Like it or not, the Angels seem to have made up their mind and decided that they pretty much aren't going to do anything to improve the pitiful lineup that submarined their 2010 season. Well, that's not totally true. Mike Scioscia and company are going to cross their fingers and wish their little hearts out that the players already on their roster magically improve in 2011. Are they fooling themselves or is there really some hope for a surprising turnaround next year?
The Angels are going to need more than the return of Kendry Morales to breath new life into their lineup.
Angel management may actually have a point when they claim the Halo offense can get better all by itself. As many of us know all too well, the awful 2010 Angel lineup wasn't all that different from the fantastic 2009 lineup. Now, barring any minor free agent acquisitions, the 2011 lineup is going to be almost identical to the 2010 incarnation, so where is that improvement going to come from?
A quick note before we jump in, I am breaking this down by defensive position, which kind of doesn't seem to make sense, but with the current state of the Angel roster and the addition of Mike Scioscia's inability to stick to one lineup for more than three days in a row, attacking this problem by batting order position doesn't make sense either. I figure using defensive position at least provides a frame of reference. As for you statheads, save your angry comments. I'm not even going to try and tackle this statistically since we are talking about an optimal situation here and not the likely scenario. Besides, up until last season, the Angels have been defying any and all statistical projection systems, so who's to say they are any good to begin with.
FIRST BASE? Abso-damn-lutely
This is the most obvious place where the Halos will get a boost. Kendry Morales seems like he will be 100% by Spring Training and in good condition to anchor the middle of the Angel lineup. Even if he struggles to shake off the rust, K-Mo is bound to be an improvement over last year's Angel first basemen who posted a .253/.313/.443 production level. Morales should be able to blow that out of the water in his sleep.
SECOND BASE? Meh
Howie Kendrick was solid though unspectacular last season and the seems to be his ceiling, despite all the years of "Future Batting Champ" hype. Kendrick is a usable player, but he has his limitations. He makes great contact, but doesn't produce much real power. And there is no way that he's ever going to suddenly develop plate patience to make him a top of the order option. I guess there is always a possibility that everything could finally click for him and he'd actually be able to handle breaking balls, but the Angels shouldn't count on it. Basically, Kendrick is what he is, no more, no less.
THIRD BASE? How could it not?
Last season, the Angel third basemen combined to post a .573 OPS, which is just so extraordinarly awful that mere words can't even begin to describe it. Unfortunately, the Angels failed to acquire a new third baseman, so they could be in trouble. However, 25% of last season's at-bats were burnt on Brandon Wood, and I don't think we need to rehash the tragedy that his season was, so by merely removing him from the hot corner rotation, the Angels should improve there by a fair amount. In all likelihood, Maicer Izturis and Alberto Callaspo will split at-bats at third base, which might actually be a good thing. When healthy, Izturis is a very nice player and probably the best option at leadoff for the Halos. Keeping him healthy is a problem, of course, but the law of averages suggests he should be available to play more than the career-low 61 games he appeared in last season. As for Callaspo, he was a trainwreck when he arrived in Anaheim, but that was not a true representation of his talents. Callapso hit .300+ in his previous two seasons, but did so with .300+ BABIP. With the Angels, Callaspo hit .249 with a .256 BABIP. Even if we assume Alberto overachieved in 2008 and 2009, he still looks like he got decidedly unlucky in his return to Anaheim. Callaspo probably won't be much more than an average offensive player, but that would still be a vast improvement over what the Angels got here in 2010, especially if he plays less and a healthy Izturis plays more.
SHORTSTOP? You're guess is as good as mine
This one is all on Erick Aybar and his wavering levels of focus and confidence. We all saw how good Aybar could be in 2009, but his move to leadoff last season ruined him mentally since he tried to reinvent himself as the second-coming of Bobby Abreu, but instead of drawing a ton of walks, Aybar completely forgot what a good pitch looked like. I'd like to be able to say that he finally found his way again by the end of the year, but .532 OPS in August and .352 OPS in September begs to differ. But for the sake of argument, let's assume Aybar bounces back, which is far from certain but the Angels need some hope, in which case it gives them another decent action player, but probably at the bottom of the lineup rather than a troublesome one at the top. It still leaves Mike Scioscia in desperate need of a leadoff man, but he should at least be getting a minor improvement in lineup consistency.
OUTFIELD? A very convoluted push
I'm lumping the entire outfield into one category here because it is so hard to draw parallels to last season since Hunter, Abreu and Rivera shifted all over the outfield last year anyway. What we do know is that the OPS at each outfield position ranged from .777 to .792, so there isn't a huge disparity in the offensive performance. Now, for 2011, things should be more stable with Hunter in right, Bourjos in center and, as it appears right now, Abreu in left. Let's start with Hunter. Torii was solid as a rock in 2010, but he hit a wall at the end of the season. Was it old age or did he simply crack under the pressure of being pretty much the only good hitter in the lineup? I'm going to be optimistic and say that it was the pressure, but even with that assumption, I don't see him improving too much on his .819 OPS. Now, for Abreu. Bobby posted his first sub-.800 OPS in 2010 and was a big reason the Angel offense never clicked. 2010 was also the first season that Abreu's BABIP (.296) was under .320. At his age, we have to consider that maybe his bat is slowing down, but I am inclined to dismiss that notion since he put up some of the best power numbers he has managed since his days in Philadelphia. Therefore, it is probably reasonably safe to assume he'll have at least a minor bounceback in 2011. And now for the elephant in the room, Peter Bourjos. PBJ's .616 OPS in his half season in Anaheim was far from good, but he also arrived in the bigs ahead of schedule, so there wasn't a ton to be expected of him. Now that he has some seasoning, he is a fair bet to improve, but by how much? He was never a major offensive threat in the minors, save for half a season in Salt Lake (a haven for hitters). At best, his OPS will be right around .700. The net effect of a better Abreu, a consistent Hunter and a better Bourjos seems to be a push to me. I know that doesn't make much sense since nobody is getting worse, but compared to last season the Angels are going from three above average spots to two good ones and a bad/below average one.
DESIGNATED HITTER? Upgrade, with a caveat
Hideki Matsui was a bit of a free agent disappointment, but he actually put up a very solid line and one that the Angels are going to have a hard time replacing without a free agent addition. Mike Napoli is sure to spend some time there as is Juan Rivera and possibly Mark Trumbo. Both Napoli and Rivera would have to rebound if the Angels aren't going to lose production from their DH and I think it is probably wishful thinking to believe they can both do so. I still believe Napoli would benefit from being converted to a full-time DH, but that would create a big offensive hole at catcher. Rivera, well, he just seems washed up to me. What the Angels do have in the pair is guys that can rake against lefties, Napoli in particular. If the Angels really want the lineup to improve, I think it is imperative that they at least sign a DH platoon partner for Napoli/Rivera. A guy like Jim Thome seems like an ideal candidate for the job and is a player that even Arte Moreno couldn't find a reason not to spend on. If Tony Reagins can land Thome, I think the Halos really will be vastly improving the DH position and finally find a solution for who should hit behind Kendry Morales and Torii Hunter.
I hate this one. The Halos still have the same roster logjam at this position and there is no telling how Mike Scioscia is going to employ a rotation of the four different catchers he has at his disposal. If he really cares about offense, then he should lean on Napoli. If he continues to be enamored by defense, we are stuck with more Mathis horrendousness (and there is no way I am going to make the mistake of predicting him finally coming around with the bat). If he decides the future is now, then we could see a lot of Hank Conger and we have no real notion of what kind of numbers he would produce. Mix in a splash of Bobby Wilson here and there and I am more confused than ever. Just to simplify matters, let's just assume no significant difference from last year to this year from the catchers. LAA catchers only posted a .667 OPS in 2010, but with Jeff Mathis prominently involved, that seems like a reasonable number, as meager as it may appear.
So, what does this all mean? It appears that the Angels aren't likely to get any worse at any position and stand to vastly improve at both corner infield positions and realize minor improvements at short and maybe DH. Clearly the offense will be getting better all by itself, but is it going to be enough? The Angels scored 681 runs in 2010 but 883 in 2009. There is NO WAY they are going to even get close to 883 with this roster, but improving on 681 seems like a pretty good bet. With the improvements they can expect, I think a nice number to predict is about a 10% bump in runs scored (especially if Bourjos and Aybar step up their games). That seems kind of small, but we are talking an additional 68 runs, which would give them about a 750 run offense. Now, that actually would still leave them as the #9 offense in the AL, strangely, but it really closes the gap on those above them as Toronto finished sixth in runs with 755 and the vaunted Texas lineup finished in fourth with 787. In other words, the Angel offense stands to go from poor to average, or slightly below it.
Maybe I am just viewing this through red-colored glasses (OK, I am but doing so intentionally), but I think that might actually be good enough, given how good their pitching staff could potentially be. I don't think they are winning 100 games, but 70 or so additional runs could equate to 7 or 8 additional wins. Add to that a few additional wins from a full season of Dan Haren and an improved bullpen and the Angels suddenly could be looking at 12 more wins, which just so happens to be enough to win the division or clinch the wild card most years. It is a very optimistic projection, but at least it is something for Angel fans to cling to.
Call me a homer for writing this whole piece, but don't we need a little bit of optimism right now? I know I am partly responsible for some of the negative energy permeating the Angel fan base right now, but I think we all need to take a step back and reassess things. The Angels were basically a .500 team last season and everyone is acting like they were the worst team in the league and getting worse. Even if my rosy projections above don't pan out, I don't see a whole lot of conceivable ways (outside a rash of injuries to key players) in which the Halos get worse. My gut tells me that they are probably an 85-win team right now, but with a little luck, they could be better and be back in the mix for the AL West crown. If you put aside your frustrations from the free agency debacle, I think you will come to the same conclusion as well.
Now, where did I put the rest of that Kool-Aid Arte Moreno sold to me?