By Johnny Bardo - Angelswin.com Columnist
Part 3 of 12.
- Introduction and Catcher
- First Base
- Second Base
- Third Base
- Left Field
- Center Field
- Right Field
- DH and the Bench
- Starting Rotation
With all the Miguel Cabrera for the entire Angels farm system talk, I have been hesitant to write the installment for second base (and busy), but we could be waiting for months so here goes…
As we move from catcher to first base and then over to second base, a pattern begins to emerge: historical mediocrity for the Angels. It may sound like a downer, but take a look for yourself: the Angels have had very few star players, and only one or two players that could be called superstars. I’m not sure where the system originated, or if I’m drawing from different sources, but I like using the following terms for different tiers of players:
- 1st Tier: Superstar – Among the best players in the game (e.g. A-Rod, Johan Santana, David Ortiz).
- 2T: Star – Among the best players in the league at their position; all-star (e.g. Victor Martinez, Chase Utley, John Lackey).
- 3T: Borderline Star – Very good player with occasional star-calibre season; possible all-star (e.g. Mike Lowell, Kelvim Escobar, Steve Finley in his prime).
- 4T: Quality Regular – An average or above average player (e.g. Bengie Molina, Mark Grudzielanek, Adam Kennedy as an Angel).
- 5T: Mediocre Regular/Quality Bench – (e.g. Darin Erstad as a first baseman).
- 6T: Poor Regular/Decent Bench – (e.g. Jose Molina).
- 7T: Scrub – How did he get to the major leagues? (e.g. Erick Aybar in 2007).
As in chess, the value for each tier, if represented numerically, isn’t from 1-7, but something like, from scrub to superstar: 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 10, 15. Or something like that. But you get the point: One superstar is worth approximately one star and a quality regular, or two borderline stars.
Looking at the first three positions covered, how many superstars have the Angels had? None. The only player that could reasonably be argued to ever have been among the best players in baseball would be Rod Carew, but not as an Angel and not as a first baseman. Mo Vaughn was a star for the Red Sox, but not really a superstar—at least if you re-calibrate his impact for hitting context he played in (the steroid boom days of the 90s) and the team he played on (as players for Yankees and Red Sox especially tend to get a bit over-rated).
Stars? Also none. But wait a minute…how about Bobby Grich?
Bobby Grich may be one of the most under-rated players of the last thirty years. What?! Are you a raving fanboy, you ask? Not really. Let’s take a look. His career averages were .266/.371/.424 in 2008 games from 1970 to 1986; he was an Angel for the last ten of those years, hitting .269/.370/.436 in 1222 games. By today’s standards those are hardly impressive—good, but not star-calibre, at least on the surface. But don’t forget that Grich was also a Gold Glove winner four times (albeit never as an Angel), and had a career Adjusted OPS of 125 (124 as an Angel), better than Derek Jeter (122), Derrek Lee (124), Jorge Posada (124),and future Hall of Fame second baseman Jeff Kent (124). It is also better than Kirby Puckett, Roy Campanella, Tony Perez….need I go on?
And just how good is Grich among all-time second basemen? Well, stat guru Bill James in his The New Bill James Historical Abstract (2001) rated him as the 12th best two-bagger of all time. That’s right between Frankie Frisch and Lou Whitaker. It is hard to weed through all of the names on the all-time Adjusted OPS list, but as far as I can tell Grich is only behind a handful of players for whom second base was their primary career position: Roger Hornsby (175), Nap Lajoie (150), Jackie Robinson (132), Joe Morgan (132), and Rod Carew (131), all Hall of Famers. Grich's 125 rates better than Charlie Gehringer (124), Ryne Sandberg (114), and Craig Biggio (111), all Hall of Famers or soon to be in the Hall of Fame. You could almost make a case that Bobby Grich himself deserves enshrinement in Cooperstown, but that's a topic for another day.
At the least we can say that Bobby Grich was a very good player for a decade and a half and undoubtedly the best second baseman the Angels have ever had. Until now. Or do I speak too soon? I do, for two reasons: Will Howie Kendrick be the center piece to reel Miguel Cabrera in? And will he develop enough plate discipline to truly blossom as a hitter?
(A quick side note: you may be wondering, where’s the rest of the history? Well, I’ve decided to focus on those aspects of Angels history that I find the most interesting…I could list you some names and numbers, but you could look them up just as easily as I; what I hope to do here is capture some of the essence of the Angels, highlighting those aspects that I feel define the franchise. To put it another way, these entries are not meant to be encyclopedic but rather impressionistic).
- Howie Kendrick (23) – 88 games, .322/.347/.450.
Not bad for an injury-marred first campaign. Within another year or two Howie Kendrick
should could be the pride of the Angels; within another decade he could have three or four batting titles to his name. That said, his complete lack of plate discipline is troubling: 9 walks to 61 strikeouts does not a future batting champion make. At times he looked like Tony Gwynn, racking up multiple hit games by the bushel (especially in September); at others he looked like a terrible mockery of Vlad Guerrero (or Vlad in the playoffs!), reaching and whiffing on balls well outside of the strike zone. But his minor league record—a .359/.402/.567 in 375 games over six seasons—bodes well, and speaks of a very rare talent.
The key for Kendrick’s peak potential is plate discipline: he doesn’t need to be a walking machine, but he does need to master the strike zone and learn to hold off on bad pitches, which tends to be reflected statistically in walk to strikeout ratio. Even Vlad’s is good—he may not walk unintentionally that much, but he also doesn’t strike out that much. Pro-rated to 155 games, Howie’s walks and strikeouts would be 16 and 107…do you see those numbers attached to a batting champion? If he doesn’t develop the very least we will see from him is more of the same of 2007: an average above .300 with plenty of doubles and a few triples and HR. If he does settle down a bit and wait on some pitches, the sky’s the limit, even a few years over .350 with 70-80 extra base hits. With talent like Howie’s, I’m betting on the latter.
- Kendrick - 150 games, .330/.370/.480, 45-50 doubles, 10 triples, 15 HR.
Ask again in ten years. Kendrick may be the most promising Angels position prospect ever. If the Angels trade Kendrick, an upgrade is possible but probably unnecessary--the Angels have plenty of options in Chone Figgins, Maicer Izturis, and even Erick Aybar or Sean Rodriguez. But none so sweet as Howie Kendrick, who may turn out to be The Greatest Angel to Not Really Be An Angel.