I know that Angel fans are utterly irate over the state of the bullpen right now (word is that Arte Moreno is petitioning Governor Schwarzenegger to have Brian Fuentes declared a natural disaster), the real problem that has plagued the Halos of late is their impotent line-up. Two weeks ago, Mike Scioscia changed up his batting order in an attempt to maximize the team’s run production, but the experiment has been an unqualified failure and it is once again time for Sosh to make a change to get the offense back in order.
Exactly 13 games ago, Mike Scioscia shook up the Angel line-up by moving Bobby Abreu from the second spot in the order to third with Torii Hunter moving from third to fifth, pushing Juan Rivera to seventh in the order. The idea was to get an additional table setter, either Erick Aybar or Maicer Izturis, for the Angel power bats to drive in. It was a nice idea in theory, but then again, so was communism and Crystal Pepsi.
Sometimes even the most well thought out ideas blow up in your face.
And much like communism, the new look Angel line-up is riddled with inefficiencies that irreparably hamper productivity. Since making the change 13 games ago the Angels have scored a total of 51 runs, which is an average of just 3.92 runs per game. That’s a far cry from the 5.5 runs that the Angels have averaged all season long and is even less than the Seattle Mariners, the worst run-producing team in the American League at 3.95 runs per game, averaged this year. Even more staggering is the Angels have only managed to churn out more than three runs in a game four times in those thirteen games. Even though they have gone 8-5 in that stretch thanks to some stupendous starting pitching, I think it is pretty safe to say that things just aren’t working out.
Scioscia actually had the right idea in thinking that he needed to get more table setters into the top of the order; the problem is he went about it all wrong. By moving Abreu down in the order to insert the Aybar/Izturis platoon, Scioscia effectively torched his best offensive asset: Chone Figgins.
He may be little, but he is very dangerous.
As the league leader in walks and an elite base stealer, there is no better catalyst in all of baseball than Chone Figgins. It was under the old arrangement where Bobby Abreu primarily batted right behind Figgins that propelled him to be the top run scorer in the major leagues. By moving Abreu down a slot in the order, the Angels have effectively cut Chone’s all-important legs out from under him. Though Abreu’s power is hardly what it used to be, opposing pitchers know he can still hurt them either via his bat or his keen eye. The same can’t be said for Erick Aybar or Maicer Izturis. In fact, pitchers seem all too willing to pitch carefully to Figgins and take their chances with Aybar or Izturis. Since Scioscia took away Figgins’ protection, he has managed to draw twelve walks in twelve games, but only eight hits. Even though that means Chone is still getting on base on a regular basis, he is losing out on the more offensively potent chances for him to put the ball in play and pressure the defense with his speed. A walk simply leaves Figgy stranded on first base hoping that one of their two most powerless hitters can advance him and that is a chance opponents are more than willing to take.
Fortunately for the Angels, the solution is really quite simple. All they have to do is move Abreu back to the second spot. It worked almost all season, there is no reason it can’t work again and if it doesn’t, it certainly can’t be any less effective the the currently constructed line-up.
Of course the fixes can’t just stop there. If Scioscia really wants a more effective top half of the order, he is going to have to finally relent and move Vladimir Guerrero down a few slots. For all the good Figgins and Abreu do working counts, Vladdy unravels almost all of that work with his free-swinging escapades. For as often as Vlad’s power ignites a rally, his pitch selection (or lack thereof) results in momentum-killing double plays. In the meantime, Kendry Morales, the real scary monster of the Angel line-up, is wasting away in the six-hole with almost no protection. What Kendry really needs is someone like Guerrero providing him with some back-up. Morales could do so much more damage hitting in the heart of the order. He’s a vastly better situational hitter than Guerrero and, frankly, is just a better hitter right now. But Guerrero is still intimidating enough to dupe pitchers into going after Morales instead of pitching around him like they are now.
This is the true heart of the Angel line-up, not Vladimir Guerrero.
Now is not the time for Mike Scioscia’s sense of loyalty and tradition stand in the way of making smart decisions. The playoffs begin in less than a month and the Angels need to do something… anything, to get their line-up back to the high-powered machine it was earlier in the season. If that means banishing the cornerstone of the franchise to the bottom half of the order, then so be it.