Three Questions – Los Angeles Angels

With the 2011 Starting Pitcher Guide slated for next month, I have a jam packed volume covering all the ins and outs of starting pitching in the 2011 season for your viewing pleasure.  Of course that doesn’t do much to address the offensive side of things so I decided to start this “Three Questions” where I will cover some key offensive issues for each of the 30 teams.  There will be more content here dealing with offense, but this is the beginning.

Will Howie Kendrick finally be the batting title contender he was thought to be as a prospect?

If there was one thing Kendrick could do in the minor leagues, it was get base hits.  He hit .363 or better in four minor league seasons from 2003-2006 leading many to believe he would be a perennial batting title contender once he hit the major leagues.  It hasn’t quote turned out that way in his first five seasons as a big leaguer.

First off, last year was the first in which he topped 105 games played, but it was also the first one he hit below .285 (.279 in 616 at-bats).  Then there is the fact that his batting average dropped year since a 2nd-season peak of .322 back in 2007.  From there he hit .301 then .291 and then last year’s .279.  So is a .350+ batting average in store for Kendrick?

No, probably not.  Coinciding with his batting average decline is a BABIP decline (not surprisingly), but while pitchers generally tend to cluster around .300 for BABIP, a hitter sets his own over time.  Kendrick’s is declining rapidly (.313 last year, career high of .381 in 2007) as both his groundball and line drive rates erode while his flyball rate ticks up in the last three years.

The case for him (however thin) would be that he is just entering his prime and despite having logged five years of major league time, it’s really just parts of four seasons and one full one.  He has shown the mix of skills needed for a batting title worthy average (high contact rate, high BABIP, significantly more groundballs & line drives than flyballs and decent speed needed to beat out a handful of hits over the course of the season) and 2011 could be the year that all of those skills combine for the breakout we have been waiting on for a while.

I am fine endorsing Kendrick as an asset to buy, just make sure your expectations are in the right of frame of mind.  You can dream of the scenario where he has the unexpected breakthrough season, but don’t pay for more than a double-double (10+ HR/SB) with a batting average floor that won’t ever hurt and a ceiling for much more.

What does Kendry Morales’ late-May broken leg do to his 2011 value?

In a word?  Nothing.  Not for me at least.  He will be nearly nine months removed from perhaps the most embarrassing walkoff grand slam celebration ever when Spring Training fires up next month and all reports indicate he will be 100% ready to go.  As such it is reasonable to expect that he will start 2011 where his breakout 2009 season and excellent start to the 2010 season left off: mashing.  In the 203 games spanning that time, he had a .302/.353/.548 triple slash with 45 home runs, 147 RBIs and 115 runs scored.

Even with the incredible depth at first base, I have Morales just making the cut of the top 10: Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder, Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard and Morales.  Though if we knew Justin Morneau was going to be 100% and ready to go by Opening Day, he would crack that list and push Morales just outside.  Look for Morales to settle into a cozy .290-80-30-100 prime for the next few years.

Is Brandon Wood… nevermind, who cares?  What does a full season of Peter Bourjos look like?

Bourjos is a bright 24-year old prospect for the Angels who few had penciled into the 2011 lineup when the offseason began back in November.  The Angels were heavy favorites in the Carl Crawford Sweepstakes which would have left them with a Crawford-Torii HunterBobby Abreu outfield.  Abreu would take some days off at DH sliding Hunter to right and getting Bourjos some burn, so it’s not like he was expected to head back to AAA-Salt Lake, but after the spectacular failure that was their offseason, the Angels will now look to him for 500+ at-bats in centerfield.

Known primarily for his blazing speed (and exemplary defense), Bourjos will have fantasy value even if he isn’t ripping the cover off of the ball.  Obviously he will have to hit enough to merit everyday at-bats, and extrapolating a 51-game sample is dangerous so you can’t just look at Bourjos’ six home runs and 10 stolen bases and expect 17/27 over 500 ABs.  However, his minor league record suggests he can be a .270 hitter with 10-12 home runs and 30+ stolen bases.  His .204 batting average from last season was driven mostly by a .228 BABIP so the bulk of the 66-point increase I am projecting is tied to regression improvement of his abnormal BABIP.

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