Wednesday, November 17, 2004

       G   AB   H  2B  3B  HR  SO  BB  SB  CS  AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS+  EqA  ZR(1B)

2004 125 495 146 29 1 7 74 37 16 1 295 346 400 95 .273 .851(4)
Car. 125 486 136 24 3 11 69 38 16 5 289 344 424 98 .272 .864
Pro. 116 464 130 23 2 7 66 32 16 2 280 329 380 87
In my pre-season preview, I identified Darin Erstad as "[t]he single greatest risk for the Angels coming into 2004." The Angels were gambling that returning him to first base would enliven his dreary bat of 2001-2003. And, for about three months, they were right.

Coming off the DL in June, The Punter hit 321/368/453, followed up by a 337/415/478 in July and 367/407/505 in August.

And that was it; the rest of the time he was terrible. Here are 4-3's OPS by month in 2004:

April    623

May 644
June 821
July 893
August 911
Sept. 532
October 944
That October was only eight at-bats-worth, and includes his big hit in the division clincher. He was also en fuego during the postseason, ripping out a 500/643/900 in three games.

Erstad got within spitting distance of his career hitting norms last year, which is the first time he's done so in an aeon. As his career numbers are amped up by the out-of-left-field 2000, that means he actually had a pretty good year by his standards. So what does a pretty good year for Darin Erstad mean, in terms of where he ranks at his position?

1. Out of the 30 regular 1B in the majors last season (as listed by BB-ref), Erstad's OPS+ surpassed only Doug Mientkiewicz (who lost his starting job) and John Old-erud's time in Seattle only (not his overall season numbers). That's it.

2. Erstad ranked 36th out of all MLB 1B in VORP.

3. He ranked 26th in RARP.

4. (2) and (3) refer to cumulative stats, so you might think Erstad's missed time hurt him. However, there were 30 MLB 1B in 2004 that had 400+ plate appearances; Erstad ranked 25th in that group. Out of 23 1B with 500+ PA, he ranked 20th.

5. As a group, Angel 1B ranked 29th in the majors in OPS and last in home runs. Erstad, again, was hurt for part of the year, but much of that is his fault.

And this is him having a good year, remember? With three hot months.

Look, we all know Erstad is ill-suited to 1B offensively, so none of the above should be a surprise. He would be much more valuable in center or even left, where his considerable defensive talents could be more advantageous. But would he decline as a hitter? Who knows? Even if he drops a bit offensively, could the defense make it up?

No one really knows the answer to those questions; it's much speculation. But it's obvious that moving him to 1B didn't keep him healthy:

                      % of Innings Played At:

Year Games Missed 1B LF CF
2000 5 0.3 81.3 18.4
2001 5 5.3 94.6
2002 12 0.7 99.3
2003 95 100.0
2004 37 100.0
As demonstrated above, it's not like Erstad playing 1B made him a consistent hitter. But was he more consistent than in years past? Did he maintain better over the course of the year?

The following is a quick "OPS+" for each month of Erstad's life in the last few years. For instance, last year his OPS was 746, and in August he had 911, so that's an OPS+ of 122 (that's not exactly how OPS+ is calculated, but it should be close enough for our purposes). Each month is compared to the total for that year, and the Pre- and Post-All Star Break numbers come at the end.

              2001        2002        2003        2004

April 93 86 141 84
May 114 130 86
June 117 107 86 110
July 88 74 88 120
August 86 110 100 122
September 106 82 71
October 81 127
Pre ASB 109 108 106 98
Post ASB 89 90 85 102
Is there any reason to believe that Erstad's rough-and-tumble ways lead to his offense degenerating? Well, in 2001 he was stronger hear the beginning of the year ... and in 2002 ... and even in 2003, which was a lost season due to injury. Last year was the first time he was as good after the break as he was before in the last four seasons. He had the same pattern in 2000, as well, with a 1033 OPS before the break and 849 after (regression to the mean, anyone?).

I have no idea if having Erstad at first really helped him not decline in the second half. Actually, I think its his DL stint. His getting injured may have helped, in that he may have come back fresh from the DL. The All Star Break was by no means Erstad's midpoint in 2004, so it's really just an arbitrary break.

Here's what I think: I think Erstad's going to hit what he's going to hit, and it doesn't really matter what position he's playing at the time. Sure, if he's injured that might affect him, but I don't buy that he's any less likely to be injured playing first base than he is playing in the outfield.

Anyway, my entreaties to return Erstad to the outfield have fallen upon deaf ears. Stoneman reportedly would prefer to keep Erstad at first in 2005. Which means that there's a good chance we'll have the weakest offensive first baseman in the league in 2005, and a Gold Glove doesn't quite make up for that.

But I can tell you I'm rooting for Casey Kotchman to have a monster spring.

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