Monday, April 16, 2007

While our starting rotation is plagued by injury right now, the true cause of our recent malaise is substandard offense. We have only scored seven runs in our last four games, and are averaging a measly 3.42 runs per game over the season's first two weeks.

Though I hoped and believed that our offense would surpass last year's effort, mostly thanks to contributions from Casey Kotchman and Howie Kendrick (both of whom have delivered in the early going), I'm sure we all did realize that such run shortages would be in the cards. The fundamental problem of the offense remains unchanged: the lineup is built around one man, Vladimir Guerrero, and a lineup that leans so heavily on any one man will struggle to find consistency.

Vlad has managed to deliver this season, but thus far is the only bopper in our lineup. He has driven in 12 runs, twice as many as Maicer Izturis, who ranks second on the team in that category. Those 12 ribbies account for a shocking 29% of Angel runs in the early going. (And nothing against Ztu, but if he ends up the season second on the team in steaks, we're in some trouble.)

This is unsustainable, and won't be sustained; last year Vlad's RBIs accounted for roughly 15% of Halo scoring.

Vlad is hitting a mighty 429/526/643 with runners in scoring position this year; that is also likely to abate, though he's a good bet to hit around .325 in such situations. But even that outstanding level of production means that Vlad would only be converting one scoring opportunity in three, so he clearly needs assistance in picking up the slack.

Unfortunately, no one is doing that so far. The team, as a whole, is hitting 206/270/255 with runners in scoring position -- and this includes Vlad's outrageously good performance . Garret Anderson, who actually has one more plate appearance than Vlad in RISP situations (20 to 19 -- partially thanks to Vlad's being on base in 37% of his PA), is only 1-for-20 with 1 RBI in those situations. That's a lot of runner stranded, a lot of scoring opportunities wasted. Orlando Cabrera ranks third on the team with 14 plate appearances with RISP; he is 2-for-14 with 3 RBI.

Again, this will not continue. This is not a great offense, but they're not a bunch of .200 hitters, either. Garret Anderson is hitting .050 with RISP. That's just a fluke.

What is less of a fluke is the scarcity of run-scoring chances. The Angels have had 115 plate appearances this season with RISP, with a total of 170 runners on in those appearances. That's 9.6 such PA per game, and 14.17 runners per game (note that runners stranded for subsequent batters are double-counted). The Boston Red Sox, who have bashed us around for two days in Fenway, have 12 PA with RISP per game, with 20 runners per game.

And why don't we get runners into scoring position? Because we don't get runners on base, of course. I guess the fact that our .323 OBP ranks 7th in the AL thus far isn't terrible, but it's not too exciting, either, especially on the heels of a 10th-place finish in that category last season (our SLG thus far ranks an even worse 11th). And the runners we put on in front of the big gun, Vladi, aren't particularly good at reaching base.

Gary Matthews Jr.'s OBP thus far is .314; yes, it is obviously early and that means nothing in terms of evaluating him, but his performance last season marked only the second time in his career that he was able to sustain an OBP above the park-adjusted league average over a full season. Orlando Cabrera is actually off to a good start, but it's worth noting that last season was the first time he registered an OBP better than the park-adjusted league average, and even then he only did so by two points.

I worry that this is going to hurt us in the long run. If Matthews can't reprise last year's magic and The OC can't sustain his new-found on-base ability, RBI opportunities for Vlad (and Garret) won't mount up, and we already know we'll be lucky to convert one-third of the ones that do.

Is there a solution? My guess is that Kotch, Howie, and Ztu are all better candidates to set Vlad's table than Matthews and Cabrera are. But none of those guys are proven in such a role, so we are unlikely to see them get a shot there unless Matthews and Cabrera tank.

Our current #1 and #2 have shown, over their careers, that they can step up and create run-scoring opportunities. But they have also shown that they are unlikely to, and if that's the sad destiny they fulfill, and our younger players demonstrate such an aptitude, I hope our management will be willing to re-think the lineup and give Vlad and Garret some runners to actually clean up.

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