Monday, December 10, 2007


The Big Fish watches one sail away

Continuing my series:

  1. Introduction and Catcher
  2. First Base
  3. Second Base
  4. Shortstop
  5. Third Base
  6. Left Field
  7. Center Field
  8. Right Field
  9. DH
  10. Starting Rotation
  11. Bullpen
  12. Conclusion

Part Eight: RIGHT FIELD

HISTORY

Of all the positions, the Angels have perhaps seen the most success in right field—at least over the last fifteen years. The first couple decades mirrors that of the other positions: a rotating musical chairs of mainly mediocrities. In 1978 that looked like it was going to change—the Angels signed free agent Lyman Bostock, who was coming off a couple years in Minnesota that spoke of a budding star (Adjusted OPS+ of 130 and 144). Bostock was a class act—after batting .150 in April of ’78, he offered to return that month’s salary to Gene Autry; after Autry refused, Bostock donated it to charity. On September 23rd, Bostock was tragically shot and killed.

During the ‘80s and early ‘90s a wide number of players played in right field, including an aging Reggie Jackson who (thankfully) mainly played as the DH, Fred Lynn, Devon White, Chili Davis, and Dave Winfield. In 1993 the musical chairs ended for about a decade with the arrival of Rookie of the Year, Tim Salmon.

For eight years, from 1993 to 2000, Tim Salmon was the foundation of not only Angels offense but the team as a whole. After his first two strong years, Salmon seemed ready to breakthrough to superstar status, hitting .330/.429/.594 (OPS+ 165), one of the greatest Angels seasons ever. Yet it wasn’t to be—the following year Salmon returned to more modest, if still excellent, levels. In 2001, at the age of 32, Salmon had his worst season, but followed up with two solid seasons, although 2003 showed signs of significant decline. He played in only 60 games in 2004 due to injury, then missed all of 2005. He had a solid comeback in 2006, playing 76 games, but decided to retire after the season. All told, Salmon played in 1672 games, hitting .282/.385/.498, with an Adjusted OPS+ of 128—second to his successor, Vladimir Guerrero, and the most by an Angel playing five or more seasons (until next year, at least).

While Salmon will always be missed and remembered fondly, the signing of Vladimir Guerrero in January of 2004 provided a more than adequate replacement. Guerrero’s contract was five years (with a $15 million sixth year team option) for $70 million—at the time, a bargain for a superstar because of concerns about Guerrero’s back. These concerns were soon alleviated, as Guerrero won his first MVP award, and the second by an Angel (Don Baylor in 1979), by hitting .337/.391/.598 with 39 HR and 126 RBI. It was the start of a four-year run (and counting) that has been the strongest by an Angels hitter, with Adjusted OPS+ of 157, 154, 138, and 147. The Angels finally got their first, true superstar—not a former superstar in his decline years, but one right in his prime.

2007 REVIEW

· Vlad Guerrero (31) – 150 games, .324/.403/.547, 45 2b, 27 HR

With an Adjusted OPS+ of 147, Vladimir Guerrero’s 2007 season was right along his career norms, his 148 good for 6th among active players (behind Barry Bonds 182, Albert Pujols 167, Frank Thomas 157, Manny Ramirez 154, and Jim Thome 150—and just ahead of Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi, both with 147) and 39th among all-time players (Ruth 207 and Williams 191 are 1st and 2nd ahead of Bonds). His last four years have easily been the best four-year stretch ever by an Angels hitter (although surpassed by ex-Angel Jim Edmonds…in St. Louis). According to OPS+, Vlad’s at first glimpse sub-par 2007 was right along career norms—he simply compensated fewer HR with more doubles and walks, and later in the season those doubles reverted back to HR.

FUTURE OUTLOOK

While Vlad’s OPS+ was along career norms, there is some concern that he might be showing signs of minor decline. 2006 was his lowest OPS+ since his rookie season of 1997; 2007 was his lowest SLG since that year. His decline has been most notable through is defense: his range and fielding percentage remain around league average, but his arm isn’t quite the same: from 1997 through 2004, he averaged over 12 assists per year; over the last three he has averaged just under 7. But he remains a premier hitter—and should for at least another two or three years. 2008 will be the last of his five year contract, although the team has a $15 million option for 2009. Expect Arte Moreno to extend Vlad’s contract, perhaps through the end of his career.

In 2008 Guerrero will split time between RF and DH—my guess is around 60/40. The rest of the time, Gary Matthews Jr. will be the most likely replacement, perhaps along with a few games by Reggie Willits, Juan Rivera, and even Terry Evans.

STAT PROJECTION

· Guerrero (32) - .330/.400/.550, 30 HR

UPGRADE?

No, at least not yet. Assuming that he is extended, Guerrero may be the full-time DH within two or three years. At that point, the Angels have some minor league options. Let’s hope that four years from now our outfield isn’t comprised of three 35+ year olds in Matthews, Hunter, and Guerrero—who will be 36, 35, and 35 going into the last year of Matthews’ contract.

Love to hear what you think!

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