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The Guessing Game: Projecting the Angels’ 2010 Season

The calendar has now flipped to April, which means we’re now only a handful of days away from getting back into the full swing of Major League Baseball.

Here are some reasonable expectations of production that I see out of our guys in red.

The Lineup

I’m no Mike Scioscia, but here’s my best guess at what the Opening Day lineup card will look like:

1.) SS – Erick Aybar

2.) RF – Bobby Abreu

3.) CF – Torii Hunter

4.) DH – Hideki Matsui

5.) 1B – Kendry Morales

6.) LF – Juan Rivera

7.) 2B – Howie Kendrick

8.) C – Mike Napoli (with plenty of Jeff Mathis appearances as well)

9.) 3B – Brandon Wood

Let’s take a look at what these guys should do, in my mind at least.

Erick Aybar

Last year’s line: 137 games- .312 avg./.353 OBP/70 runs/5 HR/58 RBI/14 SB

Aybar had a fantastic 2009 campaign both at the plate and with the glove. There were stretches where Aybar was the most torrid hitter in all of the MLB (hit a league-best .414 in the month of July). There also were stretches where he didn’t hit so well, but that’s what we have come to see from EA, some inconsistency at the plate. But last year, the good outweighed the bad, and plenty of people felt Erick got robbed of a Gold Glove (Derek Jeter won the award). This year, Aybar won’t be batting 9th like he did most of last season. With the departure of Chone Figgins, the leadoff spot is Aybar’s heading in to Opening Day. He’s a slap hitter with good wheels, but the question remains if he will have good enough plate discipline to be an adequate leadoff guy. I’m not quite sold on Aybar being a 100+ run scorer (OBP was 42 points lower than Figgy’s was last season), but hey, prove me wrong Erick. Wouldn’t be a bad thing.

My 2010 projected line: .295 avg./.350 OBP/90 runs/7 HR/65 RBI/20 SB

Bobby Abreu

Last year’s line: 152 games- .293 avg./.390 OBP/96 runs/15 HR/103 RBI/30 SB

Bobby Abreu proved to be a beautiful addition to the Angels lineup in 2009, as his top-notch plate discipline and ability to consistently work a count rubbed off on plenty of Angel hitters, Chone Figgins especially (drew 101 walks last year, previous career-best was 65). Although Abreu is getting up there in age (turned 36 back in March), he’s proved that he can still be a run-producer (topped 100+ RBI for 8th time in career) and a threat on the basepaths (has averaged just about 28 steals per year since 2005). He was the lefty bat the Angels had been searching for since 2004, and the Angels were smart to keep him around after his steal of a 1-year deal last season. Abreu will benefit from having Hunter, Matsui, and Morales behind him, and could be up there at the top of the AL in runs scored when September is over. Expect another productive year out of Mr. Abreu.

My 2010 projected line: .290 avg./.380 OBP/105 runs/20 HR/100 RBI/25 SB

Torii Hunter

Last year’s line: 119 games- .299 avg./.366 OBP/74 runs/22 HR/90 RBI/18 SB

Torii had some injury setbacks as the season went on, he had been one of the names mentioned as one of the AL’s first-half MVPs. If you average out Torii’s numbers to that of a 150-game season, you’re looking at about 28 homers, 113 RBI and 93 runs scored. Numbers like those will deservingly earn you a little bit of MVP chatter. Torii set new career-bests in batting average (.299), on-base percentage (.366), and brought in his 9th straight Gold Glove with his exceptional play in center. Another year with Bobby Abreu most likely batting in front of Torii will do him plenty of good, and he’ll have plenty of run-producing situations at the plate in 2010. He’ll also benefit from having Hideki Matsui and KMo to clean up behind him, and the threat of those two power bats should make pitchers be a little more honest when they throw to Torii. Although I feel his batting average will dip a little closer to his .274 career mark, I still expect Torii to build on his fantastic ’09 campaign with an even better run-producing 2010 season.

My 2010 projected line: .285 avg./.360 OBP/90 runs/25 HR/100 RBI/20 SB

Hideki Matsui

Last year’s line: 142 games- .274 avg./.367 OBP/62 runs/28 HR/90 RBI/0 SB

Mark this as the 2nd straight offseason that the Angels picked up an unwanted Yankee (with the last one being the man batting in the 2-spot, Bobby Abreu). After spending the last 7 seasons with the Yankees, Matsui went out on a high note as a World Champion, and even brought in a World Series MVP trophy to add to it. Matsui turns 36 in mid-June and can be a reliable run-producer when healthy. However, Matsui hasn’t been able to piece together back-to-back full seasons since he played every game from 2003-2005. His games played from 2006 to 2009 respectively are as follows: 51, 143, 93, 142. Based on his 7-year statistics playing for New York, a typical 162 game season from Matsui averages out to a .292 average, .370 on-base percentage, 25 homers and 106 RBI… not too shabby. The transition from the right field power alley in the Bronx to the high wall in Anaheim will surely knock down would-be home runs in Yankee Stadium, but Matsui should have plenty of extra-base hits this year if he can stay healthy for 140 or so games and get some starts in the outfield as well.

My 2010 projected line: .270 avg./.365 OBP/60 runs/22 HR/95 RBI/0 SB

Kendry Morales

Last year’s line: 152 games- .306 avg./.355 OBP/86 runs/34 HR/108 RBI/3 SB

What a coming out party 2009 was for Kendry Morales. After spending years trying to defect from his native country of Cuba, KMo exploded onto the scene in his first full year as a regular, and ended up finishing 5th in American League MVP voting. He finished in the AL’s top 6 in categories such as: home runs, RBI, slugging percentage, extra base hits, and total bases. Everyone in the Angels system knew he could hit, but fielding had always been the biggest bugaboo regarding Kendry’s game. How did he do defensively in ’09? He had a fielding percentage of .994 and was fantastic in turning the 3-6-3 double play. Additionally, Kendry led the team in homers and runs driven in, and even posted the highest on-base plus slugging percentage mark by an Angels first baseman in franchise history with a .924 mark (8th in the AL). However, I’ve just had the feeling that KMo is due for a sophomore slump. I know the talent is through the roof with Kendry, but he’s still got a ways to go to prove that he can be a legitimate MVP candidate year after year and not just have last year be a fluke. Teams are going to know how to approach him much better this year, and the pitching has only gotten stronger in the AL West (King Felix and Cliff Lee in Seattle, Oakland’s young arms are progressing + Ben Sheets, Texas brought in Mr. Can-Be-Good-When-Healthy Rich Harden), so a dropoff in 2010 seems likely in my eyes.

My 2010 projected line: .280 avg./.345 OBP/80 runs/30 HR/100 RBI/5 SB

Juan Rivera

Last year’s line: 138 games- .287 avg./.332 OBP/72 runs/25 HR/88 RBI/0 SB

Going in to 2009, I felt some good vibes about what Juan Rivera would do and thankfully those vibes held to be true. In his first full year as a regular with the Halos since 2006, Rivera posted career-bests in hits (152), homers (25), RBI (88), and runs scored (72). He also played fantastic defensive in left field and still has a cannon of an arm (10 outfield assists ranked 3rd amongst regular MLB left fielders). Much like Erick Aybar, Rivera had his fair share of major hot and cold streaks (had 5 homers, 19 RBI through first 2 months, had 8 homers, 24 RBI in the following month). Despite the streakiness, Juan still proved to be one of the more unheralded hitters in the MLB last year, ranking in the top 20 for homers and RBI among all MLB outfielders. I feel a comparable year is in order for Juan, and I think having a second year of consistent everyday at-bats can only benefit him.

My 2010 projected line: .280 avg./.330 OBP/75 runs/25 HR/90 RBI/0 SB

Howie Kendrick

Last year’s line: 105 games- .291 avg./.334 OBP/61 runs/10 HR/61 RBI/11 SB

In my mind, this is a make-or-break year for Mr. Kendrick. For years we’ve heard all about how great he hit in the minors (.360 combined average through all levels of the minor leagues) and how he can be a guy who will win a batting title during his, but it’s time to see what all the hype has been about, because frankly, there’s just been something missing with Howie’s game. Sure, through over 350 games in his professional career his batting average is a couple ticks over .300, but he hasn’t been able to piece together a full season in any of his 4 years in the bigs. Last year he played in a career-best 105 games, and had only played in 92, 88, and 72 games in the ’08, ’07, and ’06 seasons respectively prior to last year. And when it comes to be playoff time, it’s as if Howie shuts down completely (.196 average in 46 postseason at-bats). If he can put a full season together, he can be one of the better hitting 2nd basemen in the league. He can go gap-to-gap when he hits and does a great job of utilizing all fields with his line drive approach. The jury is out on Howie Kendrick this year, but he’s not the only one that’ll be under the microscope in the Angels’ everyday lineup this year (see Brandon Wood).

My 2010 projected line: .310 avg./.345 OBP/15 HR/70 RBI/70 runs/15 SB

Mike Napoli

Last year’s line: 114 games- .272 avg/.350 OBP/20 HR/56 RBI/60 runs/3 SB

Big Nap made it back-to-back 20 homer seasons despite being in Mike Scioscia’s platoon system behind the plate again. Nap accounted for 43 extra-base hits last year in his first season of appearing in 100+ games. Statistically speaking, his home run ratio dipped a bit (20 homers in 227 at-bats in 2008, 20 home runs in 382 at-bats in 2009), but Napoli showed that he belonged in the lineup by being 1 of 6 catchers (despite having anywhere from 100 to 200 less at-bats than everyday catchers) to account for 20+ homers and 20+ doubles on the 2009 season (list includes MVP Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada, Brian McCann, and former Angel Bengie Molina). As we’ve come to see over the past several years, Napoli brings the lumber and Jeff Mathis brings the glove, which is the reason for this platoon system that Scioscia has implemented and stuck with. I really think this is the final year that the Angels have to decide who their everyday catcher is going to be, it’s got to be one or the other. If Nap improves his defense, the decision won’t even be close. But, if Jeff Mathis can live up to his 1st round potential (drafted 33rd overall back in 2001) and hit like he did in this past postseason, he’ll give Nap a run for his money.

My 2010 projected line: .265 avg./.345 OBP/25 HR/60 RBI/60 runs/2 SB

Brandon Wood

Last year’s line: 18 games- .195 avg./.267 OBP/1 HR/3 RBI/5 runs/0 SB

This is the guy all Halo fans will be watching closely this year. Like Howie, Angel fans have heard plenty about this Brandon Wood kid, and how great of a hitter he is. He tore it up through the minor league ranks, but once he got to the show, he had nothing to show. In 224 major league at-bats, he’s posted a dismal .192 average, 7 home runs and 19 RBI. Not what you’d expect out of a former first-rounder who once hit 43 homers in A-ball and accounted for 160 home runs over his 7 seasons in the minors. Granted, Wood has never had the opportunity that he will have entering this year: an everyday job that will allow him to get consistent at-bats. In all fairness, before Kendry’s first year as an everyday player, he garnered up a .249 average in the three partial seasons in the majors that led up to his breakout year. It’s amazing what consistent at-bats will do, and it’s all about getting into a rhythm, something Brandon hasn’t yet had the chance to do. Don’t expect the world from Woody, but average numbers are about what you can expect from him.

My 2010 projected line: .245 avg./.310 OBP/20 HR/60 RBI/55 runs/10 SB

That’s about what you can expect from the projected regulars, now let’s switch over to the guys on the mound.

The Pitching

We’ll start with the starting rotation, which (not really in any particular order) will probably look like:

1.) Jered Weaver

2.) Joe Saunders

3.) Scott Kazmir

4.) Ervin Santana

5.) Joel Pineiro

Although the Angels may not have the best top of the rotation (that belongs to Seattle’s tandem of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee), the Angels definitely have the deepest rotation from top to bottom. The rotation features 3 former All-Stars (Saunders, Kazmir, Santana), the team’s best pitcher from last year (Weaver), and a guy who could become the best #5 starter in the league (Pineiro). Now, let’s get to the dissecting of this Angels staff.

Jered Weaver

Last year’s line: 33 starts/211 innings pitched/16-8 record/3.75 ERA/174 K

Weaver was the team’s best pitcher last year, tying for the team lead in wins (16) with Joe Saunders and had the lowest ERA of all Angels starting pitchers. Weaver posted his lowest ERA since he became a full-time starter (excluding his ’06 rookie campaign where he started 19 games, winning 11 of them), and posted his best numbers as a full-time starter in strikeouts, innings, batting average against (.246), pitches per inning (16.1), and hits per 9 innings (8.4). Additionally, Weaver threw 4 complete games (hadn’t thrown one CG in prior 3 seasons), 2 of those being shutouts. Entering his 4th year as a full-time starter, Weaver looks to be the odds-on choice in being the Opening Day starter, and has garnered in 40 wins in the last 3 seasons overall. I look for Weaver to have another solid year of 15+ wins and I feel he’ll continue to lower that ERA.

My 2010 projected line: 205 innings pitched/17-10 record/3.60 ERA/180 K

Joe Saunders

Last year’s line: 31 starts/186 innings pitched/16-7 record/4.60 ERA/101 K

Saunders had battled problems in his throwing arm for the majority of the year, but finished incredibly strong. He started the year 5-1, would go 4-6 in his next 10 decisions, and then finish the year winning his final 6 decisions to move to 16-7 on the year. Saunders pitched through his shoulder problems until he needed to shut it down, which is the main culprit for his ERA being nearly 1 1/5 runs higher than it was the season before in which he made the All-Star team. In his Angel career, Saunders is 48-22, and no Angel has more wins in the past 2 seasons than Saunders’ 33. Not John Lackey, who signed with the Red Sox for $82.5 million, not even Jered Weaver who is going to be tabbed as the team’s #1 rotation. When it comes down to it, Joe Saunders just knows how to flat out win. I look for that trend to continue this year as well, I see another season over 16 wins for Saunders with a much better ERA than last year’s inflated 4.60 mark.

My 2010 projected line: 200 innings pitched/18-9 record/4.10 ERA/100 K

Ervin Santana

Last year’s line: 23 starts/193.2 innings pitched/8-8 record/5.03 ERA/107 K

Ervin wasn’t healthy for the full season, but no matter how you look at it, his 2009 season was a great disappointment compared to his 2008 All-Star season (16-7 record, 3.49 ERA, 219 innings pitched). Much like I mentioned earlier about Hideki Matsui being unable to piece together back-to-back full seasons in recent years, Ervin has been the same way in regards to having good seasons and bad seasons. In 2006 he went 16-8, in 2007 he went 7-14, in 2008 he went 16-7, and last year he went 8-8. Is this season going to follow the trend of having a good year? Ervin sure hopes so, and so does the Angels front office considering Ervin repaid the management with an ERA over 5 after they gave him a healthy new 4-year, $30-million deal. It’s time for Ervin to show that he’s worth the money, but I’m not sold on him channeling that 2008 form just yet.

My 2010 projected line: 180 innings pitched/14-11 record/4.40 ERA/160 K

Scott Kazmir

Last year’s line: 26 starts/147.1 innings pitched/10-9 record/4.89 ERA/117 K

Kazmir came over to the Angels late in the 2009 season, and pitched very well in his limited action in Halo red (1.73 ERA in 6 starts). Only a couple of years ago, Kazmir led the American League in strikeouts with 239, and was beaten out by Jake Peavy by 1 punchout for the league lead. That was when Kazmir’s slider was one of the league’s most devastating pitches, but in 2009, his slider simply didn’t slide. If pitching coach Mike Butcher can help Kazmir find that slider, and he can find the form he had when he made the All-Star team back in 2006 and 2008, Kazmir has an excellent chance of re-establishing himself as one of the league’s preeminent strikeout pitchers. Kazmir is a real sleeper pick to be one of the AL’s better pitchers, considering he has 5 full seasons under his belt and he’s still only 26. He knows what success tastes like, and as I could imagine, is eager to get back to his winning ways.

My 2010 projected line: 175 innings pitched/15-10 record/3.90 ERA/150 K

Joel Pineiro

Last year’s line: 32 starts/214 innings pitched/15-12 record/3.49 ERA/105 K

At the age of 31, Pineiro caught a 2nd wind in his career last year with the St. Lous Cardinals, posting the most wins in a season for him since 2003, and putting up his lowest ERA since 2002. Pineiro’s 214 innings pitched was a career-high for him as well. He started his career in the AL West, playing with the Seattle Mariners from 2000-2006, and was at his best with the M’s during 2002 and 2003 when he posted 30 total wins and had an ERA in the 3.50s over those 2 seasons. However, in his final 3 seasons with the Mariners, Pineiro went 21-35 with ERAs of 4.67, 5.62, and 6.36 respectively. Plenty of critics are saying that Joel Pineiro’s 2009 season was a fluke, and I have to admit I’m not sold on Pineiro either. The Halos brought him in with a 2-year, $16-million deal, a hefty amount to be paying a #5 starter. However, if he throws the way he did under Cardinals’ pitching coach Dave Duncan, 15 wins would be a fantastic total to get out of your end-of-the-rotation arm. If Pineiro can master that new slider, he can be an excellent groundball-inducing pitcher, and chew up more than his fair share of innings. Last year was the first time since 2003 that Pineiro had more than 8 wins in a season, so will his 2010 campaign prove that last season was a fluke or a true finding of a 2nd wind?

My 2010 projected line: 12-13/190 innings/4.30 ERA/100 K

And lastly, moving away from the guys who start the games, let’s look at the guy who will start the year closing the games for the Angels.

Brian Fuentes

Last year’s line: 65 appearances/1-5 record/3.93 ERA/48 saves/7 blown saves

To say Brian Fuentes had a shaky 2009 would be an understatement. Fuentes always got my heart rate up when he’d come in for the save in the 9th inning. One way or another, Fuentes couldn’t quite dominate game in and game out, he always had to make it interesting. Whether it would be giving up a couple walks or a couple hits, it always seemed to be a little too close for comfort. After spending the previous 7 seasons in Colorado, he posted his highest season ERA (3.93) since 2004. However, he set a career-high with his 48 saves, which also happened to be the best mark in all of Major League Baseball. On the flip side, his 7 blown saves was tied for the 4th worst mark in all of baseball. I look for Fuentes to settle in better this year. Maybe he won’t get as many saves, but I look for that ERA to go down, as well as those blown saves.

My 2010 projected line: 3-4 record/3.50 ERA/35 saves/4 blown saves

Those are my takes on what to expect out of the 2010 everyday Angel players, starting pitchers, and closer. I hope you get a good feel on what to expect out of our guys in red this year, and now it’s just a matter of counting down the hours till the ceremonial first pitch.

Here’s to a successful 2010 season, and hopefully another AL West crown!

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How Far We’ve Come

angels clinch

As you know, the Angels punched their postseason ticket Monday night thanks to an 11-0 walloping of the Texas Rangers.

This marks the 3rd consecutive year and 5th time in the last 6 seasons that the Angels have won the American League West division.

It has been the Angels’ division to run away with the past few years, mixed in with moderate competition from Oakland, Texas, and Seattle… but there never had been any doubt that the Angels were the clear-cut team to beat in the AL West.

This year started off the same way, but just 3 days and a handful of hours into the season… everything changed.

The Angels organization was rocked after receiving news of the sudden and unsuspected passing of young pitcher Nick Adenhart, a victim of a deadly drunk driving accident that killed 2 others in the car he was in and internally decapitated another.

The Angels went into a tailspin.

They started the season at 6-11, their worst start to a season in 7 years.

Vladimir Guerrero clearly wasn’t his normal slugging himself.

The Angels were without all-star starters John Lackey and Ervin Santana to begin the season.

Signs were beginning to point to the Angels having a long and disappointing season ahead of them.

Being the heavy favorites to win the AL West at the beginning of the year, the Angels had plenty of expectations heading into the ’09 campaign.

But being dealt an indescribable loss of a fellow teammate 3 games into the season just threw any expectations out the window.

Baseball became irrelevant.

It went from an everyday job to an afterthought.

It opened the eyes of many to what was really important in life… family.

Nick Adenhart was buried in his hometown of Williamsport, Maryland on April 17th, a service that drew a crowd of over 1,500 people, all remembering the fallen 22-year-old.

It was a moment that turned the surreal into the real.

The Angels had lost a teammate, but more importantly, the Adenhart family had lost a son.

From that point forward, the Angels were no longer a team.

They were no longer an organization.

They were a family.

A family that banded together, embodied resiliency, and rose above all obstacles to attain a common goal.

The 2009 Angels personify resilience.

Not only did they have to rise above the tragedy of Nick Adenhart to begin the season, but they also had to fill the voids of Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter being injured and missing a month’s worse of time simultaneously midway through the season (with Juan Rivera missing a week and half’s play during that time as well).

Did the Angels throw in the towel and cave in?

No way, no how.

The Angels would win 17 of 20 games with Vlad and Torii out of the lineup, a streak that spoke volumes of the depth and perseverance of the Angels’ organization as a whole.

It also spoke volumes of their manager, Mike Scioscia; the most level-headed manager in all of baseball who regardless of any scenario or situation, would always keep calm and remain on an even-keel.

The 2002 Angels will forever be remembered as the Comeback Kids.

But the 2009 Angels never quit. They had every reason in the world to quit, and no one could blame them for doing so.

They could have packed it up, threw in the towel, and called the ’09 season a wash.

I couldn’t have blamed them if they did. Not after a blow like that to the organization, no way I could even think of blaming them.

But despite all the adversity, they didn’t give up. Not once.

This is a team of heart.

This is a team of perseverance.

This is a team of champions.

From tragedy to triumph, regardless of how the Angels do this postseason, they’ve won it all in my mind.

Tonight, when I saw the entire team walk out to the image of Nick Adenhart on the center field wall (http://www.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=6901489 for video of that moment)… I realized why I’m an Angel fan.

The reason?

Because this team is a family… and I feel like I am a part of that family.

And family… is loved.

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Filed under Angel News, Angel Stories, September Game Recaps

From Scapegoat to Unsung Hero

aybar hero

Although the Angels’ 2008 season ended on a walk-off hit by the Red Sox, many remember it ending with Erick Aybar at the plate.

With 1 out and a pinch-runner Reggie Willits on 3rd, Mike Scioscia opted to win or lose by doing what they had done all year… play Angel baseball.

A suicide squeeze was the call, but when the pitch ran up inside on Aybar and he couldn’t get the bat on the ball, Willits, like the rest of the team, was done for. You could feel the momentum shift away from the Angels, it was that monumental. Pack it up. Head home. Season over.

One could only imagine what had gone through Aybar’s head on that flight home, and for the entire offseason for that matter. Many people (including myself) blamed Aybar for ending the Angels’ postseason run. Many people blamed Mike Scioscia for putting on a high-risk play in such a crucial situation.

When a suicide squeeze is called, the manager puts the absolute utmost confidence in the batter to at least hit the ball into the field of play, because if not, the runner is a sitting duck, and the team squanders a potentially vital run-scoring opportunity.

But, as the great Mark McGwire once said, “I’m not here to talk about the past.” It’s time to recognize what’s been going on in the present day.

Since day 1 of  being part of the Angels’ system (just like that fateful at-bat in Boston), the club had invested the utmost of confidence and placed immensely high hopes in this “Aybar kid”. He’s quick, he’s a slap-hitter, his range in the field is jaw-dropping, he’s acrobatic, you name it. Over his minor league career, Aybar hit at an impressive .312 mark. When he was 20 years old, he stole 51 bases over the course of his season in Advanced-A ball.

Management had touted Aybar as a player where “the sky’s the limit” for him in terms of potential and the type of player he could grow to be.

In 2007, he hit .237.

In 2008, he hit .277.

An improvement, yes, but me like plenty of other Angel fans out there were missing something. If this kid is supposed to be “so good”, don’t you think he could lay a suicide squeeze down? You’d think. This guy’s our future everyday shortstop? Yeah right.

As you can tell, I was not impressed with Aybar whatsoever since he had been called up to the Angels’ big league squad. I had seen flashes of him being who the Angels hyped him up to be, but he was way too streaky. He’d go on a tear for a few games with the bat, then go ice cold for a week. Consistency was nonexistent.

Then 2009 rolled around.

A redemption year for Aybar, if you will. And a year where I finally understand why the Angels’ front office loved this kid so much.

To start the season, I was hoping they would give the starting shortstop job to Maicer Izturis, a guy who was consistent, clutch, and more proven to-date. But Aybar had put forth a better spring training than Mighty Maicer, and was the Opening Day shortstop for the Halos.

Erick would hit at a disappointing .245 mark over the course of the opening month, which had me somewhat furious why Mike Scioscia kept putting him in the lineup.

He would hit .303 during the month of May, which made me a tad bit happier. His season average was just a shade under .280 after 2 months of play… not great, but not horrible either.

June gloom hit Aybar pretty hard as he batted a mere .256 during June, but then Aybar would turn on the jets.

EA had an absolutely unreal month of July. So good in fact that he had the highest batting average of every starting position player in the entire league over the course of the month.

What did he hit, you ask?

.414. Let that soak in for a moment, do a double take if you need to, you’re reading it correctly.

36 hits in 87 at-bats, 17 runs scored, 18 RBI, a homer, 2 triples, and 6 doubles. All while playing exceptional defense in the field.

In a double-header at Kansas City, Aybar collected 7 hits (yeah… 7 hits in one day!) by going 7-for-9 with 5 runs scored! I don’t know if you could draw up a more successful day of baseball for one player.

His batting average has dipped below .300 once since July 19th (September 4th’s game with the Mariners capped off an 0-for-20 slide… which brought his average to .299).

On the season he’s hitting .306 with 5 homers, 53 RBI, 62 runs scored, 21 doubles, and 5 triples, all career bests. He’s also stolen 13 bases and posted a .350 on-base percentage, also his best marks in his young career.

But as much as he’s been letting his bat do the talking, his work at shortstop has been nothing short of sensational.

Entering 2009, Aybar had possessed unbelievable range in the field, meaning he could cover so much ground that he would almost always get a glove on a ball hit in his general area. He has a cannon for an arm despite being just 5’10” and 170 pounds. But he had always been erratic. For every highlight reel play that he’d make, he would counter by messing up the simplest of grounders.

But as in almost every aspect of Aybar’s game, 2009 would be a new season.

This year has proven to be a “make a name for myself” type of year for Aybar. He would routinely make plays that even the best of shortstops could only dream of making. He’s been making appearances on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays of the day feature seemingly every other day.

At this juncture, I don’t think I could be any happier for Erick.

Nearly 11 months after a potentially career-defining blunder at the ripe age 0f 24, he’s helping erase Angel fans’ unforgettable memory of his ALDS Game 4 mishap by playing the best ball of his career.

And although 2009 has been a year that has shown me a lot about individual players (Torii Hunter, Kendry Morales, Aybar, Juan Rivera just to name a few), but more about what this team is really made of.

This team is made of competitors. This team is made of positive influences. This team is made of winners.

This team… is a team of destiny.

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Don’t Worry, We Got Your Back

figgy maicer

The morning of July 10th seemed like the Angels’ 2009 fortunes were going to take another turn for the worst, and reasonably so.

Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero, the Angels’ hottest hitter on the season and their .300+ avg., 30+ homer, 100+ RBI man respectively were placed on the Disabled List. Neither was expected back until sometime in August (expected to miss roughly 20 games, potentially more barring setbacks).

Their consolation? A 3-game series with the New York Yankees before the All-Star Break.

Fantastic.

They had gotten whomped by the Texas Rangers 8-1 the night before and had gone 4-5 entering the series with the Bronx Bombers.

The Halos had a record of 46-37 when Vlad and Mr. Hunter hit the DL, but for whatever reason, that may have been the best news the organization had received all year, believe it or not.

The Angels would go on to sweep the Yankees to go in to the All-Star Break with a 49-37 record, with the offense averaging just under 10 runs per game during the course of that 3-game set.

The Halos would have 3 representatives on the American League All-Star team in St. Louis in Brian Fuentes, Torii Hunter (withdrew due to injury), and of course Chone Figgins and his day-of-the-game addition to the squad.

Following the All-Star Break, the Angels would pick up right where they left off following the series with the Yankees, and that was hitting the ball hard, and scoring runs in bunches.

They would go 6-1 on a road trip beginning the 2nd half of the season, and would go 9-1 in their first 10 games of the 2nd half.

Until Vlad’s return to the lineup on August 4th, the Angels had compiled an eye-opening record of 17-3 that caught the baseball world’s attention. 10 of those games also were with the Angels’ lineup missing Juan Rivera, possibly the hottest hitter in all of baseball that many have never heard of.

How could they play their best ball all year without their regular 3, 4, and 5 hitters in the lineup?

In my opinion, most teams would go into a tailspin if they were without their 3 best hitters in the lineup. The offense would become anemic. They’d be lucky to post a 2-spot in the run column. You’d see that team slip farther down in the standings, unsure if they’d be able to make a late run at a division title.

Not this team. No way, no how.

First and foremost, winning 17 of 20 games without one of the lead guys in the MVP race (Hunter, who hit .305, with 17 home runs and 65 RBI before hitting the DL) as well as one of the most naturally gifted hitters the MLB has ever witnessed is a testament to one thing and one thing alone, the depth of the organization.

Torii Hunter’s out. Alright, time for Mike Scioscia to show his faith in Gary Matthews Jr. who had displeased the organization so much in 2007 that it made the Angels bring in Torii Hunter to relieve him of his everyday center field duties by Opening Day of 2008 (Matthews had hit a dismal .252 in ’07, one year following his All-Star year in Texas where he hit .313. He’d hit at any even worse .242 mark in 2008).

Vladimir Guerrero’s out. This was probably the most comfortable move for Scioscia to make considering Vladdy had been DH-ing the majority of the year. He gave Mike Napoli consistent at-bats as the designated hitter, and Nap came up with plenty of big hits, including a walk-off knock back on July 24th against the Twins (it marked the Angels’ 9th time the Angels had come back to win in their past 12 victories). Nap’s currently hitting at a .291 mark with 16 home runs, giving the Angels some great pop from the 5 or 6 spot in the lineup.

Juan Rivera’s out. Now time to really dig deep and pluck a head out of your selection of pine-riders. Now was a time to give the Angels’ notorious “guy who plays like once every 2 weeks” Robb Quinlan a spot in the everyday lineup for a small period of time. Quinny had been hitting a mere .222 in limited at-bats before being called to more often by Mike Scioscia. When the month of July had ended, Quinny had hit .350 for month (7-for-20) with 2 home runs, 6 RBI and 6 runs scored. That’s just Robb doing what he’s always done during his 6 1/2 years as an Angel, and that’s getting the job done when his name is called.

Another guy who had to be called upon was Reggie Willits, who up until the New York series had started only 1 game over the course of the ’09 season. Willits, who finished 5th in Rookie of the Year voting in 2007 after hitting .293 with 27 stolen bases, hit the “sophomore wall” in ’08, hitting .194 in limited at-bats. Willits had a fantastic series in Kansas City, which featured him going 5-for-12 with 2 RBI, 5 runs scored, and a stolen base.

All of these players stepped up and picked up the slack for the aforementioned absent players.

And since we’re talking about players who have stepped it up, it would be impossible not to mention both Kendry Morales and Bobby Abreu, who both put together some monster numbers in July.

Kendry hit .326 for July, belting 7 home runs, and posting 20 RBI. His success would even trickle into August, where in the first 2 games played in August, he’d smack 3 more dingers. His hot hitting wouldn’t go unnoticed, as he would earn American League Player of the Week honors for the 1st time in his career during the week of July 27th to August 2nd. During that 6-game stretch, Kendry went 11-26 (a .423 average), blasting 5 home runs and driving in 13 runs.

As if it was hard enough to top hot hitting like that, Bobby Abreu one-upped KMo.

Abreu earned July’s Player of the Month honors after he hit .380, with a league-best 28 RBI for the month. Abreu also jacked what would turn out to be the game-winning homer back on July 19th against the Oakland Athletics.

Abreu’s 77 RBI ranks him 4th in the American League and 8th league-wide. His .322 batting average ranks him 6th in the AL and 11th league-wide. His .416 on-base percentage is 3rd in the AL and 7th in the MLB.

Let’s not fail to mention a few other players who have stepped up in a major way since the start of July.

Returning to the majors after a dismal start (.231 average through June 11th-last game before demotion to AAA), Howie Kendrick was ready to show that his ice cold start was a mere fluke. His July numbers let Angel fans know that the real Howie was back. Kendrick hit a sizzling .387, with 2 home runs, 15 RBI, and 13 runs scored in the 18 games he appeared in during the month of July. He’s now raised his average 41 points (currently hitting .272) since his demotion to AAA Salt Lake in mid-June.

And arguably the hottest hitter across all of baseball for month of July had to be shortstop Erick Aybar who hit a ridiculous .414 (yes, you saw that right, .414) over the course of the month. His totals for July were: 1 home run, 17 runs scored, and 18 RBI, more than double the total of his next highest RBI total for a month (9 RBI in June).

The Angels are currently tops in the majors in hits (1,062), with a league-best .289 team average (next highest is the LA Dodgers at a .279 mark). They trail the Yankees by 2 runs for the most runs in all of the MLB (averaging about 5.7 runs scored per game). Their .352 team OBP is 3rd best in the MLB.

A surprising statistic has to be that the Angels now rank 4th in the MLB with a .449 slugging percentage (they were 15th in ’08, 17th in ’07, 18th in ’06, 19th in ’05), and this was all after losing one of the most talented power-hitting sluggers in all of the game in Mark Teixeira, as well as the franchise’s RBI leader in Garret Anderson. The normally free-swinging “go ahead and give it a rip” Angels also rank 17th in walks taken after ranking 25th out of 30 last year (you can thank the plate discipline of Bobby Abreu and Chone Figgins for that). The Halos also have struck out fewer times than 24 other teams league-wide.

To really put in perspective how hot this lineup has been all year, take a look at the top 17 batting averages in the American League, and look at how many Angels pop up.

6- Bobby Abreu – .322 avg.

10- Juan Rivera- .314 avg.

12- Erick Aybar- .311 avg.

17- Chone Figgins – .305 avg.

That’s 4 Angels in the top 17. No other team currently has more than 2.

The depth that the Angels’ organization has prided itself in ever since the new millennium rolled around continues to pay dividends. Depth can help win championships, only time will tell if the Angels’ remarkably deep bench can contribute to a World Series Championship. At this rate, I can’t quite tell if another team rivals the Angels’ depth from player #1 down to player #25 on their 25-man roster.

The losses of Hunter and Guerrero over that stretch could turn out to be the biggest blessing in disguise in the history of the Angels’ franchise.

It’s not too often that a team can feel confident when they lose an MVP-caliber player and a potential Hall of Famer for a month due to injury. How many other teams can say that?

I can’t exactly speak for the others, but I can confidently say that the Angels can.

kmo abreu hk

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Angels Getting Plenty of Bang for Their Buck

dolla bill

It was an offseason that began with plenty of Angel fans hoping and praying that the front office could ink 1st baseman Mark Teixeira to a long-term deal, and somehow find a way to bring back their star closer Francisco Rodriguez, despite GM Tony Reagins saying the front office had “turned the page” on him. They were 2 of the 4 hottest commodities on the free agent market to go along with C.C. Sabathia and Manny Ramirez.

Fans were hoping that (for once), the Angels would open up the wallet and spend the money they needed to improve… but when it was all said and done, the Angels roped in none of the big-namers.

Teixeira got 8 years, $180 million from the Yankees.

C.C. Sabathia got 7 years, $161 million from the Yankees.

K-Rod got 3 years, $37 million from the Mets.

Manny got 2 years, $45 million from the Dodgers.

Some Angel fans were down because they felt that by not forking out the doe for one of the aforementioned A-list free agents, the Angels lacked that powerful punch in the middle of the lineup and at the back end of the bullpen.

But as they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

By not signing re-signing Teixeira or K-Rod, the Angels now had roughly $31 million of unspent money that they could choose to throw at other free agents out on the market.

Looking back, Tony Reagins spent wisely.

On December 19th of 2008, the Halos kept outfielder Juan Rivera in the mix by signing him to a 3 year, $12.75 million deal ($3.25 million spent for ’09).

On New Years Eve of ’08, the Angels went in a new direction for closing out ballgames by getting former Colorado Rockies closer and a California native in Brian Fuentes. Fuentes received a 2-year deal worth $17.5 million deal (total of $11.75 million spent for ’09).

On February 12th of 2009, Bobby Abreu was signed to sport the Angel red as he was inked to a 1-year deal worth $5 million plus incentives. In 2008, Abreu had a $16 million salary, and the Angels were able to get a guy who hit nearly .300, scored 100 runs, drove in 100 runs, and hit 20 home runs for $11 million dollars less than he earned in that $16 million 2008 season. Nice bargain, I’d say (total of $16.75 million spent for ’09).

Time to go by the numbers, side-by-side.

Comparing signed and unsigned closers:

K-Rod: 1.85 ERA/43.2 IP/23 saves/3 blown saves/1.21 WHIP/44 K/25 BB

Fuentes: 3.03 ERA/32.2 IP/28 saves/3 blown saves/1.13 WHIP/35 K/9 BB

Frankie has been dominant this year for the Mets and his ridiculous 1.85 ERA reflects that, but Fuentes has converted a higher percentage of his saves to date, has a lower walks to innings pitched ratio, has a lower hits to innings pitched ratio, strikes out more per inning and walks less per inning compared to Rodriguez’s numbers. Fuentes’ 28 saves leads the majors. As of now, looks like they made the right move here.

Comparing signed and unsigned hitters:

Teixeira: .280 avg./.381 OBP/.551 SLG/96 H/58 R/24 2B/0 3B/23 HR/67 RBI/50 BB/61 K/1 SB

Abreu: .306 avg./.399 OBP/.439 SLG/96 H/50 R/17 2B/2 3B/7 HR/60 RBI/51 BB/57 K/19 SB

Rivera: .309 avg./.352 OBP/.522 SLG/93 H/39 R/16 2B/0 3B/16 HR/53 RBI/21 BB/31 K/0 SB

So the “vaunted power hitter” may not be in the lineup, but I’d say Abreu and Rivera have done a darn good job of performing for nearly a combined salary that is $13 million less than that of Teixeira’s alone. Abreu currently has the most RBI in all of the MLB since June 1st and Rivera has been the most consistent hitter this year for the Angels outside of the presently sidelined Torii Hunter. Abreu’s presence in the lineup also has helped leadoff man Chone Figgins‘ on-base percentage rise drastically, so the impact of Bobby in the lineup goes far deeper than the numbers.

And those were just the offseason additions.

Let’s not forget to mention the guys who are already on the team who are far and away outperforming their current pay.

Let’s start with Jered Weaver, who has gone 10-3 with a 3.48 ERA this year, has undoubtedly been the ace of the staff since day 1. Entering this year, Jered hadn’t pitched a complete game (a span of 77 starts). He’s thrown 3 complete games this year, including 1 shutout (coming in a span of 8 starts). Opposing batters are hitting a mere .231 against him, and he’s been striking out a career-best 7.77 batters per 9 innings pitched.

So what do you think he’s earning? $4 million? $5 million? $6 million? More? I mean, his agent is Scott Boras after all.

Try $465,000. Yeah, not even 1/2 of a million dollars for those numbers (Robb Quinlan makes close to 2 1/2 times the amount of what Jered makes… try that one on for size).

How about Kendry Morales, he’s put together quite a season in his first year as a starter for the Halos over at 1st base. He was coming in with some massive shoes to fill after Teixeira bounced for the Yanks, but he has no doubt held his own.

The switch-hitting “K-Mo” has posted a .291 batting average, slugged 17 home runs (tied for team-high with Torii Hunter), driven in 52 runs, and has slugged at a .547 mark, good for 2nd best on the team. He’s also in the midst of a career-high 18-game hitting streak, and has provided some pop from the 1st base position that the Angels haven’t seen in a long, long time.

Kendry’s making $1.1 million this year, a.k.a. about $20 million less than Teixeira. Not too big of a drop-off from player to player in my opinion. He’s on pace to hit 32 home runs and post 97 RBI at this rate, a pretty good value by any standards.

Crafty veteran Darren Oliver has the team’s best ERA with a 2.88 mark, and has a 4-0 record, all for $3.67 million.

Mike Napoli, one of the Angels’ two catchers in Mike Scioscia’s platoon system, has the 4th most home runs on the team with 11, despite having roughly 2/3 the at-bats that the regular starters get. He’s also 4th on the team in terms of his on-base percentage (.376) and his slugging percentage (.502). And it’s been Nap Time for the low, low price of $2 million!

But wait, there’s more!

The two shortstops have been providing some value of their own.

With a 2009 salary of $1.1 million, Maicer Izturis has hit .303, with 28 RBI and a .359 OBP, all while playing exceptional defense at both shortstop and 2nd base when called upon.

Erick Aybar has hit .299 with 32 RBI and a .347 on-base percentage, also while playing some career-best defense over at shortstop. He’s earning $465,000 for the 2009 season.

And last, but certainly not least (except for amount of height among Angel players) is Chone Figgins. Chone is hitting a team-best .310, with a .395 OBP, 108 hits, an American League-leading 72 runs scored, and 27 stolen bases. And he’s been “Gettin’ Figgy Wit It” for roughly $5.8 million, earning him his first All-Star invitation of his career.

Heck, Torii Hunter is earning $18 million for this season, and even he’s outperformed his season’s contract (given that much money, that’s really saying something).

Now, it’s time to have a little more fun. Time for some more number-crunching.

*All salaries rounded to the nearest 100,000

2 players departed: Rodriguez, Teixeira = $30.9 million for 2009

3 players arrived: Fuentes, Abreu, Rivera = $16.6 million for 2009.

Getting more production for just under half the price.

And if you reeeeeeally wanted to know…

10 players: Fuentes, Figgins, Abreu, Rivera, Weaver, Morales, Oliver, Napoli, Aybar, Izturis = $32 million for 2009

You get the point.

I just thought I had to throw that last one in there to really drive home the value/productivity point.

“Less is more” seems to be a fitting slogan for the Angels (but then again, they’re getting more production from more players… oh, I’m just confusing myself).

On second thought, I’ll leave it up to someone else to think of a slogan for the ’09 Halos.

In the meantime, I’ll just let the numbers do the talking.

FAN POLL

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Figgy Added to All-Star Game Roster

figgy all starWell it’s the day of the All-Star Game, and it seems that the Angels will have 2 representatives on the American League squad after all.

Chone Figgins, that same man who we all were lobbying for in the Final Vote, will replace Tampa Bay Rays 3rd baseman Evan Longoria on the AL All-Star team after Longoria had to withdraw due to an infected right ring finger.

Figgy will join Brian Fuentes in St. Louis, and had he been healthy, Torii Hunter as well.

This is Figgy’s first All-Star Game, and during the Final Vote voting period, Figgy came up with a motto: “Flip for Figgy, and I’ll flip for you,” referring to the symbolic backflip that former Cardinals’ great shortstop Ozzie Smith used to so often do for St. Louis.

Smith was an idol to Figgins growing up and now, with baseball fans all across America watching, Figgy might get his moment to honor The Wizard with some acrobatics of his own.

Congratulations Chone. We all know this was well-deserved.

Now go get ’em!

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Comeback Kids Channeling ’02 Mojo

kendry napAs of late, the Halos have found themselves trailing early in ballgames, digging themselves into holes that we really haven’t seen a Halo squad dig themselves out of since that magical 2002 season.

Table-setter and offensive catalyst Chone Figgins, the only offensive player left from that World Championship team, and the rest of the Halos’ attack have been channeling that 2002 mindset and magic this year.

After Saturday’s come-from-behind 14-8 win over the visiting New York Yankees, the Halos had recorded the most comeback wins in all of the MLB with 26.

Normally, you’d like to be the team that jumps out in front and puts runs up early, right?

For the Angels, not exactly. They’re saying, hey, you score some now… we’ll score more later.

Entering Sunday’s finale with the Yankees’, the Angels’ last 5 wins have all been in come from behind fashion.

July 4th vs. Baltimore Orioles (down 3-0) — win 11-4

July 5th vs. Baltimore Orioles (down 4-0) — win 9-6

July 6th vs. Texas Rangers (down 2-0) — win 9-4

July 10th vs. New York Yankees (down 4-0) — win 10-6

July 11th vs. New York Yankees (down 4-0) — win 14-8

So, if you add it all up, after allotting opposing teams 17 runs to start in the past 5 games, the Angels have outscored their opposition 11-1, 9-2, 9-2, 10-2, and 14-4 (added all up that’s 53-11).

Keep in mind that Friday’s win in the Yankees series opener, the Halos didn’t have Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero, the regular #3 and #4 spot hitters in the lineup. Then on Saturday in game 2 of the series, they were also without their #5 hitter and arguably the hottest hitter of the MLB since the beginning of June in Juan Rivera.

They Angels are getting timely contributions from different players. And lots of them.

July 4th- 17 total hits. Vladdy has 4 RBI, Torii has 3 RBI. 3 more Halos with 1 RBI each.

July 5th- 8 total hits, 7 different Angels with 1 or more RBI.

July 6th- 10 total hits, 5 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Mathis with 3 RBI, Torii and Juan each with 2 RBI.

July 10th- 13 total hits, 5 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Morales and Aybar each with 3-run homers.

July 11th- 16 total hits, 7 different Angels with 1 or more RBI. Abreu, Napoli with 3 RBI each. Wood, Kendrick, Matthews each with 2 RBI.

The Angels put up their most runs in a single game this season on Saturday, without their regular 3, 4, and 5 hitters… go figure?

Here’s the key.

In his first game since being called up when Torii and Vlad went to the DL, Brandon Wood nailed a 2-run home run. Howie Kendrick and his anemic season-long hitting slump mustered up a 3-for-5 showing with 2 RBI. Gary Matthews Jr. even pitched in 2 RBI late in the game. It’s a good day when your 6, 7, 8, and 9 (both Quinlan and Willits) hitters are picking up the slack by going a combined 8-16 with 1 home run, 6 RBI, and 5 runs scored. Pretty good I’d say especially when the rest of your lineup gets you the other 8 hits and the remaining 9 runs.

It’s a long way away from telling if this is a team of destiny (or history repeating itself), but neither me nor anyone else can’t deny that this team is as resilient a ballclub as we’ve seen in recent memory, on and off the diamond.

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