There’s been quite a bit of complaining over the way Scioscia has been handle the lineup the past weekend, and with good reason too. Who wouldn’t be a little frustrated with the way the lineup has been managed thus far? He’s burying the teams hottest hitters in the bottom of the lineup, he’s thrust his veterans into the middle of the order when they’ve been having consistent trouble in RBI situations, maybe not Torii Hunter nearly as much as Vernon Wells, but Hunter is having his fair share of struggles. Oh, and we can’t forget two moves that have been giving us the most trouble thus far, giving some of the younger guys too much bench time and keeping Aybar locked in at leadoff.
I’m just gonna go ahead and talk about Trumbo right off the bat since that’s one of the Angels fan’s biggest gripes over the lineup. I briefly went over the situation in Tuesday night’s game, but keeping Trumbo out of the lineup at the beginning of the season is the best for Trumbo’s long term plans with the team. Letting him slowly get comfortable at third and build up confidence takes a lot of time, and playing him everyday runs the risk of him losing confidence over a string of bad games, let him get a couple good games in, get the next day off to soak up the confidence and then let it build over a month or two. There’s one thing I didn’t mention last night, Mark Trumbo doesn’t need to be thrown into the lineup when the other middle of the order bats are ice cold like Kendrys and Pujols were the past week. Now that they’re starting to heat up it’ll be easier to get Mark Trumbo into a groove seeing as how he won’t have to push himself to carry most of the lineup like he’s been not only the past week but the entire ’11 season.
I hate to make Trumbo sound like a fragile little butterfly, but if the Angels want this to work out they’re going to have to nurture the hell out of this, with extreme care might I add. This is a high risk high reward situation and the last thing the Angels need is another bust soiling the roster like we’ve been so used to seeing, and when it does work out somewhere down the line (yes I do have that much faith in him) the Angels are going to have one of the most dangerous middle of the order in the game.
Even if the Trumbo experiment works out to perfection the Angels will still be extremely lacking at the top of the lineup, which is currently occupied by Erick Aybar. Don’tget me wrong, Aybar is one of the top shortstops in the game who is more than well deserving of a possible contract extension, but he just does not have the tools to be a successful leadoff man. He holds a career .318 OBP and has only gotten on base at a higher clip than .322 and that was back in 2009 when he recorded a .353 OBP. That’s in the ballpark of where you’d like your leadoff hitters on base abilities to stand, but with Aybar he’s far shy of that standard. Scioscia puts him at leadoff because of his speed, base-running ability, and strong bunting skills, but that never makes a better leadoff hitter than a guy who isn’t as strongin those categories but can get on base at a far superior rate.
Aybar is better suited for the bottom of the order, he would make a much better RBI guy whose job is to bat in the guys from the 5-8 holes and keep innings alive for the top of the order during a rally or even a tight 2 out spot. Aybar has the potential to bring in plenty of runs, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him bat in anywhere from 70-80 guys over the season. He had 59 RBI’s last year, which isn’t far off from 70-80, and the vast majority of those were from the leadoff spot too. Imagine what he could do if he didn’t have guys like Jeff Mathis (.225 OBP) batting in front of him all year.
There isn’t much to work with in terms of getting someone else off this roster that would make a better leadoff man over Aybar. You’d probably be thinking Peter Bourjos, but his on base rate doesn’t fare much better than Aybar’s (.286 OBP for Bourjos in ’11). If you want to get creative and think outside the box you could go with catcher Christ Iannetta, who sports a career .358 OBP. Iannetta has hit with an OBP over .370 2 times in his career (.390 in ’08, .370 in’11), but you could argue that with the power he brings it’s better to have him hitting somewhere near the end of the middle of the order. That actually just might be a little too outside the box, especially with Scioscia. We could have Izzy getting some AB’s at the leadoff spot but that would probably just be for show in order to impress a few potential trade suitors. At best we’ll just have to wait it out until Mike Trout is promoted to the major league level sooner or later, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Last, but not least, Scioscia needs to stop batting Wells and Hunter in the middle of the order. Hunter isn’t suited for batting cleanup, there are stretches where he presses himself too much in tight situational spots, and he would fit much better batting behind Morales in Trumbo in the lineup. He would still have a good amount of RBI spots to hit in that wouldn’t put too much mental pressure on him, that’ll all fall on the shoulders of the big guys who are better fit for carrying that weight. Wells, on the other hand, has not proved with his new ballclub that he is fit to handle middle of the order duties, he would be best fit to bat in the 8 hole, and call me crazy for saying that but that’s what would work best for Wells. Little pressure, but he still has Iannetta batting 7th in front of him, someone who is very capable of getting on base at a high rate, which would still give Wells low pressure RBI situations. This would go far towards helping him get his mental game back together, and once he proved he isn’t fragile he can slowly be pushed back up in the order.
It’s a shame that all these good ideas will go for naught, Scioscia is far too stubborn to use logic when creating lineups. He puts far too much trust in Wells to continue batting him in the middle of the order and not nearly enough trust in Trumbo, who should be hitting in the 4-5 holes; and Iannetta, who should be freed from the bottom of the order curse. Some factors are beyond his control, but the factors that are in his control have gotten a little out of whack. As the season rolls on he’ll find a comfortable lineup that will sit well both with the fans and on the field. The season is still young; we have plenty of time for growth until October rolls around.
And you better believe October baseball will be rolling in for the Angels.