An annual tradition like no other starts off even earlier than normal this year. Yup, it is time for the official Monkey With a Halo player previews to begin.
Who better to lead off with than the man who is first in line to be leading off the batting order for the Angels than Erick Aybar. Coming off a Gold Glove-winning bounceback season and headed into a contract year, Aybar has a lot of expectations to live up to and hopefully exceed in 2012. But can he pull it off?
2011 Stats: 556 AB, .279 AVG, .322 OBP, .421 SLG, 71 R, 10 HR, 59 RBI, 30 SB, 6 CS, 68 K
2012 ZiPS Projections: 553 AB, .275 AVG, .320 OBP, .392 SLG, 74 R, 8 HR, 53 RBI, 24 SB, 7 CS, 71 K
2012 Bill James Projections: 551 AB, .274 AVG, .320 OBP, .390 SLG, 74 R, 8 HR, 53 RBI, 26 SB, 10 CS, 71 K
2012 CAIRO Projections: 436 AB, .267 AVG, .311 OBP, .379 SLG, 58 R, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 16 SB, 5 CS, 59 K
2012 PECOTA Projections: 657 PA, .269 AVG, .310 OBP, .367 SLG, 71 R, 6 HR, 64 RBI, 24 SB, 8 CS, 84 K
2012 MWaH Projections*: 540 AB, .287 AVG, .332 OBP, .409 SLG, 88 R, 8 HR, 61 RBI, 34 SB, 9 CS, 64 K
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2011 in Review: It was an interesting year for Aybar, as always. He had a lot questions to answer after a majorly disappointing 2010 campaign. For the most part, he did answer those questions. His season was highlighted by him being awarded his very first Gold Glove. Some say that he is overrated defensively, but at least the award shows that he is starting gain respect for his fielding around the league. He also regained a modicum of respect for his bat as well. Aybar seemingly gave up on his quest to turn into Bobby Abreu Jr. and went back to his free-swinging ways. That made him a strange fit for a part-time leadoff hitter, but it did result in him posting his second-best offensive season, including a career-high ten homers. Actually, to start the season, Aybar was putting up offensive numbers that had some thinking he could make the All-Star team. That never happened as he fell off a bit in June. Where he really came undone though was in August when he hit just .190 with a paltry .479 OPS. That had things looking like it would be a lost season for Aybar, but he salvaged things in a big way by closing out the season via a 1.038 OPS in September.
Despite those offensive ups-and-downs, Aybar did make some very real progress with his baserunning. We've been teased and teased for years about his blazing speed, but it never really manifested itself on the basepaths. Aybar was fast, but he just didn't seem to have the mental side of base stealing under control... until 2011, that is. Aybar ripped off 30 bags last season and, more importantly, got caught just six times. That is a big improvement for him and makes him much more of a threat once he gets on base, which is why there will now only be more pressure for him to get on base at a greater clip.
Three Lingering Questions for 2012:
- How will this being a contract season affect Aybar? This is literally a multi-million dollar question. Aybar is a guy who has always seemed to need a little extra fire lit underneath him to perform at peak level (i.e. a position battle with Izturis), so having a big money contract dangled in front of him could propel him to new heights. On the other hand, we have seen how he can struggle when he puts too much pressure on himself (i.e. in 2010 when he tried to turn himself into an OBP machine). How he handles his potential free agency will definitely play a big role this year, let's just hope it is in a positive manner.
- Where in the lineup will Erick hit? For a stretch in 2011, Aybar was hitting leadoff despite having a sub-.300 OBP. That's obviously a problem, less so for Aybar, moreso for the Angels as the obviously don't have much better options. Aybar got most of his at-bats in the top spot last season, but that could change this season if Scioscia can conjure up something better, but they haven't acquired anyone like that, so Aybar might be the default leadoff man yet again.
- Can Aybar hit lefties or not? Fun fact, over his career, Erick Aybar only hits slightly worse against lefties (.678 OPS vs. .707 OPS). Not so fun fact, Aybar hit for a .607 OPS against lefties and .807 OPS against righties in 2011. So, what gives? Can he really hit lefties or not?
What to Expect in 2012: Aybar is always going to struggle with consistency. But that doesn't mean he can struggle with consistency less, which is what I expect him to do in 2012. Looking at his 2011 season, that awful month of August and his magnified struggles against southpaws standout as potential outliers. He will still be less effective against lefties and still be prone to an off-month, but they just shouldn't be as bad as they were in 2011. That is the main reason I am anticipating Aybar improving once again in 2012 and besting the other projections for him.
Furthermore, Aybar did show that he could learn new tricks. The base stealing was one thing, but his increased power output is another. Erick didn't just set a new career-high in homers last season, he doubled his previous best. He also smacked ten more doubles than his previous career-high as well. That could be a fluke, but watching the games, I kind of doubt it. Aybar didn't just get lucky and run into a few extra pitches, he demonstrated an increased ability, or perhaps willingness, to turn on driveable pitches. Look at it this way, his best career ISO was .111 before the season. He not only beat that handily overally, but he nearly matched it against southpaws (at .108) despite his marked struggles from that side of the batter's box otherwise. To me, that suggests his increased power is sustainable.
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