Ah how I wonder where these two have been the past few years, surely the players we're seeing this season aren't the same players we've been watching their whole careers. There were some flashes of what could be with Aybar and Kendrick back in 2009. Before that season they proved to be good players with the potential to be stars, but after their rather pedestrian 2010 many of us jumped the gun and wondered how we could get replace these two with real performers. Well, those real performers have finally shown their true colors, but will their talent last? Is this just another flash of what could be just like 2009? Could an extension for either (or both) of these players be in order?
Surely an extension must be in order for this man! Such shenanigans cannot be so easily replaced.
First well start off with the most unlikely of the two, Erick Aybar. He's proven to be an exceptional player who can dominate both offensively and defensively, showcasing these talents back in 2009 and this season. Yet he's also proven to be an absent-minded defender who's confidence at the plate can be easily broken with the right pitch or two, that's the Erick Aybar that we were stuck with all season long last year. His track record with such mediocrity well overshadows the dominating seasons he's posted, all two of them! Baseball is a cruel sport, one season a player can be on top of the world while his next season is filled with crushing mediocrity and utter disappointment. What's the difference between Aybar this season as opposed to past seasons? What has he done differently that's made him so good?
Aybar's 2009 and 2010 were his first two seasons of 100+ games started and 500+ AB's, so what's the different between the two? In 2010 Aybar struck out a total of 81 times, far higher then his 2009 K total of 54, his K total in 2010 was the highest he posted his entire career, with his 2009 total falling in a far second. A large dropoff in hit totals and RBI's tells us that something wasn't there for Aybar that he had a season earlier. There are many factors that can attribute to his large statistical differentials, something that you can't deduce from looking at numbers and stats all day long. One of Aybar's biggest problems in 2010 was dealing with the pressure of being handed the responsibility of leadoff hitter. Aybar tried to change his game, transform himself into a player he wasn't and was better off not trying to be. Instead of Aybar embracing Aybar, he tried to take on a more Abreu-esque form, which obviously didn't work out in his favor.
After a disastrous 2010 Aybar went back to his natural form and took on the responsibility of leading off with much vigor, despite much doubt being placed on his ability to do so during the offseason. Those doubts have long since been washed away, Aybar has proved to be one of the better ballplayers on the team, he's even making a strong push to start in the All-Star game this year. Let's not kid ourselves though, it's not hard to find a great defensive shortstop with decent pop who can hit leadoff, I'm pretty sure I just described half of baseballs starting shortstop's this year. What has he done to set himself apart from the rest of the pack? He doesn't walk much, but he doesn't strikeout too much either. His OBP is still too low for him to be considered an exceptional leadoff man. He constantly displays errors in judgement when he's running the bases, sometimes his speed bails him out but most of the time he's caught dead in the water.
The only thing that Aybar can do to secure himself a contract extension is either a ridiculous second half or another season of what he's been doing all year so far. His contract doesn't expire until 2013, so there really isn't a reason to rush a decision on extending him or not. Most GM's don't just hand out fat contracts to just anyone, unless that GM's name is Tony Reagins....which happens to be our GM's name. I think Aybar might have scored himself a contract extension after all.
What about Howie Kendrick, how does he fare in all of this? Well for starters, it doesn't hurt your case when you're thrust into the same category as Robinson Cano time and time again. How could Howie, after having such a disappointing season in 2010, suddenly find himself in the same company with the elite second basemen of the AL? Well I'll tell you why, it's because he IS an elite second baseman! The skills have always been there for Howie, it's just been a matter of him being able to piece it all together. Last year Howie struggled mightily with finding consistency at the plate, it was only a matter of how hot he was and how long he could keep it up for. It was never all there for Howie last year, the only thing that really stood out was his ability to drive the ball, the man had 41 doubles last year. Unfortunately he was never able to display his power for long periods of time, and when he wasn't driving the ball he was struggling to get on base at a consistent rate.
The difference between Howie then and Howie now is the consistency he's finally put together at the plate. He's maintained a .300 batting average practically the entire season, it's not rising and diving every other week like it was last season. His ability to get on base has seen a drastic rise from his previous season, he now sits in the top 20 OBP leaders in the AL with his .362 clip. The worst part of Howie Kendrick however, is his inability to take pitches and draw walks, or I should say his previous inability to do so. His previous career high for walks was 28, set last year, while his current walk total sits at 20. He's already on the way to blowing last year's walk total out of the water, though his strikeout total is still far from desirable. If you weren't convinced that this Kendrick is for realsies, then maybe these nice little stats I'm about to hit you with will change your mind. Kendrick is on pace to set many career highs this season, including new personal bests in HR's, RS, BB's, OPS, SLG, and OBP.
What's going to make or break either of these players chances at a contract extension is their performance in the playoffs this year, if the team ends up making it to the playoffs. If the Angels do make it to the playoffs, it's going to be on the backs of Howie Kendrick and Erick Aybar, among a few others, like Dan Haren and Jered Weaver. I'm not saying that this team needs to win a World Series if these two want a chance at a contract extension, they just need to do what they can to get their team there. It's not like they need to pull what Jeff Mathis did in the 2009 playoffs, they just need to not be an postseason A-Rod.
Perform like Jeff Mathis if you want a contract extension....did I really just say that? Excuse me while I go re-evaluate my sanity, I must have drank too much of Scioscia's Kool-Aid.