Tuesday, May 19, 2015

By Jonathan Northrop, AngelsWin.com Writer - 

The Angels led the majors in runs scored last year and now are among the worst in all of baseball. How'd it happen? Where are the problem spots? Let's take a look by position:

Key: BA/OBP/SLG, sOPS+ (which is OPS+ relative to league OPS+

2014: .239/.342/.364, 106
2015: .185/.237/.266, 51

Difference in sOPS+: - 55

First Base
2014: .253/.303/.421, 90
2015: .192/.237/.363, 48

Difference in sOPS+: - 42

Second Base
2014: .285/.337/.381, 110
2015: .276/.326/.341, 90

Difference in sOPS+: - 20

2014: .276/.321/.375, 106
2015: .269/.316/.303, 82

Difference in sOPS+: - 24

Third Base
2014: .240/.300/.365, 86
2015: .219/.280/.409, 82

Difference in sOPS+: - 4

Left Field
2014: .234/.293/.336, 75
2015: .150/.187/.218, 14

Difference in sOPS+: - 61

Center Field
2014: .283/.372/.546, 153
2015: .279/.374/.536, 148

Difference in sOPS+: - 5

Right Field
2014: .274/.330/.436, 108
2015: .295/.354/.450, 110

Difference in sOPS+: +2

2014: .253/.311/.442, 104
2015: .237/.271/.313, 59

Difference in sOPS+: - 45

The first thing that stands out to me is that the Angels are underperforming offensively at every position, except for right field, relative to last year. But that is a bit deceptive, as two other positions - 3B and CF - are close enough to be basically the same.

So the positions that aren't a problem, at least relative to last year: 3B, CF, RF. Everywhere else is a problem, in some cases a huge problem. So let's take a look at them individually:

Catcher - Hopefully this will be solved on two fronts, one, probable improvement from Iannetta. Actually, he's got 5 hits in his last two games, so hopefully he's finally coming around. Secondly, Carlos Perez can't be worse than Drew Butera with the bat. So it seems that catcher can, will be, and seemingly is being solved from within.

First Base - See above. While it is clear by now that Albert will never be anything more than a vague shadowy semblance of his former self, he still has something left in the tank. Since April 19, almost a month, he's hit .270/.295/.450 - still not very good, but better than his overall numbers would indicate. I have no idea where his walks went, but at least he's doing something. Still, like C we're unlikely to see equal performance at 1B this year as last.

Second Base - While we miss Howie, Johnny G has held his own - or at least he was, as he's slowed down quite a bit. But we knew this going into the year, that the best we could hope for was average performance. If Gio slows down too much, look for Featherston or Rutledge or even, gasp, Grant Green to get some at-bats. But I don't think we're going to see any improvement from what we've already seen.

Shortstop - Aybar is getting there. He's a streaky player and often seems to start slow, but is warming up. He'll get hot at some point and I expect will have a similar year as last.

Third Base - Freese has been about the same as last year, albeit with more power but less average. I wouldn't be surprised to see him surpass last year's numbers.

Left Field - Possibly both the biggest problem and the clearest area for improvement. People don't like to admit it, but getting rid of Josh Hamilton--at least as far as on-field performance goes--might not have been a good idea and is a clear gut reaction from Arte Moreno. There is no single position that the Angels could most improve the team than left field. We should be expecting a trade at some point. The player that makes the most sense is Justin Upton, but the Padres aren't exactly out of it and the Angels would have to send one or both of Newcomb and Heaney to start talks. But the Padres may not want to pay Upton the nine-figure contract he'll get after the year, and if they're slipping in the standings he is a likely trade candidate - but not until July, and that might be too late for the Angels if they don't improve the offense.

Center Field - Not much to see here. While there is some possible disappointment in that Trout doesn't seem to have improved from his slightly declined 2014, he's also in a slump right now and should right the ship in short order. I'm still hoping he can get back to being a .300/.400/.550 hitter. The Angels really need him to be.

Right Field - the Angels' second best player, by a good margin on either side, is not a true star, but he may be turning into a borderline star - something a bit better than a quality regular like Erick Aybar, but a bit less than a true star.

DH - Another possible area for improvement from the outside. CJ Cron just doesn't look like he belongs in the major leagues. He's 25, so the clock is ticking, but he probably should be in AAA. But the Angels need more than just filler (Cron, Joyce, Krauss) at DH. They need a bat.

So here's how I see it. The Angels will stand pat at seven of the nine positions and look to improve in LF and/or DH. The cheap way would be to give players like Grant Green and Kyle Kubitza a shot, but neither probably is the impact bat that they need. Green is more likely to get time at 2B or be part of a trade, and Kubitza will best serve the franchise by continuing to improve his 3B defense - in AAA. The only way I see Kubitza getting a regular gig this year is if Freese is injured, or the Angels tank and Freese is shipped off.

Given that we should expect improvement at many positions, the Angels don't necessarily need to empty the already thin farm to get a Justin Upton. I'm not sure what the options are, but a couple of above average bats at LF and DH would go a long way to improving this offense. I would be very surprised if we don't see at least one bat coming in; I can see Scioscia and Dipoto being willing to rotate mediocrity through one of the two positions, but not both. My guess is we have a new starting left fielder some time in June.
Love to hear what you think!

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