As of this morning, May 13, the Los Angeles Angels sit in last place in the AL West at 13-21. Though their starting pitching woes have been garnering the headlines lately, their (lack of) offense might be an even bigger problem. Even with Thursday’s 10-run outburst, the Angels have still scored the fewest runs of any team in the division:
- TEX – 166
- SEA – 152
- HOU – 145
- OAK – 132
- LAA – 123
Angels pitching meanwhile, thanks in large part to the bullpen’s 2.88 ERA, have actually been good enough so far this season that the only AL West team to allow fewer runs is the Seattle Mariners:
- SEA – 120
- LAA – 152
- TEX – 152
- HOU – 170
- OAK – 181
The Angels are currently last in runs scored is because they are also currently last or next to last in the division in the primary factors that produce runs: on-base percentage (.311; next to last in the West), slugging percentage (.364; last in the AL), and home runs (28, last in the West).
Not everyone on the team is not to blame for this underwhelming performances. Mike Trout, Yunel Escobar, Kole Calhoun, C.J. Cron, and Geovany Soto have all done a fine job at the plate so far this year. The problem lies in the offensive performances of Albert Pujols, Andrelton Simmons, Carlos Perez, Johnny Giavotella/Cliff Pennington, and Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry.
The good news is that these offensive problems in the Angel lineup seem to be fixable. Whether Billy Eppler and company are willing to try fixing the offense by infusing new life into it, however, remains to be seen.
Carlos Perez is a fine defensive backstop, but his .208 OBP and .179 SLG are killing the Angels’ chances at scoring runs. Fortunately, there are two excellent choices at Salt Lake who are ready to come up and provide some offensive punch on the days Geovany Soto isn’t catching. Jett Bandy is 5-for-10 in his last three games and is now hitting .274/.312/.417 with two home runs and six doubles on the year. Juan Graterol, meanwhile, has a .362 OBP with just the one extra base hit in 14 games. Bandy is the one with upside, but either would be an upgrade at this point.
I know the continuity of the Daniel Nava/Craig Gentry platoon in left field has been disrupted by injury, but even when the two have been healthy the numbers they’ve put up are lacking. After scorching the ball in spring training, Nava and Gentry have combined to go 12-for-64 (.188) in the regular season with four walks and only two extra base hits. The move seemingly every Angels fan wants to see is plugging in Rafael Ortega as the regular left fielder. He had a .345 OBP in 51 at bats for the Angels this year, went 3-for-5 with runners in scoring position, and at Salt Lake he has a home run and two triples.
Sadly, fan favorite Johnny Giavotella and Cliff Pennington have not produced much offensively for the Angels this year. They are a combined 23-for-120 (.192), though Pennington’s .341 slugging percentage far outperforms Giavotella’s .263 mark. In the Angels’ upper minors, they have been scrambling to get many of their infielders experience at second base this year, and most have been doing surprisingly well offensively. Here is a look at the top five who have logged time at second base this year:
Sherman Johnson looks like the obvious choice for a call up to replace the weak offensive production coming from Giavotella and Pennington, but most of Johnson’s production this year has come at the Double-A level, so perhaps a more seasoned player like Kaleb Cowart or Kyle Kubitza should be given time as the Angels’ second baseman in order to pump up the Halo offense. Again, why not try anything at this point?
Andrelton Simmons has an uncanny knack for putting the ball in play at a high rate but not having much to show for it. He was hitting just .219 with an equally horrible 51 OPS+ at the time of his injury. Of the second basemen in the above chart, Gregorio Petit and Rey Navarro have seen the most time at shortstop, splitting time there at Salt Lake. My hope was for Petit to get called up so he can use his on-base skills to help the Angels score runs while Simmons is out, but with the recent signing of all-glove/no-bat Brendan Ryan, it seems unlikely.
The Elephant in the Room
And then there is Albert Pujols, he of the truly awful .194/.266/.372 slash line. Having Pujols bat fourth in the lineup may be the biggest obstacle to the Angels scoring enough runs to win ballgames. He is batting .179 with runners in scoring position this year. The Angels can’t continue to have Pujols hit in the top half of the lineup making outs if they want to improve their offense. Hopefully his ego won’t be too damaged when he finally gets the news because he does provide value for the Angels as a terrific defensive first baseman, and the Angels can surely use the runs he provides when he goes yard. He just makes too many outs when the Angels have run scoring opportunities to hit cleanup right now.
If these changes were incorporated, here’s how the new-look Angels offense might line up:
- Yunel Escobar, 3B
- Rafael Ortega, LF
- Mike Trout, CF
- C.J. Cron, DH
- Kole Calhoun, RF
- Geovany Soto, C
- Albert Pujols, 1B
- Kaleb Cowart, 2B
- Gregorio Petit, SS
That lineup is unlikely suddenly give the team a great offense, but is hard to imagine the it’d do as bad of a job as the current iteration. At the very least, this revamping of the offense would give valuable Major League experience to the young players who could turn out to be significant contributors to the Angels in the next year or two. And combined with contributions on the pitching side of things the likes of Nate Smith, Tyler Skaggs, C.J. Wilson, and/or Jhoulys Chacin, maybe the Angels find themselves competing again in a surprisingly weak AL West. Stranger things have happened.