Numbers say Halos struggle to 'create' runs
Despite down season, Abreu led club in runs created in 2011
ANAHEIM -- According to the machinery that churns out "runs created," one of the popular categories in baseball's stat age, the Angels' most productive offensive player in 2011 was ... Bobby Abreu?
That's right, Bobby Abreu, the primary designated hitter and part-time outfielder who experienced by far the worst of his 14 Major League seasons.
Hitting .253 with only 60 RBIs and 54 runs scored, Abreu still managed to lead the Angels with 5.08 runs created per 27 outs. That left him ranked No. 68 overall in the Majors, underscoring the Angels' general lack of punch.
Other than Abreu, the club's highest-rated hitter was third baseman Alberto Callaspo. His 4.9 runs created left him tied for 77th.
The Angels had five players finish in the 90s: Peter Bourjos (4.56, 93rd), Torii Hunter (4.55, 94th), Howard Kendrick (4.52, 95th), Erick Aybar (4.49, 98th) and Mark Trumbo (4.48, No. 99).
This system clearly attaches considerable weight to on-base percentage, given that Callaspo (.366) and Abreu (.353) were the club leaders.
Slugging percentage apparently isn't as important in creating runs, according to this formula. Trumbo (.477) and Kendrick (.464) were the team's most formidable extra-base hitters, but it wasn't enough to lift them in the ratings.
Not surprisingly, given his .248 on-base percentage and .412 slugging mark, Vernon Wells did not crack the top 100. The outfielder finished 133rd with 3.42 runs created -- five spots below Carl Crawford and two above Vladimir Guerrero.
The perception is that the Angels, because they ranked 25th in the Majors and 12th in the American League in walks, are an impatient team offensively. But that is not necessarily the case.
While discipline is obviously a virtue, it appears that at times they were too patient compared to their AL West rivals in Texas.
Led by Abreu, who saw more pitches per at-bat (4.34) than all but two players in the Majors, the Angels actually drew more pitches per plate appearance (3.8) than the Rangers (3.78). Kendrick was right behind Abreu with 3.97 pitches per at-bat, ranking No. 31 in the Majors.
Ian Kinsler, at 3.94 pitches per at-bat, led the Rangers.
Yet the Rangers, benefiting significantly from favorable home-field conditions, managed to outscore the Angels by a whopping 188 runs. The Angels, with their league-best 3.57 team ERA, held the opposition to 44 fewer runs than Texas.
New Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto focuses his philosophy on the importance of creating favorable counts, both in the batter's box and on the mound. The numbers explain why the former Major League pitcher justifiably makes this the highest of priorities.
Swinging at the first pitch, Major League hitters batted a collective .330. The average ascends as the count becomes more favorable, to .335 on 1-0, to .355 on 2-0, to .360 when it's 3-0. On a 3-1 count, hitters bat .348 overall.
This explains why the first pitch is so critical -- and why it's not necessarily a bad idea to take a hack at it if it's in your wheelhouse.
Texas superstar Josh Hamilton swung at a higher percentage of first pitches -- 46.7 -- than any player in the Majors. Only 10 players swung at more first pitches than Detroit's Miguel Cabrera, who hammered away at a 39.2 percent clip.
See? Maybe it's not such a bad idea after all.
As impatient as Wells might have seemed, he swung at 27.4 percent of first pitches -- fewer than Boston's highly selective Adrian Gonzalez (28 percent). Wells didn't swing at too many first pitches; he went after the wrong ones too often.
At the other end of the spectrum was Abreu, who went after only 9.2 percent of first deliveries.
Abreu throughout his career has been one of the best at ambushing pitchers by luring them into a false sense of security and then striking when the time is right, turning on a first-pitch fastball down the middle and crushing it.
It didn't happen often enough in 2011, leaving Abreu frustrated -- and out of the lineup more often than suited him. A proud man, Abreu is intent on making amends with a 2012 performance befitting his stature.
The struggles of Abreu, Wells and Hunter -- who came alive in the second half -- were difficult for the Angels to overcome. If these three veterans put together seasons more in line with their career numbers, there won't be the total reliance on a return to form by Kendrys Morales that there appears to be.
As recently as 2009, when they showcased the best offense in franchise history, the Angels had three players in the top 30 in MLB in runs created: Morales (6.82), Hunter (6.8) and Abreu (6.71).
If those three men can approach that brand of production again, with Wells, Kendrick, Trumbo, Bourjos and Co. joining the party, the Angels will be making their pitchers -- and fans -- infinitely happier in 2012.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.