If the Angels are to snap out of their season-long offensive slump, they’ll need Erick Aybar to provide a spark at the top of the order, a spot the switch-hitting shortstop was moved to Monday and one he could hold for a while.
Aybar, an aggressive hitter with a slashing swing, has a .275 career average, .314 on-base percentage and .381 slugging percentage in 245 starts in the leadoff spot, numbers that are on par with his career slash line of .277/.318/.382.
But his first lengthy stint as a leadoff man, in 2010, did not go well. Aybar was tabbed to replace Chone Figgins, who hit .298 with a .395 OBP and an American League-leading 101 walks in 2009 before signing with the Seattle Mariners.
Aybar, who has never walked more than 36 times in a season, entered 2010 thinking he had to take more pitches, work counts and draw walks. These are the desired traits of a leadoff man, but they weren’t in Aybar’s DNA. He hit .238 with a .310 OBP in the first two months of the season.
“I think Erick tried to change his game to something that really took some of his strengths away,” Manager Mike Scioscia said. “Erick is not going to strike out much. He’s going to put the ball in play. He’s really not at his best when he’s trying to work counts and take walks.”
Aybar was dropped to the ninth spot in early June 2010 but spent the bulk of the season in the leadoff spot. He was productive enough to raise his average to .253 with a .306 OBP by season’s end, his lowest average in the last eight years.
Now 31 and with 1,022 at-bats in the leadoff spot under his belt, Aybar knows better than to try to change his approach to fit his position in the batting order.
“I don’t think you ever ask a player to do something he’s either not comfortable with or not suited for,” Scioscia said. “With Erick, although he’s not going to see as many pitches as a traditional leadoff guy, he’s athletic, he’s going to get in scoring position a lot.
“His on-base is not going to be off the charts, but it’s not going to be awful, either. He’s going to get on base enough, get in scoring position enough to where he can still be effective as a table-setter.”
Batting in front of one of baseball’s best hitters, Mike Trout, is not that conducive to drawing walks, because opposing pitchers don’t want to put anyone on base ahead of Trout.
“I think you see more strikes, but not necessarily more fastballs,” Scioscia said. “You’re not going to see guys try to paint [the corners] on that 2-and-2 count or full count. Guys are going to come after you. … Guys who hit in front of Albert [Pujols], in front of a guy like Mike, you’re most likely going to have to hit your way on.”