MLB Preview 2013: Los Angeles Angels Have Three of the Top Hitters in AL…But Then What?
When a baseball team’s lineup has three potential first round fantasy picks in it, including one of the contenders for #1 overall, you tend not to worry about the offense.
Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia will, in fact, have to put down six other names on a nightly basis and find the right half dozen to make the most of the Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and Josh Hamilton trio. Trout is set as the leadoff man so Scioscia can fill out one lineup card with Trout in the number 1 slot, Xerox 161 more, and go from there. Putting Pujols third and Hamilton fourth seems like a lock as well, so for this exercise let's pencil those three into the 1, 3, and 4 spots in the lineup and project from there.
Of the remaining options, Mark Trumbo is a perfect fit for the five-spot as you want another power guy who can take care of any remaining base runners the cleanup guy may have missed as well as get the cleanup guy himself across the plate. Trumbo had an extraordinary first half last year with a .965 OPS which resulted in an All-Star bid, but was a completely different player upon returning from the festivities with a meager .630 OPS and just 10 homers (compared to 22 before the break). Still his 61 home runs the last two years rank 15th in all of baseball and aren’t too far from what Pujols (67) and Hamilton (68) have done. He’s the ideal number-five hitter who can become a star if he cuts down on the strikeouts.
The key to the lineup will be the two-hole hitter. Hitting behind Trout and ahead of Pujols will afford ample opportunities for success. Torii Hunter, now in Detroit, filled that role for the large portion of the season starting on June 8th and from that point on he hit .340 with 10 of his 16 home runs and 76 of his 92 RBIs. The pitcher is in a tough spot with Trout terrorizing him on the base paths and Pujols looming on deck, not to mention Hamilton just behind him now in 2013. The summer blockbuster of 2013 is 'There Will Be Fastballs' starring Daniel-Day Lewis as Erick Aybar.
Aybar did most of his damage against fastballs hitting .317 against them compared to just .250 against off-speed pitches. The contact-heavy shortstop doesn’t strikeout which is key for this spot in general, but even more so with this team. His 11 percent strikeout rate was lowest on the team last year. He is going to put the ball in play and he is fast enough to avoid the double play should he not hit it out of the infield. The sample is tiny at just 10 games and 43 plate appearances, but when he hit second between these two last year, he batted .432 with a .1097 OPS.
The big three are getting all of the ink and rightfully so, but slotting Aybar and Trumbo in the two and five spots makes this lineup one of baseball’s best before we even delve into the back end. And bad news pitchers, the heat lessens, but not overwhelmingly so.
Howard Kendrick hasn’t quite fulfilled the prospect promise which projected multiple batting titles with 20-homer power, but he is far from a failure, either. He struggled to stay healthy early one, but he has made it through essentially a full season each of the last three years and hit .284 in the process while averaging 12 homers, 68 RBIs, and 14 stolen bases. No one is chiseling his bust for Cooperstown, but his .748 OPS is plenty adequate for the sixth spot in a lineup.
From there, the lineup rounds out with a standard WYSIWYG guy and two intriguing bats. Alberto Callaspo is the former. He doesn’t have any standout skill, but he is a league average guy who gets the job done. He doesn’t strikeout much either making him a contender for that two spot, but he fits best down here at seven. Then you get to catcher Chris Iannetta and center fielder Peter Bourjos. Iannetta probably isn’t as intriguing as I want him to be, now four years removed from his 18 homer season back in 2008. It came in just 104 games and while he was playing for Colorado, the production was pretty even split between home and away. He’s probably still just the league average hitting catcher who can’t stay healthy (never played more than 112 games) no matter how much I try to will him back into his 2008 self.
Bourjos could be a game changer, especially batting ninth. He showed a lot in 2011 hitting .271 with an American League-best 11 triples as well as 12 homers and 22 stolen bases. Some more patience would’ve been nice as his meager six percent walk rate meant just a .327 on-base percentage, but all in all it was a strong season for the 24-year old. And then it all fell apart last year. In limited time, he hit just .220 and even his improved walk rate up to eight percent barely mattered because he still had an on-base percentage south of .300 (.291) which is never acceptable. The .765 OPS he had in 2011 would have been the best nine-hole hitter in all of baseball last year, so he doesn’t need to be the 2011 version to be of substantial value. Just don’t be the .606 OPS version of 2012.
Yes, the Angels lineup is built around three superstars and there isn’t a ton of household name-level star power within the remaining six. But don’t confuse a lack of name value with a lack of talent. This lineup will give the next day’s starting pitcher nightmares for six months beginning in April.
1. Mike Trout, LF
2. Erick Aybar, SS
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Josh Hamilton, RF
5. Mike Trumbo, DH
6. Howard Kendrick, 2B
7. Alberto Callaspo, 3B
8. Chris Iannetta, C
9. Peter Bourjos, CF
Good luck, AL West.