The more things change, the more they stay the same. A new season is on the horizone for the LA Angels, but a solution to their problems at the top of the order is not. We all know the Halos struck out in finding a new leadoff man in free agency, so they will once again have to look within to find someone to spark their flagging offense.
Seeing Aybar hit leadoff in 2010 was painful, but could it happen again in 2011?
I feel like I've written this same article like 14 times already. I'm guessing it is probably more like six. This leadoff problem for the Angels just doesn't seem to want to resolve itself even though I keep crossing all my fingers, holding my breath and wishing my little heart out.
Why am I wishing rather thank thinking? Because I am out of ideas for how to creatively resolve this leadoff quagmire in such a way that leaves everyone happy and confident. My best guess is that what Mike Scisocia is resorting to now as well.
His best idea is to have his teacher's pet Maicer Izturis bat leadoff. With a .340 career OBP, Izturis isn't exactly what you would call an on-base machine, but none of the other candidates for the role can do any better in the patience department. So, in that regard, Scioscia is right, Maicer is the man for the job. Except for one little thing...
Do I really even need to say it? OK, everyone with me, same time-
IZTURIS CAN'T STAY HEALTHY!
I know it, you know it, Scioscia knows it, Izturis knows it. And deep down, Scioscia knows that Izturis' inability to stay on the field is a major monkey wrench in his little plan. Sosh has already made allusion to Izturis probably only being slated to start about 100 games this year. I know Scioscia loves to use every permutation possible when filling out the lineup card, but even he knows that consistency can go a long way towards curing what ails his beleaguered lineup.
Yet Scioscia still thinks it is a good idea to go with Izturis at the top of the order whenever possible. That should pretty much tell you all you need to know about what Scioscia thinks of his alternatives. But at some point, be it because of injury to Izturis or simply a need to give him a break, Scioscia will have to call upon one of those alternatives. And while Scioscia might still prefer Izturis to leadoff, don't think for a minute that he won't be keeping an eye on the guys that he uses to spell Maicer, just in case one of them shows enough promise to wrest full control of the job for themselves.
Could it be Erick Aybar? He won and then subsequently lost the leadoff job in 2010, but his slash line of .279/.336/.370 wasn't horrendous. Aybar clearly had problems adjusting to the gig and screwed himself up by trying to morph into the second-coming of Bobby Abreu. That eventually cost him his confidence and the leadoff job, but the wheels didn't really come off for him until much after that. Perhaps a winter of rest and no pressure to take on a new role will give Aybar his confidence back and allow him to sneak back into contention for the job. Or maybe he is just best suited to hit in the bottom third of the order.
So how about Bobby Abreu? If there is one thing Bobby can still do, it is draw a walk. Even with him hitting just .255 last season, he was still third on the Angels in OBP and he threw in 24 stolen bases to boot. I'm not sure that is a great idea either though. Moving Abreu from his projected two-hole to the one-hole just moves the lineup problem around a little bit. Besides, Abreu still has decent pop in his bat that would be best served hitting further down in the order. If anything, I'm wondering if the Angels wouldn't be better off sliding Abreu down a slot to third rather than up to first.
OK, fine. Howie Kendrick then? This isn't as outlandish as it sounds, after all, Kendrick did lead all Angels in at-bats in the one-spot last season. That doesn't mean it is a good idea though. Kendrick isn't the best of situational hitters and he is almost allergic to drawing a walk, giving him virtually no chance at generating a quality on-base percentage. Unless, of course, he finally makes good on the long-awaited promise of evolving into a league batting champ. Even then, if Kendrick were to hit .330, his OBP would probably still be just .360 which is good, but not great for a leadoff man. Color me unimpressed.
Well, if Izturis isn't playing, then Alberto Callaspo must be playing, right? I guess that kind of makes sense. Callaspo has often been compared to Izturis. He is a solid situational hitter and is also a switch-hitter. On the other hand, he doesn't display much patience at the plate and is not much of an asset on the basepaths.
You want speed? Then how about Peter Bourjos? Sure, he walks so infrequently that he makes Kendrick look more patient than a Buddhist monk. And sure, he strikes out at an alarming rate. But at least he hits for a pitiful average. He's so close to being the perfect fit.
I've got to say, I do not envy Mike Scioscia. This isn't just picking from the lesser of two evils, maybe more like six. None of these guys, with the unlikely exception of Aybar, has a chance of stepping their game up enough to make Scioscia reconsider his Izturis-centric plan. What sucks is that someone has to fill in for Izturis when he is out, which will be frequently. Aybar probably should be the fallback option, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it will be Alberto Callaspo if only because Scioscia thinks he is a poor man's Izturis (a phrase that should never have been conceived). If Callaspo can recover his Kansas City form in which he hits .300 and draws a slightly higher percentage of walks, then I guess he won't be so bad. He still won't be good and Izturis won't be much better and the leadoff slot will still be a weakness, but maybe those two can combine to at least make it a small weakness rather than a glaring one.