With his rich new contract extension set to kick in this year, can Angels fans expect more from Erick Aybar with him entering his prime or will it just be more of the same productive but maddening inconsistency?
2012 Stats: 554 PA, .290 AVG, .324 OBP, .416 SLG, 67 R, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 20 SB, 4 CS, 61 K, .321 wOBA, 109 OPS+, 3.4 fWAR
2013 ZiPS Projections: 601 PA, .276 AVG, .317 OBP, .393 SLG, 72 R, 8 HR, 48 RBI, 23 SB, 6 CS, 69 K, .309 wOBA, 99 OPS+, 2.7 fWAR
2013 Bill James Projections: 553 PA, .278 AVG, .321 OBP, .389 SLG, 69 R, 7 HR, 48 RBI, 20 SB, 7 CS, 65 K, .307 wOBA
2013 CAIRO Projections: 488 PA, .274 AVG, .315 OBP, .392 SLG, 55 R, 7 HR, 44 RBI, 17 SB, 5 CS, 62 K, .309 wOBA
2013 MWAH Projections*: 650 PA, .285 AVG, .318 OBP, .406 SLG, 88 R, 9 HR, 64 RBI, 28 SB, 6 CS, 80 K, .322 wOBA
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate)
2012 in Objective Review:
Erick Aybar signed a lucrative contract extension before the season and that decision seemed to damn him to the same fate as every other Angel with a fat new contract in that he got off to a very disappointing start. Aybar was the leadoff hitter to open the season despite his career-long on-base issues and it couldn't have worked out more poorly with Aybar mustering only a .531 OPS at the top of the order. Even after he was supplanted at the top of the order by Mike Trout, it still took a long time for Aybar to round into form as he was carrying a slash line of .264/.297/.365 at the break.
But in typical Aybar inconsistent fashion, Aybar came on strong in the second half and was one arguably one of the best hitters in the Angel lineup in the second half. Even with a two-week hiatus to nurse a fractured two at the end of July, Aybar could not be slowed down in the second half as he posted a .326/.361/.484 slash line, harkening back to the kind of numbers he flashed in his breakout 2009 campaign only with even more unexpected power. While his two half seasons were wildly disparate, they averaged out to a pretty strong campaign for Aybar that more than justified his four-year, $35 million contract extension (even if it doesn't kick in until this season).
2012 in Revisionist History:
While it was hardly an All-Star campaign for Aybar, his strong finish had to make Jerry Dipoto feel pretty smart for locking Aybar up. Had he been going into the off-season that hot as a potential free agent, it seems highly likely that there would have been a bidding war for Aybar's services with the likes of the Red Sox, Dodgers and maybe even the Cardinals or Tigers getting in on the action. Even had the Halos been able to re-sign him, JeDi definitely saved the team several million dollars by getting Aybar taken care of before the season.
At this point it is old hat to complain about Aybar's inconsistent season. That is pretty much par for the course for him. It is just who he is. He can stink for long stretches and then look like a legitimate star player for long stretches. That's why I'm not even going to try and get myself pumped up over Aybar's impressive .158 ISO in the second half.
If there is one takeaway from Aybar's season that I do think will carry forward it is that he really embraced the kind of player he is. By that I mean he appears to have given up on trying to convert himself into a more patient and disciplined hitter. He has flirted with that shift in hitting approach the two previous seasons only to see it cause him more problems than success. But in 2012, Aybar swung at the highest percentage of pitches in his career at 51.6%. He made a career-high percentage of contact too despite those extra swings. This is always the kind of hitter he has been at heart, a guy who slaps the ball around to try and make things happen.
The one legitimate concern I have with Aybar is his fielding. He still passes the ol' eyeball test with me (and most people I thnk) but the advanced metrics were not kind to him and they really havent' been over the years. In 2012 though, UZR, FRAA and to a lesser extent DRS all seemed to judge him harshly. While I think even he would admit that 2012 was not his best defensive season, there is just something about his defensive prowess that isn't shining through in the defensive metrics or he has some deficiency with the glove that is harder to see with the naked eye outside of his increasingly infrequent mental gaffes.
Three Lingering Questions for 2013:
1) Is Aybar really going to hit second this season?
It sure looks like it. Scioscia has long shown an inclination to use him in that role, but there are other contenders with Kendrick, Callaspo and maybe even Bourjos. It really is the only unsettled spot in the order at this point and a very important one at that. I'm not even sold that Scioscia believes him to be the best man for the job so much as he thinks he is the lesser of several evils. For what it is worth, Aybar does do his best work batting second with a career slash line of .285/.330/.432.
2) Should he?
That depends on your school of thought. If you are old school and like a guy who is fast, can bunt and doesn't strike out much, Aybar is your guy. If you are new school and put the onus on OBP and working longer at-bats, he is the exact opposite of what you want. In his best season, Erick had a .353 OBP, but it required him to hit well over .300 and that probably isn't something you can count on with him.
3) Will the Angels ever get a consistent season out of Aybar?
He has had his fair share of ups and downs when it comes to mental focus and consistency over the years, but he is getting better. Still, we saw how wildly disparate his two half seasons were in 2012. This is going to be his age 28 season though, putting him right in his prime. If ever there was going to be a year where he put together a strong season from start to finish, this is the year. If not, well, then it probably isn't ever going to happen.
Three Irrelevant Questions for 2013:
1) Did he realize Pujols was going to murder him for slapping his elbow in that bizarre incident early last season?
Good thing he is fast and got away before The Machine could really get a hold of him.
2) Is Aybar overrated or underrated?
While irrelevant to how he actually performs, it is in an interesting question. He is well paid, suggesting he is very good, but he is also not someone who is going to make several All-Star teams. I'm also not sure he is even a top 10 shortstop in the league, but at the same time I have absolutely no problem with him being the Angels' shorstop for the next four years. Maybe he is just properly valued.
3) Why isn't there more funny things to talk about with Aybar?
I mean, he makes a lot of mental errors, he is kind of funny looking and had jacked up teeth. There should be more humor here, yet I am just coming up empty.
2013 in Subjective Projection:
Aybar is who he is at this point. He is going to have his hot stretches and his cold streaks, perhaps not in such an obvious way as he did in 2012, but still averaging out to a pretty nice season. He is probably going to bat second a lot even though he doesn't usually have even a league average OBP, but he does have great speed and he has learned to become a highly efficient basestealer in the last few seasons. He does make a lot of contact though, so he should do a fine job of moving Trout and the other runners in front of him along even without him dropping a lot of sac bunts, which I fear he will be doing quite a bit. It should all work out fine as long as he continues to embrace his natural instincts and doesn't succumb to the pressure to become a more patient hitter. I know that seems counter-intuitive, but there is a pretty established history (like his 2010 season) of Aybar screwing himself up at the plate when trying to force himself to be more disciplined.
As far as the projections go, they are largely in agreement. The only area where I believe he'll have an advantage over past seasons is that he should play a lot more. With Maicer Izturis gone, this could be the first season where Aybar plays over 143 games. While he has held tight to the starting job for years, he sat fairly regularly to give Izturis a chance to play more, but that arrangement shouldn't be of much consideration now that Andrew Romine is his primary back-up. That requires him to stay healthy though, which is not given since Aybar has missed at least 10 games due to injury in every season of his career save 2009.