I thought my days of teaching (and thus grading) were behind me, but little did I know that being a blog proprietor mandates that every 40 games I must submit a quarterly report card for the team I cover. Now I understand why everyone else does it. Ah, conformity. Since I want to do a thorough job and grade everybody, I am going to be doing this in a few installments (that and I think there is a federal law against a blog post exceeding 8000 words). So part uno of this exercise will focus on all the position players employed by the Angels this year.
Bobby Abreu: B
The Angels’ big off-season acquisition (and by big, I mean only) has been a welcome addition to the Angels’ line-up, adding a patient and consistent presence to an otherwise aggressive and erratic offensive unit. Abreu has also been a surprise of sorts. One surprise has been what a deft base stealer he has proven to be, swiping 15 bags without getting caught once. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Halo fans have been unpleasantly surprised to see that Abreu’s bat arrived with no pop left in it, going homerless until the 45th game of the season, a troublesome number for a guy who has hit third almost all season. That lack of pop has also resulted in his underwhelming RBI total of 16. Overall though, the Angels have to be happy with their investment, especially since regression to the mean suggests that Abreu’s power will show up sooner or later.
A rare snapshot of Abreu actually swinging at a pitch, rather than taking it
Erick Aybar: C+
Aybar gets an average grade if only because while he can be so maddening with his frequent mental gaffes he also shows flashes of brilliance just often enough to make you want to believe in him. Not much offense is expected from Aybar, but his batting average of .282 has been more than serviceable, the problem is that he walks about once per lunar cycle and is not a factor on the basepaths despite seemingly good speed. The only real reason Aybar is in the majors, much less starting, is because of his slick glove. Though Mike Scioscia prefers Maicer Izturis to Aybar at the plate, Aybar has a great deal more range than Izzy in the field, though that does mean having to stomach the occasional lapse in focus. For as much ire as Aybar’s brain farts draw, he has been charged with just three errors this season and looks to be making a steady improvement in this department. If he could just find a way to transfer that focus to his at-bats and become a more reliable situational hitter, fans would stop calling for him to be replaced.
Chone Figgins: B+
Life would be a lot simpler if Figgins had just been a disappointment this season, clearing the way for Brandon Wood to take over at third base. However Figgy has been doing everything that has been asked of him this season. He has been a perfect table-setter for the Halos this year, keeping his average at or just below .300, showing strong plate discipline, working the count and drawing walks. The only drawback for Figgins is that he still strikes out too much for a leadoff guy. With the kind of numbers Figgins is putting up (including his 19 steals) he should rank higher in the AL in runs (tied for 28th) but the guys behind him just haven’t done their jobs and knocked him in.
Vladimir Guerrero: INC
A chest injury limited Big Bad Vlad to only 10 games so far this season, so he gets an incomplete thus far. However, he is not off the hook entirely. Guerrero’s bat speed has been slowing for the last couple of years and looked practically glacial to start the season. The Angels always claimed his chest injury never affected his hitting, but it is hard to see how it wouldn’t. But if the Angels’ propaganda department was actually telling the truth and his bat doesn’t speed up, Vlady could have a hard time earning a passing grade next quarter.
Torii Hunter: A+
Far and away the early-season team MVP for the Angels. Hunter picked up all the slack when Vlad went out and is now sporting an OPS just a hair below 1.000. In addition to his hot bat, Hunter has been a regular contributor to Baseball Tonight’s Web Gems, with several spectacular catches, many of them coming in crucial situations (lest we forget the game-saving catch against Kansas City). If Hunter isn’t a starter in the All-Star Game this year, the Halo faithful should be ashamed of themselves.
What else does he have to do to earn your votes?
Maicer Izturis: D+
If Mike Scioscia were issuing the grades, Izturis would be an A+++++, but he’s not and frankly he is lucky I am not flunking his sorry butt. Considering that Maicer is supposed to be a reserve infielder, it isn’t fair to be so hard on him. The problem is that he seems to have been blackmailing Mike Scioscia into giving him fairly regular playing time. Izzy’s production has been pathetic, just a .608 OPS in 93 at-bats, many of which coming in the top part of the order as a DH. Izturis would have been doing everyone a favor if he had suffered his annual quad pull right after Guerrero went on the DL so Mike Scioscia would have been forced to play Brandon Wood rather than wasting countless at-bats on an unworthy player.
Howie Kendrick: F
No player has been a bigger flop this year than Howie Kendrick. The purported future batting champion has been an absolute train wreck at the plate this season. Though he has shown a few signs of coming around lately, Kendrick has struggled mightily to become a more selective and patient hitter so that the Angels could use him at the top of the order. Instead, Kendrick has turned into the Human Rally Killer, stranding the population of New Zealand on base with two-outs this season. By season’s end he should have Australia covered as well. The only thing worse than Kendrick’s offense this year has been his atrocious Howard’s commercials which have an uncanny knack for coming on right after Howie (not Howard) grounds out to end an inning and thwart an LAA offensive threat.
Jeff Mathis: C
Relegated strictly to back-up catching duties, Mathis has found a role that suits him best. Once a prized prospect, it is clear now that he is nothing more than a strong defensive reserve. Thank the Baseball Gods that Mike Scioscia finally figured this out and quit platooning him with Mike Napoli. Mathis has done a fine job defensively but has been generally miserable at the plate outside of him miraculously collecting 12 RBIs in just 67 at-bats. Then again, his .532 OPS has discouraged Sosh from stealing at-bats from Napoli to waste them on Mathis, so I’m not going to complain about it.
Gary Matthews Jr.: C-
Gary Matthews hasn’t been very good this season, but at least he complained about it. Matthews spent a great deal of Spring Training moaning about his lack of a role, only to luck into consistent playing time after Guerrero was placed on the DL. While Private Matthews was eager to talk the talk, he failed to walk the walk. Despite cashing the paycheck of a fringe All-Star, Junior has actually performed right at replacement player level as is indicated by his -0.3 VORP. The good news is that he only has two years left on his contract after this season. Ugh.
Kendry Morales: B+
Morales was practically set-up to fail entering the season, being handed the first baseman’s job with no competition, trying to fill Mark Teixeira’s shoes while simultaneously trying to make the Angels not feel foolish for trading away Casey Kotchman to rent Tex for a few months. Though he hasn’t been nearly as good as Teixeira, Morales has been a good bit better than Casey Kotchman and turned a potential hole in the roster into an actual asset. Morales still has a ways to go to become a legitimate middle of the order presence, starting with learning to hit lefties and showing a bit more patience at the plate. Even with those flaws, I don’t see the Halo front office wishing they had spent an additional $19 million to keep Teixeira around as a modest upgrade at the position.
He’s no Teixeira, but he’s good enough
Mike Napoli: A-
At long last Napoli has made it impossible for Mike Scioscia to bench him for games at a time. Napoli picked up right where he left off last post-season and has been smashing the ball all over the place. Despite being a notoriously streaky slugger, Napoli has been surprisingly consistent thus far, even forcing Sosh to spot him at DH just to keep him fresh and in the line-up every single day. Naps was even feeling so confident on the field that he convinced himself for a week that he could actually be a base stealer. The only thing he has failed to do is convince Scioscia to bump him up in the order where his combination of power and patience can create more runs.
Robb Quinlan: F-
The only thing the Angels ask Q to do is hit lefties when called upon. Want to know what his OPS versus southpaws is? .308. He fails, no arguments. Move along.
Juan Rivera: C+
Until recently, Rivera’s season was an unqualified disappointment, but he has stepped up his game and might have wrested the starting left field position from Gary Matthews for good, of course that is like beating a one-armed man in a clapping contest. He’s been only slightly better than average at the plate on a day-to-day basis, but has been murder on lefties. He’ll have to continue to progress to keep getting the consistent playing time that feeds his production.
Reggie Willits: N/A
If anything, Willits should get an award for being such a good sport. He’s arguably a better player than Gary Matthews, possibly even Juan Rivera, but since he has minor league options left and Matthews and Rivera both have fat contracts, Willits has been banished to Triple-A for all but a handful of games. He hasn’t gotten a fair shake since his respectable rookie season but hasn’t made a peep and for that he deserves some kind of admiration.
Bobby Wilson: N/A
He did a real nice job warming up the pitcher in between innings during that one week he was on the roster. So he has that going for him, which is nice.
Brandon Wood: REPEAT THE GRADE
And now we address the elephant in the room. Wood had a golden opportunity to play a role with the Angels after Guerrero got hurt but was summarily ignored by the coaching staff in favor of “established veterans.” To his credit, Wood has held his tongue while continuing to demolish minor league pitching. An optimist would like to believe that he will get his chance soon, but any realist can see that he is doomed to repeat Triple-A (actually, re-repeat) and try again next season.