has the speed and his 49 extra-base hits would add an element of power, but can he get on base enough? His .327 OBP is not what you want from a leadoff hitter, and the strikeouts will rub Mike Scioscia the wrong way. Certainly, Abreu and Callaspo are better leadoff options, but neither guy led off once last season, so that's an option not in Sciosca's wheelhouse.
2B Howie Kendrick
The good news? He's now been relatively healthy two years in a row. He hit a career-high 18 home runs and slugged .464. The bad news? His OBP was still just .338 and after a hot start he hit just .267 after May. Kendrick changed his approach last year, swinging harder -- it resulted in a strikeout rate of 20.4 percent versus a career rate 16.9 percent. The overall result was positive, but he's still a free-swinger who doesn't get on base as much as you'd like.
1B Albert Pujols
Yes, Pujols is a special player. Of course he is. But ... aren't those batting lines pretty good evidence that The Machine is not a machine? That he's slowly aging, no matter his workout regimen or his extreme desire to be the best. New Cardinals manager Mike Matheny and former manager Tony La Russa both made a point to say Pujols isn't like other players, that he'll age well. But I look at those numbers and see a player in slight decline. That said, a rebound year wouldn't surprise me, but keep in mind: (1) He won't get to face the Cubs, Astros and Pirates 45 times a year any more and he's moving into a slightly tougher home run park.
RF Torii Hunter
He's now 36 and showing signs of age: His OPS has dropped from .873 to .819 to .765. He can still mash a left-hander (.287/.389/.497) but was pretty ineffective against right-handers (.252/.313/.402). He's lost much of his speed -- five for 12 stealing bases and he grounded into 24 double plays. In fact, batting Pujols (29 double plays) and Hunter back-to-back is a 6-4-3 waiting to happen.
DH Mark Trumbo
We'll slot Trumbo at DH right now. While he hit 29 home runs as a rookie, he's another guy who doesn't get on base enough -- a .291 OBP. Here's a way to look at this: Trumbo created about 71 runs last season. He used up 427 outs to create those runs. The goal of a hitter is to produce runs while not making outs. Among 32 major league first basemen with at least 300 plate appearances, Trumbo ranked 24th with 4.47 runs created per 27 outs.
LF Bobby Abreu/Vernon Wells
How long of a leash do you give Wells after his miserable season? Do you give him one month? Two months? Trouble is, the AL West and wild-card races project to be very close this year, with the Rangers, plus four quality teams in the AL West. Can the Angels afford to wait to see if Wells regains his stroke at age 33? Since 1990, only two outfielders 30 years or older have had 500 plate appearances and an OBP less than .275 -- Wells and Alex Rios (also in 2011). If we lower the threshold to 300 PAs, we get 2007 Craig Monroe (who never played regularly again) and 2005 Steve Finley (who did rebound from a .271 OBP to .320 the next year). Still, there is such a small track of players who played as poorly as Wells that it's difficult to project what he'll do.
As for Abreu, he can still get on base against right-handers (.366 OBP), but his defense is terrible, his power mostly evaporated and he can't hit lefties. In my book, I'd just give the job to Mike Trout. His speed and defense are good enough until his bat comes around, but he'll likely begin the season in Triple-A.
3B Alberto Callaspo/Maicer Izturis
For all the talk about the Angels upgrading third base -- moving Trumbo there or trading for David Wright -- the Izturis/Callaspo platoon wasn't all that bad. Angels' third basemen ranked 11th in OPS in the majors and third in OBP. In fact, and I know Angels fans will find this hard to believe, but Callaspo created 5.22 runs per 27 outs. Better than Trumbo. Now, it's possible Trumbo may improve -- hit for a higher average, draw a few more walks -- but based on 2011 results, the Angels are better off playing Callaspo at third (assuming Trumbo isn't Scott Rolen on defense).
C Chris Iannetta
The big question: How will he hit outside of Coors Field? His home/road splits in 2011 were extreme -- .301 at home, .172 on the road. They haven't been that large over the course of his career, but still sizable (.869 OPS at home, .707 on the road). He has a lot of patience at the plate, although his walk rate was high in small part to usually batting eighth in front of the pitcher. Still, he'll be a big improvement offensively over Jeff Mathis, even if he doesn't match his Rockies numbers.
SS Erick Aybar
He'll also factor into the leadoff position, where he started 55 games in 2011 -- at least against right-handed pitchers (.341 OBP versus righties, .284 versus lefties).
Now, the strength of the lineup is that there's no outstanding weakness ... well, assuming Vernon Wells doesn't get 500 plate appearances again. If Kendrys Morales is healthy, the team will have even more depth, which is a good thing: Hunter can play 130 games instead of 156; Izturis can fill in at third, short and second; maybe Trumbo turns into a sort of four-corner super sub: 20 games at first, 20 games at third, 20 games in each of the corner outfield spots, some time at DH. If Wells and Abreu struggle, Trout is ready on the farm. Having this kind of flexibility is a manager's dream.
On the other, the only outstanding strength is Albert Pujols. He's the only hitter who projects to post an .800 OPS (Kendrick was .802 last season, his career-best). Even the 2010 San Francisco Giants, maligned for their mediocre offense, had four hitters with an .800 OPS -- Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Buster Posey and Andres Torres. Tampa Bay didn't have much offense in 2011? They had four .800 OPS hitters in Evan Longoria, Matt Joyce, Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman (plus Desmond Jennings in part-time play). The only AL playoff team in the past three seasons with fewer than four .800 OPS regulars was the 2010 Rays, which had Longoria and Carl Crawford and part-time Joyce.
So, yes, it's possible this lineup will score enough runs. Kendrick may have a better season, especially if he bats in front of Pujols. Maybe Bourjos improves or Trout gets called up and hits .285 with some power. Maybe Morales is healthy and assumes the cleanup spot on a regular basis.
All that remains to be seen. Right now, this a lineup with depth but not one that should strike fear in opposing pitchers.