February 16, 2010

See Erick run; run Erick run

Maybe it’s my imagination, but I keep seeing an elephant in the room that no one is talking about. Then again, it’s kind of hard to just "imagine" an elephant in the room, isn’t it?

There’s no way to sugar coat this; Erick Aybar is not a base stealer. There, I said it and it feels good to get that off my chest.

Here is a guy who many see as the heir apparent to Chone Figgins; a guy with tremendous speed and THE guy most are penciling in as the lead off hitter for the 2010 Angels.

Hello? Are the stat heads asleep at the wheel? For every two bases Aybar steals, he get’s thrown out the third time. A 66% success rate just ins't cutting it. Last year he stole 14 bases and was caught stealing 7 times. In four seasons, he has 26 stolen bases and has been caught 13 times. In his minor league career he has 186 stolen bases and has been thrown out 98 times. Are you seeing what I’m seeing? There’s a trend here and that Aybar may be fast and he may steal bases, but the effort comes with obvious risks.

In 2004 while playing for the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes he was caught 36 times. He was caught stealing more times than he walked! People love to talk about his speed, but for some reason they neglect to mention how ineffective he is despite that speed. I just don’t get it.

I think it’s safe to say that Erick Aybar is not a prototypical base stealer. He’s kind of a train wreck, if you ask me. You want your train to pull into the depot without incident; well if Aybar is your train, you’d better tighten your seat belt.

I suppose there is hope though. Last year he overcame his reputation for being a player prone to stupid mistakes. Some claimed he lacked any real baseball IQ and was know to make a bone head play for every spectacular one he’d make. There was a time when routine wasn’t always so routine with him.

Face it, Aybar is the player most likely to run to third base instead of first. I'm just saying. At the same time, he's also the guy most likley to bunt for a double or intercept a screaming ground ball, do a cart wheel and then flip the ball in the air and kick it to first base to throw out Carl Crawford.

Aybar is the one guy on the team who's most likely to make me say, "did you just see that?" And the genesis for my reaction could be either positive or negative.

That being said, I have to admit that as the 2009 season went on, he made fewer and fewer bad plays and still managed to do the spectacular now and then.

He also made strides to improve his OBP going from .314 in 2008 to .353 in 2009. His overall offensive production took a big step forward.

Basically, he made Scioscia look like a genius when most Angel fans were ready to dub Maicer Izturis as their every day short stop. Scioscia is good like that. Makes me crazy (in a good way) sometimes, but I wouldn’t want to see anyone else guiding this team.

So, what can we expect from Aybar in 2010? Bill James projects 18 stolen bases to go with 9 times being caught. The consensus at FanGraphs has Aybar stealing 26 bags while failing 13 times. Is this an area of concern? If he Angels are going to play the brand of baseball they’ve been accustom to under Scioscia, I have to believe it’s at the very least a question mark.

We know he has talent. He flashed that talent often last year. The question I have no answer for is how good does Aybar want to be? I’ve heard he’s a hard worker, but I haven’t heard anything about his ability to learn. I’m not saying it’s bad; I just haven’t heard. Can he become a better base runner and stealer? I really don’t know, but I guess we’re about to find out.

It’s easy to pencil Aybar in as the lead off hitter in 2010, but it’s not easy (at least not for me) to feel comfortable seeing him in that role.

Aybar is 26 years old. He’s young enough to still have some upside, but he’s also been around long enough to demonstrate that he’s already getting better at every aspect of his game. He improved his hitting and became a more consistent fielder in 2009. I guess if he takes one thing at a time (a reasonable goal), we could see him improve on his effectiveness on the base paths this year.

Fortunately, base stealing is only one aspect of being a good lead off hitter. I'm probably worrying about nothing. At least I hope that's the case.

The fun part of all this is that we will get to see it all unfold on the field. I'm hoping for the best. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Pitchers and catchers report tomorrow and it’s about time.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if Aybar will ever excell at stealing bases, but I do think he has the ability to improve is success rate. Buster Oleny just did an article about Carl Crawford where hd discussed a "hitch" in Carl's step.


    I belive that if Aybar does have the speed - then he could probably sit down with video and make some mechanical changes. Of course, that is only one part of the process - the others is to identify the correct time and place to steal (game situation, pitcher's moves, catchers arms, etc. etc.).

    With all that - I do look for some improvement in Aybars success rate - a jump from 66% - 75% or even 80% I think is realistic (if he puts in the time) and would help his overall offensive worth.

    Heck, if Abrau can do it Aybar should be able to as well!!!