The Los Angeles Angels have already encountered several setbacks this season with injuries to outfielders Josh Hamilton and Kole Calhoun, but perhaps the biggest stumbling block so far has come at the shortstop position. Erick Aybar has managed to remain healthy, disregarding some pregame dental work that led to him being scratched from the lineup moments before the April 10 game against the Mariners. But his slow start at the plate has limited the Angels’ offensive production. Three weeks into the season, Aybar has stood out as the weakest link.
In this day and age, first basemen and designated hitters are left to do the heavy hitting, while speedy outfielders are expected to collect infield singles and stolen bases. This means that shortstops aren’t expected to be big contributors on offense. They are expected to bring consistency and reliability to the defense.
While Aybar continues to be a solid defensive shortstop, his offensive stats have dropped significantly. He is currently batting .225 with 16 hits and ten runs over 71 at-bats. Unlike Albert Pujols, Aybar is not offsetting his low batting average with regular home runs. In fact, Aybar has not hit a single home run this season, making him the only regular Angel starter with a goose egg in that category.
Aybar finished last season with a .271 average, and before Opening Day, he was expected to repeat that performance this year. However, up until Monday, he was sitting at a dismal .175. Fortunately for the slumping shortstop, he went 3-for-4 that day against the Nationals to lift his average above .200.
So what can the Angels do to solve the Aybar issue? To be frank, they may not have many options.
Last season, when Aybar suffered injuries, manager Mike Scioscia typically brought in Andrew Romine, a competent utility infielder with a few years of major league experience. However, the Angels traded Romine on March 21 to the Detroit Tigers for Jose Alvarez, a relief pitcher. Ian Stewart and John McDonald could take over temporarily but neither is listed as a true shortstop. At the moment, it appears as though they will be used when the defensively challenged David Freese is moved to the DH spot for a game. Neither Stewart nor McDonald has been known for his batting, so replacing Aybar doesn’t seem to be the appropriate solution.
That being said, the best option for the Angels is to wait. In his nine seasons as an Angel, Aybar has been fairly consistent both on the field and at the plate. In 2011, he won a Gold Glove for his defensive efforts and he has regularly ranked high in the American League in doubles, triples and stolen bases.
When considering Aybar’s resume and his strong performance against the Nationals on Monday, there is no reason why the Angels should not believe that he could end his slump and increase his production on offense. His numbers might be a concern now, but time and a fair opportunity should solve the setback at shortstop.