Optimizing the Angels' lineup
February, 7, 2013
By Buster Olney | ESPN Insider
Even before the Los Angeles Angels finished their deal with slugger Josh Hamilton, the discussion between manager Mike Scioscia and general manager Jerry Dipoto about where to hit Hamilton in their lineup began.
They talked about possibly batting him second, between leadoff hitter Mike Trout and No. 3 hitter Albert Pujols, and they examined the data regarding how many more plate appearances Hamilton might expect to get closer to the top of the batting order. Last year, the Angels' No. 2 hitters had 32 more plate appearances than the No. 4 hitters, which means that about once every five games, the No. 2 hitter will get an extra at-bat.
They talked about how the Angels' No. 2 hitter, whoever he may be, might see more fastballs, because of the constant stolen-base threat that Trout presents when he's on base. Torii Hunter moved into the No. 2 spot in the lineup early in 2012 and had a great season -- and keep in mind that last year, no hitter saw a lower percentage of fastballs than Hamilton.
But it's much more likely that the Angels will open the season with Hamilton hitting cleanup, to compel opposing pitchers to work to Pujols -- and perhaps (this is my speculation) because, as a No. 2 hitter, Hamilton's aggressiveness might provide Trout with fewer opportunities to run. Nobody in baseball swung at the first pitch in his at-bats at a higher rate than Hamilton last season.
As the season progresses, it's possible that Peter Bourjos will work into that role, if he rebounds from a tough 2012. Bourjos was drafted in 2005 and, as Dipoto noted, he had always been a productive player at every level, in every season, before his 2012 flameout. He had a .354 on-base percentage in Double-A in 2009, nudged that up to .364 in Triple-A in 2010, and in 2011, he hit .271 with 49 extra-base hits and 22 stolen bases for the Angels in the big leagues.
But the Angels got off to a terrible start last season, with Bourjos among those who struggled, and he never really recovered, finishing the year with a .291 on-base percentage and a .606 OPS, which ranked 343rd among 376 players with at least 175 plate appearances.
With Kendrys Morales having been dealt to Seattle, however, the Angels are planning on using Bourjos in the outfield, most likely in center field, between Trout in left and Hamilton in right.
"We're taking three center fielders and trying to create the best defensive alignment we can," said Dipoto. "We believe in Peter Bourjos, and we believe the qualities he brings make us a better team. His offensive potential is always intact. He's got speed, and he does have power. There's some electricity to his game."
Dipoto mentioned that given the construction of the Angels' lineup, there is very little pressure on Bourjos offensively; if Bourjos simply continues to be an impact defensive player -- and he is one of the best outfielders in the sport -- and helps on offense, he can be an effective player for Scioscia. He would seem to be a natural, at the outset of the season, to hit ninth in the Angels' lineup, in front of Trout.
But as with every team, there will be changes in the batting order according to performance. "Baseball Tonight" researcher Justin Havens of dug out some interesting numbers related to the Angels' lineup:
1. Hunter against saw fewer fastballs in the No. 2 spot than in other parts of the lineup -- 53.6 percent of all pitches in the No. 2 hole were fastballs, as compared with 57 percent when he was in other spots. But that doesn't account for the quality of fastballs he saw.
2. If you're thinking that Mark Trumbo might be a candidate to hit second, keep in mind that he was slightly above average against fastballs (relative to all of MLB): .280 BA, .843 OPS, which ranked in the 57th and 64th percentile, respectively, last season. Trumbo increasingly struggled as the season progressed, which coincides with the decreased percentage of fastballs he saw month to month:
April: 52.7 percent
May: 51.9 percent
June: 50.4 percent
July: 49.0 percent
Aug: 45.3 percent
Sept: 43.5 percent
3. As Trout emerged in the leadoff spot for the Angels, their No. 9 hitters saw slightly more fastballs. The No. 9 hitters through April 27, the last day the Angels played without Trout: 139 fastballs of 266 total pitches seen (52.2 percent). The No. 9 hitters from April 28 through the end of the season: 1,095 fastballs of 1,994 total pitches seen (54.9 percent).
4. Bourjos struggled against fastballs last year, hitting .195 with a .518 OPS. That batting average ranked 344th out of 349 batters who saw at least 400 fastballs last season (Bourjos saw 425 fastballs). However, this could be a small sample size issue, because he hit .327 with an .875 OPS in 2011 against 1,007 fastballs.
While the Angels hope to see Bourjos grow into a more prominent role in the lineup, they could open the season with Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo or Howie Kendrick in the No. 2 spot. This will depend on what they see in spring training. But no matter who hits there, the presence of Trout, Pujols and Hamilton means that, day after day, this lineup should be capable of putting on a show.
Josh Hamilton is the definition of a streaky hitter, writes Mike DiGiovanna.
More PED fallout
The latest Ryan Braun link has come under a microscope, writes Tom Hardicourt.
It would be difficult to construct a more impenetrable defense than Braun has now. Unless Tony Bosch hands over a whole lot more details on Braun -- and unless the Feds get involved, it's unclear why he would do that -- then MLB investigators now have to deal with the fact that Braun's lawyer has placed himself between the player and Bosch, and they can't really dissect that, because of lawyer-client privilege.
Braun said in his statement the other day that he's prepared to cooperate with Major League Baseball's investigation, but it'll be interesting to see if that includes waiving his lawyer-client privilege.
Alex Rodriguez's assertion that the records aren't legit took a major hit, reports the Daily News.
Melky Cabrera is still troubled by his PED past.
Jhonny Peralta's name has come up in this stuff.
Jesus Montero is surprised his name popped up in the Bosch documents.
• The Miami New Times is trying to decide whether to turn over the drug documents to Major League Baseball. From Chuck Strouse's piece:
Here's the truth: We haven't yet decided what [to] do with the records from Tony Bosch's clinic. We've shared many of them already, posting them online last week after carefully redacting names of people we didn't think were well enough confirmed or sufficiently newsworthy.
The question of whether to release the records is thorny, and there are few precedents. They were given to us by a source who requested anonymity. We will not divulge that person's name. We take this responsibility very seriously.
Moreover, reporters are not law enforcement. Nor do we discipline anybody for anything. Our job is to transparently lay out the facts and let the public -- and responsible parties -- decide whether action is needed.
Of course, we do want justice. And as a parent of three kids who play sports, I want badly to discourage use of these drugs that endanger peoples' health.