What the Angels need out of their line-up

This is a repost from a blog I just started at:

I'll be making posts regarding film and classic rock, but the main focus will be baseball and, of course, the Angels, so check it out if you want.

The 2011 Angels line-up represents probably the biggest question mark of any Halos team in recent years. From 2004-2009, we could generally expect the team to produce 90+ wins and a division berth. 2010 was a significant disappointment, although in retrospect I probably should have seen their fall-off coming. With the addition of Vernon Wells, the possibility of bounce-back years from Erick Aybar and Kendry Morales, and the chance of continues regression from Bobby Abreu and Brandon Wood, it's difficult to pinpoint exactly where this team stands. So, I decided to go down the list, 1-9, and pick out the key for each player to best fulfill playoff hopes.

(The line-up is a rough projection. Vernon and Torii could easily be switches and the bottom four are hardly set in stone.)

1. Maicer Izturis, 3B. Stay healthy. Maicer was a deceptively valuable player in 2009, posting a 3.4 WAR in only 114 games. He gave the Angles plus defense at second at short while hitting .300 with moderate power and speed. His 109 OPS+ remains a career high. Last year, he slumped to an 88 OPS+ and injuries held him to 61 games. Still, strong defense, primarily at third, made him valuable (1.1 WAR) nonetheless. No option at third seems particularly exciting, but a healthy Izturis at least gives the Angels a solid glove and a potentially above average bat. He would represent about 2-3 wins over what we could expect from Wood or Callaspo.

2. Bobby Abreu, DH. Set a patient example. Lost in Bobby's awful defense last season was a strong offensive season. Despite posting his lowest batting average in a full season (.255), Bobby's 87 walks, 62 extra-base hits, at 24 steals gave him a 3.0 WAR on offense. Of course, anyone who saw him enough in the outfield last year developed a peptic ulcer. He cost the Angels 19 runs, giving him an overall WAR of 1.1. With the pressure of defense taken away, the soon-to-be 37 year old will be both rested and focused near the top of the Angels line-up. While I wouldn't expect him to top 25 stolen bases, another 80+ walks with good gap power should be a given, especially with Abreu topping 150 games every season since 1998. With restless hitters like Kendrick and Aybar needing to improve their plate discipline, having Bobby in the line-up should at least give them someone worth watching.

3. Kendry Morales, 1B. Finish where he left off in 2010. We know how last season ended for Kendry. What's important to remember are the numbers he put up prior to his injury. In 51 games, Kendry hit 11 home-runs and put up a 127 OPS+. He likely won't draw a ton of walks, but Kendry was a second half player in 2009 and should hit near .300 with power. His health will remain a question all season, but if he's in the line-up, he needs to give the Angels a legitimate power bat.

4. Vernon Wells, LF. Repeat. Vernon will never live up to his contract. But he can absolutely represent an upgrade over Juan-Gone in left field. Juan's WAR of 0.8 fell well short of Wells' 3.4. Moving over to left field will mitigate Vernon's defensive limitations which saw him cost Toronto 10 runs last season. Playing on grass should also help protect his body as he moves deeper into his 30's. Wells has been healthy the last two seasons (only 9 games missed combined) and last year saw him hit for his best power since 2006. Those who point to the nearly .300 point different in his home and road OPS forget to mention that the Rogers Center has actually been a league average offensive park over the last three seasons. Last year's power spike seems to be a fluke. Over his career, Wells has hit better at home, but far las dramatically so (a 77 point OPS difference). I wouldn't expect him to build on his 2010 season but a repeat does give the Angels a nice 2 win upgrade. Would I pay 80+ million over the next four years for that? No, but it's not my checkbook.

5. Torii Hunter, RF. Keep the OBP high. Torii has hit for remarkable consistent power in his three seasons with the Halos, with home-run totals of 21, 22, and 23. Small differences in doubles and at bats/ home run have caused fluctuations in his slugging percentage, but the difference between his BA and OBP has risen each of the last three seasons. His 61 walks last season were a career high and despite entering his mid-30's, his K rate hasn't risen. With reports that Torii has entered camp lighter and his successful move to RF taking pressure off his defense, the Angels can expect another strong year from their surest bet in the line-up. With another season of +.350 OBP, they should have a strong anchor in the middle of the line-up.

6. Howie Kendrick, 2B. Reverse last year's defensive trend. I've accepted that Howie will never emerge as more than an average hitter; his walk rate hasn't improved and his slugging percentage last year was a career low. More troubling though was the four runs he cost the Angels in the field last year. He'd been a plus second baseman in each of his first four years, allowing him to remain an above-average player despite injuries and offensive limitations. Any return to his 2007 BA would be a pleasant surprise, but there's no reason for him not to return to his defensive numbers of 2006-2009.

7. Erick Aybar, SS. Take it easy. I'm hoping last season's massive regression was due to his pressing at the top of the order. Erick did post the best stolen base total of his career and he did post a decent rate (22 steals in 30 tries). But the .306 OBP, coupled with a lack of power gave him an anemic 76 OPS+ unacceptable at any spot in the lineup. The offensive problems carried over to the field, where he went from saving 6 runs to costing the Angels 4 runs. Even average production from a good fielding shortstop would make Aybar hugely valuable. His 4.3 WAR in 2009 eclipsed even Kendry's 4.0. But last year, he posted a 0.5 WAR largely on the basis of his position and decent baserunning skills. Likely to spend the season somewhere in the bottom third of the order, Aybar won't feel the need to change his approach at the plate. He's one hitter who actually seems to benefit from an aggressive style, and batting 7th through 9th will allow him to attack pitchers as opposed to feeling them out. If he can find at least a medium between 2009 and 2010, the Angels should pick up about 2 wins.

8. Peter Bourjos, CF. Keep up the glovework. Peter Boujos should improve offensively from last year. He hit .293 in the minors and posted his best season last year in AAA, with an .861 OPS and the highest home run total of his career. With 19 home runs and 16 triples last season combines, Peter has decent pop which should carry over. He lacks great discipline and I would expect an OBP much above .300. BUT, his defense carried him to a rather excellent 1.5 WAR in about 1/3 of a season last year in the majors. With any improvement in his bat, Peter could end up as the most valuable player on the team next year. Situated at the bottom of the order with low expectations, Peter will have plenty of time to develop a nice approach and feel for pitching while continuing what should be a stellar season on defense. Remember, Darin Erstad posted a 6.0 WAR in 2002 despite an 86 OPS+ due to Bourjos-esqe defense in CF.

9. Jeff Mathis, C. Find religion and join a monastery.

I expect the Angels, based on pretty rough calculations, to win about 85 games. Their starting pitching is the surest bet, and the bullpen will be improved over last season. What will push the Angels into the 90-95 win range and the playoffs depends largely on their infield and how they turn over the disastrous 2010 season and look back to 2009.

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

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