A little over a week ago Mike Scioscia made the
impulsive bold and probably correct decision to move Mike Trout down in the order, slotting him in the two-hole and declaring that he would be there to stay. This came on the heels of Angel fans spending a great deal of time wringing their hands for an entire off-season over who Mike Scioscia should have bat in the two-hole, presumably behind Trout. Well, it turns out that all of that needless worry was, in fact, proven to be needless because Scioscia just blew the debate up.
But lo and behold he has given us a new source of angst through his batting order machinations. The all important lineup configuration debate has sprung anew with questions over who should now assume the leadoff spot so vacated by Trout.
The answer might seem obvious since it is really the same players being considered for leadoff that were considered for the two-hole, but the problems are not real equivalents. Sabermetric research has suggested that your overall best hitter should bat second, so shifting Trout down a spot makes some sense. What the research suggests for lead off is that OBP is king and putting someone with power in that role is something of a waste. This is different than the two-hole discussion we previously had where we assumed Trout was not an option. OBP was still very important, but there was more of a necessity for the batter to be one of the top hitters on the team, which is why there was so many people lobbying for Hamilton to bat second (you know, before he started playing and stunk up the joint). There was also some momentum behind the more old school thought that the two-hole guy should be a bunt and bat control guy, a notion that Scioscia clearly subscribed to when he selected Aybar for the gig, much to my chagrin.
The paradigm has shifted now for both the old school and new school ways of thinking now that Scioscia has cemented Trout into the two-hole. Gone is the need for someone who can bunt or move people over via the fabled "productive out" that Scioscia loves so much. But also gone are all the options that a sabermetrician would love as there are no real OBP machines for the Angels to pick from nor is their anyone that qualifies as "one of the best three hitters" on the team. Whatever happens here, it seems pretty obvious that, not unlike the two-hole decision, the person batting leadoff for the Halos will be a suboptimal choice.
Alas, we have to play the cards that we are dealt. The pure OBP choice here is clearly Alberto Callaspo who has a career .336 OBP and was sporting a nifty .351 OBP before his injury. He also has the added benefit of being a switch-hitter, so it prevents the lineup from being too right-hand heavy at the top, especially when Hamilton bats fifth. Of course, this will not sit well with the old schoolers as Callaspo is something of a plodder on the basepaths so not only can he not swipe a base, but he might slow down Mike Trout which is a concern with some real merit. What he does to make up for that though is work deep at-bats, seeing 3.95 pitches per plate appearance this season, though that is a bit above normal for him. That should be a characteristic that pleases fans of any philosophy. There is also the growing added wrinkle that Callaspo may no longer be the everyday third baseman once he comes off the DL. With the success Luis Jimenez is having, it is pretty easy to imagine him usurping at least part of his playing time, thus creating a lineup continuity issue.
You could make a similar argument for Chris Iannetta as he also gets on base at a decent clip, but given his streakiness and the fact that he has to sit once or twice a week, it creates another continuity problem, so he probably won't get real consideration, but I'm sure someone was going to bring it up.
The frontrunner for the job has to be Erick Aybar since he was previously tabbed to hit second. From an old school perspective it makes sense as Aybar is a great runner, switch-hitter and doesn't strike out much. However he doesn't do much of the stuff the stat guys like. You know, thinks such as drawing a walk which he had thus far failed to do in 31 plate appearances before he went on the DL. Nor does he see a lot of pitches. Basically, he doesn't fit the new school mold at all.
The same goes for Peter Bourjos who may have weaseled himself into the mix by virtue of his recent hot hitting. Peter is also fast but he also doesn't draw a lot of walks or see a lot of pitches. He also lacks the switch-hitting advantage and the same kind of contact skills as Aybar. He has no real advantage over Aybar other than he has some decent pop in his at-bat. There is a thought that maybe Bourjos is seeing a boost from hitting directly in front of Trout, so that is something to consider as well.
And if we are going to consider that, then might I suggest Howie Kendrick? He could certainly benefit from hitting in front of Trout as it would hopefully get him som more fastball to hit, and Kendrick has always been a guy who pretty much only succeeds against fastballs. He isn't a burner, but he runs well enough to not slow down Trout and he while he doesn't walk all that much, his typical walk rate is on par with that of Aybar. There is the added benefit though that Kendrick would actually hit less often with runners on base. This is a good thing for him seeing how he is a poor situational hitter with a penchant for hitting into doubleplays since he is such a pronounced groundball hitter. This would give him the chance to be more productive due to the protection behind him, but also minimize his situational hitting weaknesses at the same time. I'm not sure that I love this idea but I like it enough to want to see Scioscia try it out for a bit.
Like I said, there is no real good solution here. It might even be so imperfect that the ideal fix would be to just move everyone up in the order, but that is far too progressive a thing for Scisocia to try.