Typically, when a team in need of salary relief shops a player around, it makes sure there’s someone in house to take over. It’s the reason the Tigers could afford to send Prince Fielder to Texas, and is why Howie Kendrick’s name popped up so often as a trade candidate–the keystone was/is the only non-outfield position where the Angels had/have anything resembling depth.
Sometimes, though, you have to suck it up and trade from the shallow end. Never in my wildest dreams did I expect Mark Trumbo to net a pair of young starting pitchers, and, yet, here we are. Jerry Dipoto got an offer he couldn’t refuse and decided that acquiring cost-controlled arms was worth creating a hole in the lineup. At this point, I’d have to agree.
With Trumbo out the door, the Angels now have to figure out what to do to supplement his power loss. Our own Jeff Mays pointed out1 not too long ago that full seasons from Albert Pujols, David Freese and Kole Calhoun, along with slight rebound from Josh Hamilton, will go a long way towards accomplishing that goal, but how much exactly? What kind of tangible numbers do the Angels need to get out of the offense—namely, new addition Raúl Ibañez—in 2014 to effectively replace Trumbo?
Before we tackle the issue at hand, let’s address something: the Angels may have added a designated hitter, but they’re not replacing one. In Mark Trumbo’s three-plus seasons with the Halos, he made all of 41 appearances at DH. Forty-one! That’s just nine percent of his playing time. As maligned as Trumbo’s been (and will be) for his power or nothing approach, he actually derived a lot of his value from his defensive versatility, limited as it was.
The Angels might be hoping to supplement his bat with the new DH addition, but it’s going to take more than just Ibañez—who is an absolute travesty in the field—to fully make up for Trumbo’s loss. Unless Calhoun goes bananas in his first full season, the total value the Halos got out of one roster spot will now likely be made up by two or three players—just something to keep in mind.
On to the numbers…
(Warning: this math is going to be incredibly crude, horribly inept, and probably NSFW, so please don’t spread it as gospel. They’re nothing more than rough estimates. Mathematicians, avert your eyes.)
Let’s look at this two different ways. You get to make up your own mind about which one, if either, makes the most sense:
1) If you take the Angels’ most common batting order from 2013—this one, used 15 times—and extrapolate those players’ actual numbers over a 162-game season, the lineup simulator over at Baseball Musings spits out an imaginary figure of just over 4.8 runs scored per game, which would have been 2013’s fourth-best rate.
In reality, the Halos scored 4.52 runs per game in 2013, still good for seventh best in baseball. That 4.52 figure is about 94 percent of the more optimal (4.8) rate—because injuries, Scioscia meddling, day games, off days, etc.—so let’s keep that in mind when we remove Trumbo from the equation. (I did the same calculations for 2011-2012, and a five to seven percent adjustment seems to be about the norm.)
If we use the more bearish of the available 2014 projections (Oliver and Steamer)2 for each Angels starter—to keep expectations as low as possible—replace Trumbo at cleanup with an average 2013 American League DH (.324 OBP, .402 SLG), and rearrange the lineup to include Calhoun at leadoff and Freese in the six spot, the simulator spits out an optimal return—i.e. 162 games—of 4.87 runs per game, or 4.58 adjusted. That’s almost a tenth of a run better per game than the 2013 lineup, which is great… in theory.
However, Ibañez is not going to hit in the four spot, and there’s a good possibility that his advanced age will keep him from putting up Average Joe numbers. Just a dozen players in the history of baseball have accrued more than 300 plate appearances during their age 42 seasons, and all but three of them are Hall of Famers. As if that alone wasn’t daunting enough, two of non-HOFers—Barry Bonds and Pete Rose—would be no-doubters if not for their accompanying uhh… ethical issues, and the third—Darrell Evans—has a better Hall case than you might think. For Raúl Ibañez to succeed in 2014, then, he’ll have to do something that just about3 no one of his skill level has ever accomplished. It’s an incredibly tall task, but if there’s one person who can do it, it’s probably him.
Following the 2000 season, Ibañez was a guy on the verge of 29 who’d never appeared in more than 100 games in a year, owned a career 73 OPS+, and had just been non-tendered by the Mariners—not exactly a great situation. He latched on with the Royals over the offseason as bench depth, but figured to see little playing time behind 2000 AL Rookie of the Year contender Mark Quinn (LOL), top hitting prospect Dee Brown, and Jermaine Dye. Ibañez tallied just five hits in 38 plate appearances over the first two months of 2001, entering June with a paltry 293 OPS. But then, somehow or another, something clicked. From June thru September, he hit a torrid .302/.380/.550 with 13 home runs in 274 PAs. He has yet to look back.
Ibañez eclipsed the 100-game plateau for the first time during that fateful 2001 campaign and, miraculously, he’s played in at least 123 contests in each of the 12 seasons since. In that time he’s hit .278/.341/.478, averaged 22 home runs a year, accrued 22.9 bWAR, and even snagged an all-star bid (2009). Ibañez is just one of 24 players in the Expansion Era (1961-present) to accrue over 6,000 plate appearances in his 30s, and I guarantee you he’s the only one to do so with fewer than 850 big-league PAs to his name in his 20s. Right when most of his peers began the decline phases of their careers, Ibañez somehow found his prime.
I’m always hesitant to attribute a player’s success to something as nebulous as willpower or #want, but it’s hard to ignore the large impact his work ethic and reputation as a fitness freak have likely had on his age defiance. His offseason regimen reportedly consists of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a hyperbaric chamber, and a gluten-free diet, among other things, and has only intensified with age. The results of his efforts speak for themselves: he hit the DL three times in his early days as a part-time player, but has added just two brief trips since becoming Raúl 2.0 well over a decade ago. Age will eventually catch up to Ibañez, of course, but his career path has defied all the norms up to this point. Who’s to say it can’t continue for another year?
So, then, back to the lineup we go. If we put Ibañez’s more bullish projection (.304 OBP/.416 SLG) into the simulator—Oliver thinks he’s about to turn into Yuniesky Betancourt (.286/.367), which seems unfair given his history—and hit him in the six spot4, it churns out an optimal return of 4.89 runs, or 4.60 adjusted. That’s better than with Trumbo in 2013, and slightly better than with Average Joe in 2014. And that’s presuming everyone sans Ibañez hits just the lower end on his projection. (Even with Ibañez’s lesser projection, the lineup still gets to 2013’s 4.52 runs per game.)
As a thought experiment, let’s throw J.B. Shuck into the nine-hole as DH, push everyone else up a spot and run the simulator again. Does he help the lineup as much as Ibañez or Average Joe cleanup guy?… An optimal 4.97 runs a game! The best of the lot! I must be doing this wrong!
2) Alright, maybe rate stats and simulators aren’t your sort of thing. I know I’m skeptical of my calculations. For round two, let’s look at counting stats and see what the Halos need to accomplish to make Trumbo a distant memory:
Well, that… doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know, it just puts a percentage on it. The biggest negative impact5 of Trumbo’s departure is the loss of his power, which apparently accounted for about one in every five Halo home runs over the last three years. That’s a lot of dingers to replace.
I’d love to go the lesser projections route again to decipher how many long balls the Angels need out of everyone to supplement the loss of Trumbombs, but that’s not an option this time around. Oliver’s projections are predicated on every player getting 600 plate appearances, so it’s counting totals are liable to be off considerably for bench players like Shuck and Grant Green. Therefore, we’re stuck putting our trust in Steamer, which does adjust for expected playing time.
With Ibañez removed from the equation, Steamer projects the Angels—assuming part-time roles for Shuck, Green, Andrew Romine, Collin Cowgill, Tommy Field, Luis Jimenez, and John Hester—to hit 160 home runs next season. Like Jeff surmised above, Steamer expects a lot of Trumbo’s power to be supplemented by full seasons Calhoun (15 HR) Pujols (30), and Freese (12). If the Halos are content with equaling their 2013 home run total—and Steamer ends up being on the nose—then they’ll need just a paltry four dingers from Ibañez. However, if they want to climb back up to their elite 2012 totals—187 home runs—they’ll need Ibañez to conjure up historic numbers for a second straight year.
The most homers anyone 41 or older has hit in a season is 29. Ted Williams set that mark way back in 1960, and Ibañez equaled it last year. Things get a little hairy in the power department from there. The only player to eclipse even 20 home runs at 42 or older is Barry Bonds, who hit 28 dingers in 2007 then, crazily, was forced into retirement. The next best mark is Carlton Fisk’s 18 homers in 1990 and Carl Yastrezmski’s 16 in 1982.
So, then, if the Angels want to get back to their 2012 power production, they’ll just need Ibañez to hit dingers at a Bondsian rate. That… seems unlikely. More probable is that he’ll end up somewhere in the mid-teens—Steamer projects 16 HR in 498 PA—which would put the Halos at around 175 dingers on the year. Not a league-leading total, but more than enough to make up for Trumbo’s departure.
1 Jeff’s DH solution was Efren Navarro, who I’m very much on the fence about. On the one hand, I always like to see career minor leaguers get a legitimate shot in the bigs. On the other hand, the Angels already have a lefty bat on the bench with no discernable power and decent on-base skills. His name is J.B. Shuck.
2 The only freely available projections, at the moment, are Oliver and Steamer. Your mileage may vary on their conclusions, but they’re the best we’ve got until ZiPS and PECOTA release their figures.
3 Julio Franco is the closest thing to a comp for Ibañez. Franco was actually a productive player on offense through age 46, but he only got 101 big-league plate appearances as a 42-year-old. He, Pete Rose and Sam Rice are the only guys to eclipse 300 PA at 44 or older.
4 I am presuming he’ll hit sixth and not fifth because going lefty-lefty with Josh Hamilton and Ibañez would be an absolute disaster in the late innings. It’s the kind of match-up LOOGY’s fantasize about as they sit in the bullpen 85 percent of the year.
5 We can mostly ignore runs and RBI because those are functions of opportunity more than anything else. See: 2013 Brandon Phillips.