Today we are going to talk about replacing Josh Hamilton.
/Cue Rangers fans making jokes about how the Angels should replace him permanently. Harrty, har, har.
Because of Hambone’s misplaced sense of hustle, he has to get thumb surgery and the Angels need to replace his offensive production, which has been very good this year. But now the Angel offense will have to make due without him and they weren’t making due all that well with him thus far.
There is clearly nobody the Angels have that can step in and replace Hamilton’s production. Even if they actually had a real farm system, that would still be the case. Hamilton, during his best years, is a 5+ WAR player. Even being skeptical, which is smart, Hamilton projects to be a 3 WAR player this year. There aren’t a lot of spare guys like that lying around. As such, what the Angels need to focus more on is replacing what production they can while minimizing the trickle down effect of his absence.
With that in mind, they have a few options. None of them are pretty. None of them are even “let me have a few drinks and maybe I can talk myself into thinking they are pretty.” I swear, only a small fraction of that has to do with the prominent involvement of J.B. Shuck.
The first issue is that Hamilton was the left-handed power in the middle of the order. Statistical studies show that lineup protection is wildly overrated, so this isn’t about protecting Trout and Pujols. It is much more about lineup depth and balance. If the Halos were to stack their best hitters behind Pujols, they’d likely end up with Freese and Kendrick batting behind Pujols with Ibanez hitting sixth against righties and maybe even lower versus lefties. That’s a lot of righties to have in a row and makes them prone to late-inning matchup issues. Also, Pujols, Freese and Kendrick are GIDP machines, so having them tightly packed together seems like a recipe for a lot of short-circuited rallies.
This is why finding a lefty to take Hamilton’s spot in the four- or five-hole becomes critical. It, unfortunately, is also pretty hard. Ibanez has the requisite power, but he also might be an OBP sinkhole. Not to overreact to a nine-game sample, but Ibanez has also been pretty dreadful in 2014 with an alarming strikeout rate. Keeping him in down the lineup still seems prudent. That leaves the only other option as Kole Calhoun.
Calhoun doesn’t have big time power, but he definitely has enough pop to get the job done. In fact, he has more pop than David Freese who I think will end up as the de facto clean-up hitter due to his inflated reputation as a slugger. Calhoun is off to a slow start as well, but there are encouraging signs. It is even possible that he’d have a higher comfort level hitting out of the leadoff spot.
But there is a secondary effect to dropping Calhoun in the order in that it creates an opening in the leadoff spot. As we saw in the lone Hamilton-less game last night, that is exactly what Scioscia did and it resulted in Collin Cowgill batting leadoff. That’s an interesting choice, because Collin Cowgill was the worst hitter in the lineup. Or at least he would’ve been had Erick Aybar not had dental work done, ceding his lineup spot to John McDonald.
Is that worth it? Is moving Calhoun to the fourth or fifth spot having Collin Cowgill bat leadoff or, presumably, J.B. Shuck bat leadoff against righties? To a certain extent, Calhoun’s power was being wasted in the leadoff spot, so having a guy with less pop in that spot is OK, so long as they get on base. In 411 career plate appearances, there is nothing to suggest Cowgill is capable of that. Shuck, however, might actually be kind of tolerable (please note, this is as close to a nice thing as I can say about Shuck). Scioscia could opt for Aybar in the role, but I think that ship has sailed. Either way, it results in one of the weakest hitters in the lineup getting the most plate appearances and that is always going to rub me the wrong way. If they want to find a solution from within the current roster, they don’t have much in the way of alternatives though.
So what about going off the roster? The first thing I’m sure some will suggest is signing Kendrys Morales. That isn’t going to happen. Hamilton is out for awhile, but not for that long. Also, the Halos aren’t coughing up the draft pick and I tend to think they don’t have enough money to make it happen. That would also mean moving Raul Ibanez into the outfield, which is just a terrible idea. This is one of the many negative side effects to having a DH who shouldn’t play the field. After that, there aren’t many good option in free agency (Vernon Wells is available!) and it is too early in the season for much of anything to be on the trade block (though I wouldn’t mind Jerry Dipoto giving the White Sox a call about Alejandro De Aza).
If they did want to get creative, the best thing I could see the Angels doing is calling up Grant Green and sticking him in left while hoping his bat plays better than that of Cowgill or Shuck. They could make even bigger upside plays by promoting C.J. Cron or Zach Borenstein and crossing their fingers that they catch lightning in a bottle. These are probably all bad ideas, but they are are ideas.
As much as it pains me to say it, I think the best choice is have Kole Calhoun slot into Hamilton’s spot in the order and let Howie Kendrick bat leadoff. His OBP ceiling is limited, but he also isn’t going to crash through the floor like Shuck, Cowgill and Aybar might. That would leave the lineup looking something like this:
I don’t think Scioscia is that creative though, so it will probably be Kendrick batting seventh with Cowgill and Shuck platooning at leadoff. That’s suboptimal, but not aggressively so. The real key is to get Calhoun behind Pujols so that there is still a left-handed run producer in the middle of the order. It isn’t a lineup that is going to lead the league in offense, but it is good enough to survive six-to-eight weeks.