During the offseason, it seemed as though the Los Angeles Angels were headed in the right direction. In return for the streaky and strikeout-prone Mark Trumbo, the team received some arms to help the struggling starting rotation. This left the Angels in need of a heavy hitter, which they seemingly found in veteran Raul Ibanez. The 41-year-old appears to be the prototypical designated hitter, but a high strikeout rate in the early going has the Angels concerned.
In his first 16 plate appearances, Ibanez has resembled Trumbo during one of his slumps. His batting average currently rests at .188; he has homered once, singled twice and struck out nine times in the first four games of the season. The nine whiffs have concerned Mike Scioscia and company, causing them to leave Ibanez out of the lineup in Saturday’s game against the Houston Astros. David Freese served as designated hitter, while John McDonald got the nod at third base.
It is too early to predict whether or not Ibanez’s whiff rate will continue to be one of the highest in the majors. However, his early struggles at the plate do call into question the stability of the Angel lineup as a whole.
Josh Hamilton has long been known as the strikeout king. He has been criticized for swinging at anything and everything, with his lack of discretion often resulting in a homerun or a run batted in. To the dismay of the Angels organization, Hamilton’s production on offense plummeted during his first season in Anaheim. He batted .250 with 21 homeruns and 79 RBI in 576 at bats. Although he seems to have found a groove early this season, it is unlikely that he will ever be the power hitter he once was.
How does this affect Ibanez? Although a lineup can typically support one strikeout-prone player, it can rarely support two. With a bullpen that gives up runs in bunches, the Angels cannot afford empty at bats, especially when Albert Pujols is struggling. The former Cardinal also experienced a slump last season and spent the final five weeks on the disabled list. Many predict that he will rebound more successfully than Hamilton, but the presence of three players who often fail to get on base will likely mean trouble for Scioscia, who prefers lineups that excel at small ball.
Defensively, the Angels could have two different looks, depending on Ibanez’s status. With Ibanez at the DH position, Freese takes his natural spot in the infield. Although he has played in two World Series in the past three seasons, he has struggled with his glove, often forcing his manager to pull him from games early. Scioscia has remarked that he wants Freese to have ample opportunities to prove himself, so he does not plan to remove him from games. However, in a lineup featuring Freese as the designated hitter, the Angels have a solid defense to support their subpar pitchers. McDonald, who has also spent his fair share of time in the majors, has an accurate arm and a reliable glove, making him a good candidate for the third base position.
Ibanez’s high strikeout rate shouldn’t cause fans to panic, but if it continues, there are factors to consider beyond the designated hitter’s batting average.