Failure Begins at the Top

Hey, do you want to bat leadoff for the LA Angels?  Why not?  Everyone else has.  It is almost like that might have something to do with the Angels’ offensive ineptitude.  Hmmmmm….

Los Angeles Angels batter Erick Aybar throws his bat in the sixth inning of their MLB InterLeague baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals in St. Louis, Missouri May 22, 2010. REUTERS/Sarah Conard (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

Hey, Tony Reagins, remember when you said Aybar could easily fill Figgins’ shoes at the top of the lineup?  Yeah, about that…


When the Angels decided to let Chone Figgins walk away via free agency, they thought they wouldn’t have much of a problem replacing him at the top of the order, despite him having (mostly) been an excellent catalyst for the Halos.  That looked like a master stroke of genius from Tony Reagins early in the season as Figgy arrived in Seattle to immediately fall on his face, like it was some kind of brilliantly orchestrated prank by Reagins.  It turns out that the joke wasn’t just on Seattle, it was on the Angels too.

As bad as Chone has been in Seattle, his replacements in Anaheim have been even worse.  Figgy has thus far put up a disappointing OBP of .340 for the Mariners, a figure that sadly bests the OBP of anyone (except the eternally patient Bobby Abreu, who checked in just ahead at .350) the Halos have auditioned at the leadoff spot.  And that is no small feat either, seeing how Mike Scioscia has tried nearly every position player on the roster at leadoff this season.

In a season where Scioscia and his notoriously amorphous batting order has seldom ever remained the same, seven different players have received multiple starts atop the Angel lineup.  Let’s review that list of leadoff wannabes, shall we:

  • Erick Aybar: 387 AB, .279/.336/.37o.  Albeit, not the worst slash line in the world, but also not one that belongs at the top of the order.  Sadly, Aybar’s tenure at the top was one of the most productive for the Angels, though it was marred with wild inconsistency, which is why he wound up losing the job in the first place.
  • Bobby Abreu: 76 AB, .263/.356/.474.  Now we’re walking (see what I did there?).  If getting on base is the name of the game, Abreu is your man.  Even still, Bobby’s overall struggles this season translated to his time at leadoff as well, making it hard to justify leaving him there when he was only a marginal upgrade, on base-wise, when he also possessed one of the few bats in the Angel lineup capable of driving in runs.
  • Alberto Callaspo: 54 AB, .148/.179/.204.  I think we can all safely say hitting leadoff doesn’t suit Alberto.  Great trade, Tony.
  • Howie Kendrick: 46 AB, .261/.320/.413.  This was during Scioscia’s George Costanza-inspired “do the opposite” phase.  All the supposedly patient hitters on the roster flamed out at leadoff, so what not try out a guy who is generally allergic to talking pitches.  This little experiment didn’t work out either, surprising exactly no one.
  • Reggie Willits: 29 AB, .310/.429/.379.  As you can see, Reggie has done a fine job at leadoff when given a chance, though it didn’t happen very often.  Alas, it wasn’t meant to be since Scioscia insisted on wasting so many at-bats on Juan Rivera.  Who needs a leadoff man that can get on base when you can have a six-hole hitter that grounds into doubleplays like it is going out of style?
  • Maicer Izturis: 28 AB, .214/.313/.321.  Izturis’ numbers aren’t very good, but he does have good plate discipline and makes a lot of contact, so it is actually rather surprising that he didn’t get more starts at the top of the order.  Or at least it would be if Mighty Maicer didn’t choose to start his annual parade to the disabled list just when Scioscia had lost patience with Aybar in the one-hole.
  • Peter Bourjos: 19 AB, .263/.333/.263.  Because, hey, why not?  Sure, Peter hasn’t hit much, hasn’t walked much and has struck out quite a bit, but he profiles as a future leadoff-type.  That’s got to be worth a look at least, right?  Like the Aybar leadoff experiment, this is a nice idea but put into action a few years too soon.

That was fun, wasn’t it?  About as fun as getting my arm caught in a revolving door (that actually happened to me in a hotel in Boston as a kid, yet another reason to hate that town).

Now, I am well aware that a lot of recent advanced statistical studies have discounted some of the effects of a batting order, but it still has to count for something, especially in the case of the Angels.  The problem with the Angels getting so little from their #1 hitter, is that it reduces the opportunities for the big bats (term big bats used loosely) in the middle of the Halo lineup to have someone to drive in.  That little leadoff problem is then compounded by the fact that, save for the first inning, the #1 hitter in the lineup is preceded by the #9 and #8 hitters, two spots that have been especially weak for LAA this season.  The Angels have gotten OBPs of .264 and .236, respectively, from those lineup spots.  That is what happens when most of those ABs go to Jeff Mathis, Brandon Wood and Peter Bourjos, I guess.

While the #8 and #9 hitters have been absolutely abysmal, it is almost kind of OK since the guys hitting there aren’t expected to be much good (though they could certainly be much, much better).  The #1 batter, though, that’s a horse of an entirely different color.

Be it Carl Crawford or some other off-season import, the Halos absolutely must make finding a new spark for the top of their lineup a top priority this off-season.  As we’ve seen all to often this season, the lack of quality table-setters has put an undue amount of pressure on the middle of the order to try and create offense all by their lonesome.  In turn, players like Torii Hunter have started gripping so hard that they’ve taken themselves out of their own approach at the plate, hindering the lineup even further.  It is like the trickle down effect, but for baseball.  But if the Angels can actually find a top-notch leadoff hitter, that trickle down of offensive struggles could be reversed into a flash flood of offensive output.

Get on it, Tony.

Garrett Wilson

About Garrett Wilson

Garrett Wilson is the Supreme Overlord of Monkeywithahalo.com and editor at The Outside Corner. He's an Ivy League graduate, but not from one of the impressive ones. You shouldn't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he is angry.

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