Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Angels have a good lineup ... out there ... somewhere

If we could tell you of a batting order that is proven to work for the Los Angeles Angels, that scores about a run more per game than their other lineups, would you like to see them try it? We have found such a lineup. Unfortnuately, you will never see the Angels use it when they're healthy. But they can get close enough.


With Peter Bourjos back in the lineup for the Los Angeles Angels, we might suggest a lineup that could work (Keith Allison/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license).

By BILL PETERSON
Big Leagues in Los Angeles

Not including the games played in National League parks, the Angels have used 40 different lineups in their first 72 games. Their most frequently used lineup has been their most successful lineup.

And, yet, it is a lineup we will never see again when the Angels are fully healthy.

The reason, of course, was that they missed center fielder Peter Bourjos for a full two months with a hamstring strain and played most of their games without him. When Bourjos returned to the lineup on June 10, Mike Trout moved back to left field and J.B. Shuck moved back to the bench.

That was just part of the impetus for going away from the successful lineup. There were others. But, first, here is the lineup that has worked best, just naming the players and their positions in batting order:

Erick Aybar (shortstop), Trout (center field), Albert Pujols (first base or designated hitter), Mark Trumbo (first base or designated hitter), Josh Hamilton (right field), Howie Kendrick (second base), Alberto Callaspo (third base), Chris Iannetta (catcher) and Shuck (left field).

The Angels are 10-5 using that lineup. Those games produced 74 runs, 4.93 runs per game, a bit up from the club's average of 4.47. In four other games, the Angels used an identical lineup, except with Hank Conger instead of Iannetta catching. In those games, the Angels are 2-2 with 24 runs, an average of six per game. Put the two together, and that basic lineup is 12-7 with 98 runs, an average of 5.15 runs per game.

In all other games, we all know, the Angels are 20-33. They’ve scored an average of 4.23 runs in those games, which is beneath the American League average. They’re a whole different club.

Why that particular lineup should work as well as it has is a bit of a mystery. Aybar has only a .269 on-base percentage in 136 plate appearances from the leadoff position. Shuck, hitting right before Aybar most of the time in that configuration, is a good hitter, but a light hitter. It's not like the lineup has the obvious elements of a winner.

But there it is, scoring 5.15 runs per game. It was, in fact, the basic configuration for the Angels during the last seven games of their eight-game winning streak from May 18-26. Further, the lineup three times scored five or more runs in losses, and two other times it scored four runs in losses. It has been a highly effective lineup. With any kind of pitching, the Angels could have won three-fourths of their games using this lineup.

Some in the statistical community say lineups don't really matter. We agree that lineups don't necessarily add up, and we have said it before. That’s not the best way to look at it. Lineups either work or they don't work, and the reasons why may be conjectured, but they may as well be left to the baseball gods. The important matter is to find a lineup that works, then keep riding it.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia is not doing that, and he has his reasons. We don't like to second guess managers. They have so much more information than we have that we don't even know what their decisions really are.

Scioscia has taken to moving Aybar down in the order, pushing Kendrick's hot bat up a notch and moving Hamilton into the two hole. By the way, watching Hamilton dog the back end of two double-play ground balls he hit in a 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners at the Big A Tuesday night makes one think he should come out of the lineup altogether until he decides to run those out. But that’s another issue. As it is, Scioscoa moved Hamilton down to the seventh spot for the Angels’ next game, a 1-0 win Wednesday against the Mariners.

No one here is suggesting that Shuck should play instead of Bourjos. But here is a suggestion. Go back to that successful basic lineup, but with Bourjos in the nine hole instead of Shuck. Oddly enough, though understandably, the Angels have not tried that configuration.

Bourjos is a much better hitter than Shuck (.824 vs. .672 in OPS), though Bourjos strikes out a lot more often and walks a lot less.  However, Bourjos has an advantage of .381 vs. .329 in on-base percentage, and his ability to reach base from the bottom of the order could give the Angels a nice dimension to compensate for Aybar's ineffectiveness as a leadoff hitter.

It would be fun to see how it works. The Angels might get a few more wins out of it.

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