Coming off one of the worst seasons of his career both at the plate and in the field, Erick Aybar has been banished to the bottom of the order, but will still be looking to re-establish himself as one of the top all-around shortstops in the American League.
*The MWAH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research (my wOBA calculation is approximate because my math skills are only “meh”)
What happened in 2013?
It was a rough 2013 for Erick Aybar who finished with one of the worst offensive and defensive seasons over his career. Aybar was basically jinxed from the start as he went down with a heel injury early in April when he stepped awkwardly on a base, subjecting the rest of us to the Brendan Harris experience. I still haven’t forgiven him for that.
When he came back in May, it took him awhile to ramp back up. He also seemed as if he was still being very careful to not re-aggravate his heel. That, at least in part, explains why he only stole 12 bases and only attempted 19 steals. That injury also seemed to hamper him in the field. Advanced defensive metrics have never loved Aybar in the same way scouts do, but he got a -7 defensive runs saved hung on him last season. That’s a rough go for a guy whose main value comes from defense.
Still, a lot of the focus was on Aybar’s offense as he spent the second half of the season engaged in an epic struggle to keep his OBP over .300. Good thing he wasn’t hitting leadoff quite a bit during that time, right?
Oh, actually was. My bad.
That ill-advised lineup placement only served to magnify his struggles as Aybar had never been an OBP machine. More was expected from him with the bat, but after two fairly decent seasons, Aybar really started catching heat for his failure to produce in the batter’s box.
What do the projections think he will do in 2014?
The graph makes it seems as if there is wild disagreement on Aybar’s projections, but scale is important here. There are certainly some fluctuations, but they aren’t massive. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important though.
What they do agree on is that Aybar isn’t going to hit for power, strikeout or walk much. That’s pretty standard for him at this point. That profile makes it hard for him to post an acceptable OBP. Steamer and ZiPS think he’ll be able to maintain a high enough average that he can get his OBP to a league average level for a shortstop, but Oliver and CAIRO have him flirting with the .300 line.
What I do find interesting is that all of the systems see his stolen base attempts and success rate continuing to stay down. Aybar stole 20+ bases each year from 2010 through 2012 and did it without getting caught very much. None of the systems have him even attempting more than 25 steals and only ZiPS has him succeeding at a very high rate. That could just be the conservative nature of the projections and the downward trend in steals across the league, but it could also have something to do with Aybar having just turned 30 with an increasingly lengthy history of leg and foot problems.
Does the Monkey agree or disagree?
I’m ever so slightly more bullish on Aybar than the rest of the projection systems. A lot of that is based on the assumption of good health for Aybar. I really think his foot problem and subsequent hamstring strain limited him more than anyone ever let on. The stats seem to bare that out as his BABIP of .292 was down a fair bit from his career norm, though not extremely so, and that he only collected 10 infield hits, which is a career-low, including 2007 and 2008 when he had 211 and 375 plate appearances, respectively. Compare that to 2012, one of Aybar’s strongest years, when his BABIP was at .316 and included a career-best 24 hits. Speed matters, people.
Along those same lines, I expect (hope?) to see Aybar blazing up the basepaths more. Again, that’s partly due to health, but I also think that there are enough hints from Scioscia this season that he intends to let his rabbits run more frequently this year.
Other than that, it is more of the same from Aybar, only with him not getting forced into the leadoff spot or two-hole much, if at all. At least if Scioscia knows what is good for him.
What are the known unknowns?
The big question with Aybar this year is whether or not he can avoid injury. The heel injury last season was a fluke thing, so that has little chance of recurring. The same goes for his toe fracture last season. It has been a long time since he has actually missed a big chunk of time with a legitimate knee problem or hamstring/quad strain.
The other looming influencer of Aybar’s performance is his self-proclaimed dedication to be more patient at the plate this year. As I have mentioned before on this topic, I am pretty scared of this idea. Aybar tried to make the same change to his approach in 2010. It worked with him walking at a career-best 5.9%, but other than that, it was his worst season as a big leaguer with a .286 wOBA and 78 wRC+. In that season, Aybar looked utterly lost at the plate and appeared to be taking perfectly hittable pitches just for the sake of being able to say that he took a pitch, a phenomenon known as Aybaritis.
Now Erick seems to want to contract Aybaritis on purpose once again. He’s older and wiser now, so it might work, but I doubt it. In his defense though, Aybar actually did improve his plate discipline in 2013 with the lowest swing percentage (both in and out of the zone) since that ill-fated 2010 season. I’m not sure that is actually a good thing, but those are the facts, ma’am.