Thursday, February 7, 2008

Angels Shortstop - "none of the above"

Questions began about the Angels 2008 shortstop situation seconds after it was announced that Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera had been traded to the White Sox. Whether the Cabrera for Garland trade was good for the Angels has been discussed over and over and there is no need to rehash it again. The trade has been made and the Angels now must decide who will man the position in 2008. I don't see Brandon Wood as being a viable candidate for the position out of spring training so the players contending for the position are utility player Maicer Izturis and prospect Eric Aybar. When I began writing this entry I intended to make the case for each player and then give my view of who the starting shortstop should be. After two failed attempts I realized I could not write this entry in that fashion because my preferred choice would be “none of the above”. The shortstop position is a huge hole in the Angels defensive lineup and could keep the Halos from being true World Series contenders.

Maicer Izturis - Izturis has been a valuable player during his time with the Angels but he is a utility player and not a full time shortstop. Of the 306 Major League games he has played, 65 have been at shortstop. He only played 3 games at shortstop in 2007. His .955 career fielding percentage as a shortstop would have been good for 12th place among American League shortstops in 2007. Izturis is a good hitter and solid baserunner, but those skills don't help much in playing one of the most important positions on the field. On a team that is built around pitching, having a weak link at shortstop is going to be a serious deficiency that will be difficult to overcome.

Eric Aybar - Aybar has the reputation of being a good defensive shortstop. That may be true, but he didn't demonstrate it while he played in Salt Lake City. He does not have soft hands or the range of a Major League shortstop. He is average in turning the double play and he doesn't make the routine plays as often as he should. His fielding percentage during the 2006 AAA season was .946. As I said in my entry on catchers, I know defensive statistics are an imperfect measure, but the .946 FP is an indication he struggles defensively. As with Izturis, having Aybar as the everyday shortstop will seriously weaken the Angels defense.

The 2008 Angels should be a team with a realistic chance of making the World Series but it is going to be difficult if shortstop is manned by either Izturis or Aybar. There is one thing the last several World Series champions have in common, a solid shortstop. Julio Lugo, David Eckstein (twice), Juan Uribe, Orlando Cabrera, and Alex Gonzalez were all above average, dependable shortstops. The same cannot be said about Aybar or Izturis. I have no idea whether Izturis or Aybar will emerge as the starting shortstop but, which ever player it is, he will have to play beyond what he has demonstrated in the past for the Angels to be the solid team that can win the World Series in October.

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