AL West Report: The Angels Lack Baserunners

The home run drought of Albert Pujols is getting the media attention, but as we noted in our AL West report last week it isn’t the reason the Los Angeles Angels are buried in the basement , even after Jered Weaver’s no-hitter against Minnesota Wednesday night. Last week we took the bullpen to task. This week TheSportsNotebook goes after another  inexcusable Angel failing and it’s their inability to put runners on base.

For those who haven’t fully embraced the whole Moneyball  idea and gotten on-base percentages (OBP) drilled into them like its second nature, .350 is a good benchmark to use for a player being a solid contributor. If you’re below .300 you are terrible, with the shades of gray going in between the two. Here’s a look at the season-long OBPs for all the LAA regulars…

Albert Pujols: .245—You didn’t think we were letting him off the hook entirely did you? Just his lack of power. But the fact Albert has drawn only six walks this year is almost incomprehensible. The old Albert could’ve done that in one series. A reasonable conclusion is that he’s chasing bad pitches rather than let the game come to him. If he lets the walks and OBP go up, the home runs will follow.

Vernon Wells: .237—As long as we’re on the subject of high-priced free agents who can’t do the basic thing in hitting, which is get to first base…

Alberto Callaspo: .204
Erick Aybar: .240
Howie Kendrick: .309
Chris Iannetta: .324
Peter Borjos: .327
Kendry Morales: .342
Maicer Itzuris: .367
Torii Hunter: .369

So of the 10 players who get regular playing time for Mike Scoscia, only two of them are productive OBP players, and of them—Itzuris—is a utility infielder. Four of the ten are complete liabilities. If Borjos could lift his up closer to the .350 benchmark it would help lot because of his ability to steal bases. Kendrick had a strong week and may be starting to come around, so there are some potential positives.

The Angels can win games without Pujols going deep. They won’t win a championship or even beat out Texas in the AL West without the big man coming through, but they can certainly make significant improvements on their current 10-16 record and get right back in the playoff chase by getting on base and improving their bullpen work. Because the starting pitching is there. Not just Weaver’s no-hitter, but Jerome Williams tossed a complete game, and Dan Haren went eight strong in a win at Cleveland and pitched well last night against Toronto (7 IP/3 ER). But the offense was shut out in that game. And if they don’t get base runners, even a Pujols power surge won’t mean all that much.

Here’s a look at the recent form of the three teams above the Angels in the AL West standings…

Texas (17-8): The Rangers are starting to cool down losing consecutive series to Tampa and at Toronto. They continue a road trip tonight with a visit to Cleveland then go to surprising Baltimore early next week. Pitching has failed Texas in the last two series, most notably Matt Harrison, who’s been bombed his last two times out. Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz have also been hit hard. So while the offense slowed a bit, it was primarily starting pitching that caused the Rangers to hiccup.

Oakland (13-12): Outfielder Seth Smith has started to hit, and had some big blows in Fenway Park this week where the A’s won two of three.  They’re hanging in on this East Coast trip, having split six games in Boston and Baltimore, but now Tampa Bay looms. A series loss wouldn’t be the end of world, but the A’s do need to pick up one win at the Trop and a 4-5 swing through the AL East wouldn’t be bad.

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Seattle (11-16): The Mariners are starting to wobble. Other than a three-game sweep in Detroit last week, they’ve lost four of their last five series and were nailed four straight by red-hot Tampa. They’ve got the LAA problem of not producing baserunners, in spite of a good year from Ichiro Suzuki, hot young prospect Jesus Montero and 24-year-old third baseman Kyle Seager. But it’s not enough to make up for the disaster that is Chone Figgins, and the disappointments that are the young 1B-2B combo of Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley, all of whom have been very poor at the plate. Seattle has Minnesota at home, so if they don’t get better here, last place will be awaiting them very soon.