Erick Aybar entered last season as a franchise cornerstone, but after a disappointing 2010 campaign, Aybar's future is now very much up in the air. Can he get back in the organization's good graces or will he force the team to seek an upgrade at shortstop?
2010 Stats: 534 AB, .253 AVG, .306 OBP, .330 SLG, 69 R, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 22 SB
2011 ZiPS Projections: 492 AB, .270 AVG, .318 OBP, .366 SLG, 67 R, 5 HR, 43 RBI, 17 SB
2011 Bill James Projections: 508 AB, .274 AVG, .320 OBP, .366 SLG, 71 R, 5 HR, 45 RBI, 19 SB
2011 Marcel Projections: 499 AB, .277 AVG, .326 OBP, .379 SLG, 67 R, 6 HR, 46 RBI, 16 SB
2011 MWaH Projections*: 515 AB, .268 AVG, .316 OBP, .365 SLG, 62 R, 6 HR, 53 RBI, 25 SB
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2010 in Review: The Angels thought so highly of Erick Aybar after his 2009 season that they cut loose Chone Figgins, moved Aybar to leadoff and refused to include him in a potential trade for Roy Halladay. Umm, yeah, I'm guessing Tony Reagins might want a do-over on one or both of those decisions. Aybar's transition from bottom-of-the-order sparkplug to leadoff man went tragically awry. Erick tried to shed his free-swinging ways in favor of doing a Bobby Abreu impression, only Aybar didn't get the memo that taking pitches is only a good idea if said pitches are not in the strike zone. Erick may have upped his walk rate, but he also turned staring at fastballs down the middle of the plate into an art-form. By the midpoint of the season, Aybar's approach in the batter's box had his head so messed up that Scioscia had no choice but to demote him back to the bottom-third of the order, though that seemed to only make things worse. Just to add insult to injury, Aybar's mental struggles at the plate infected his defense as well. All the talk of his potential Gold Glove defense went out the window as he frequently lost focus on defense and it showed when he finished the year with a negative UZR. Really, the only bright side of Aybar's season was the he stole a career-high 22 bases, although he did get caught eight times, but still, he finally showed some signs of learning how to smartly use his great speed as a weapon.
Three Lingering Questions for 2011:
- Can Erick rebound with the bat? It is hard to believe that a guy could really have his average drop nearly 60 points in one season without it being at least partly a fluke. There is nothing different about Aybar's swing, so if he can just remedy his mental approach, he should improve. There is even a chance that his terrible second half can at least be partially blamed on a nagging knee injury he had repaired this off-season. Moving down in the order again should help Aybar, but if it doesn't, will his confidence ever recover?
- Can Erick rebound with the glove? Since Aybar's defense is supposed to be his best skill, you'd think that this would be easy for him to get back in order. However, Aybar has always seemed to struggle with mental discipline and focus in the field. He shook off most of those problems after a rough start in 2009, but those issues came back with a vengeance in 2010. At some point, one has to think that these mental blunders are always going to plague Erick, but at the same time, he is young enough that we should probably give him the benefit of the doubt.
- Will Aybar get another shot at batting leadoff? Anything could happen, right? The Angels clearly don't have a permanent solution at the top of the order, so the Halos are going to have to keep experimenting. Aybar has the speed they like and if his bat gets hot, it would make sense to move him to leadoff. Or maybe Mike Scioscia will think better than to mess with any semblance of an Aybar rebound and keep him in the seven-hole so that he doesn't suffer a setback.
What to Expect in 2011: This season is going to largely be dictated by how Aybar responds to the pressure to perform. He won't have to deal with batting leadoff (probably), so that will help, but he has to know that his grasp on the starting shortstop job in starting to get a little loose. Maicer Izturis won't be a major pressure on Aybar since he should spend a great deal of time at third base, but he is still a threat. As is Jean Segura, one of the top Angel prospects who moved to short this year. Segura is years from making the majors, but don't think that Aybar doesn't know that Segura is lurking. More importantly though, if Aybar starts slow (and maybe if he doesn't) he is going to hear increasingly loud and frequent rumors of the Halos wanting to bring in Jose Reyes to replace him.
What do I think this will all lead to? Well, at the end of the season, Aybar's line should look decent enough, but watching him on daily basis is going to be like riding a roller coaster as Aybar fluctuates between being a pretty good bottom-of-the-order threat and making us want to pull our hair out. I do think his defense will be much more consistent though. If Scioscia is going to make one thing clear to Erick, it will be that his offensive fluctuations will be tolerated to a certain point, but his defensive lapses won't be.