Home > Uncategorized > The Los Angeles Angels’ Rough Recent History Of First Basemen Continues

The Los Angeles Angels’ Rough Recent History Of First Basemen Continues

Wednesday’s news that Angels first baseman Kendrys Morales will not play this season seemed all too inevitable, going back to spring training. In March, Morales was unable to run full speed, nine months after sustaining leg and ankle damage when he jumped on home plate after smashing a walk-off grand slam against the Mariners on May 29, 2010. Not much has changed as we’ve entered May 2011.

Who knows when he’ll play again. He’s got ankle pain that may persist throughout the rest of his career, marring what looked to be so promising back in 2009 when Morales hit 34 home runs with 109 RBIs and a .306 batting average.

It reminded me of another power-hitting Angels first baseman who was cut down by injury — Mo Vaughn. He received the game’s richest contract at the time from the Anaheim Angels in the winter of 1998 — six years, $80 million. (Wow, it’s amazing to think how that was an extraordinary amount of money for a baseball player just 13 years ago. These days, Adrian Beltre is making $14+ million per season).

Vaughn was fairly productive in Anaheim, but nothing like what general manager Bill Bavasi and the Angels fans expected. Vaughn’s So. Cal. career was sandwiched by injury. He sprained his left ankle after falling down the visitor’s dugout steps in his first game as an Angel, which required a DL stint and persuaded the team to put railings in front of each dugout. That injury hampered Vaughn for the rest of the season and his numbers suffered.

I remember those uniforms. Not one of the Angels' proudest moments. Nor was the signing of Mo Vaughn

Vaughn returned with a solid 2000 season in the power department — 36 home runs, 117 RBIs — but his overall hitting abilities had diminished. He struck out a league-leading 181 times in ‘0o. He never K’d more than 154 times as a Red Sox. His on-base percentages routinely rested above .400. Now they had dropped below .370. His OPS dropped by about 100 points compared to his last six seasons in Boston.

Then Vaughn tore his left biceps tendon in early 2001, missed the entire season, and that was the end of his Anaheim odyssey. He was traded to the Mets straight up for Kevin Appier — (pause for laughter) — prior to the 2002 season.

But really, the production from the Angels’ first basemen since Vaughn left has never rebounded to position standards. Although he was a disappointment, Vaughn’s Anaheim averages of .275/.362/.502 have to be treasured when put up against most of the Angels’ majority first basemen from the rest of the decade.

2001, Scott Spiezio: The 28-year-old Spiezio was put into a tough spot, having to replace Vaughn after his February biceps surgery. And he did a fairly nice job..

97 games at first, 343 ABs, .286/.336/.461

2002, Spiezio: Pretty much the same thing, which would have looked a lot worse if the Angels didn’t win the World Series and if Spiezio didn’t have one of the greatest postseasons in franchise history.

132 games at first, 438 ABs, .281/.373/.420. Spiezio had 27 more walks than strikeouts.

2003, Spiezio: 102 games at first, 329 ABs, .280/.346/.489. That would be as good as it gets until Morales busted out in 2009. However, I’m sure the Angels would have liked to find a first baseman during these three years who could hit more than 16 home runs.

2004, Darin Erstad: In order to save himself from further injury, the Angels moved Erstad in from the outfield to first base. But Erstad was never able to come close to the career year he experienced in 2000.

124 games at first, 495 ABs, .296/.345/.400. Seven home runs.

2005, Erstad: Then it got a little sadder.

145 games at first, 589 ABs, .272/.324/.365. Six home runs.

2006, Morales, Robb Quinlan, Howie Kendrick and Casey Kotchman: This is a plurality rather than a majority That’s because the Angels had no player spend more than 70 games at first base. And if you combine the 52 appearances from Morales, 47 from Robb Quinlan, 44 from rookie Kendrick and 23 from Kotchman, you don’t end up with much.

580 ABs, .260/.303 /.375. Eleven home runs.

2007, Kotchman: A first-round pick in 2001, Kotchman seems to realizing his talent now with the Tampa Bay Rays. In 27 games this season, he’s hitting .360.  Kotchman was expected to be one of those “pure hitters,” someone who can rack up a lot of hits even though he won’t send many over the wall. As a left-handed first baseman with solid hitting skills on the Angels, Kotchman drew a lot of comparisons to Wally Joyner. However, his best season of the five he spent in Anaheim came in 2007.

124 games at first, 430 ABs, .291/.362/.451. Ten home runs.

2008: Kotchman and Mark Teixeira: Things were really starting to look up now. Kotchman was decent in 2008, but when he was dealt away for Teixeira at the trade deadline, it was a definite upgrade.

Kotchman: 97 games at first, 370 ABs, .286/.327/.449. Twelve home runs.

Teixeira: 51 games at first, 181 ABs, .348/.441/.624. Twelve home runs.

The deal looked even better when Kotchman seemingly lost his bat for most of the next two seasons.

2010, Mike Napoli: Of course, the Angels couldn’t hang on to Teixeira. But their loss was minimized by Morales, who was fine in ’09 and very solid through the first two months of last season: .290/.346/.487. Eleven home runs and 39 RBIs in 193 ABs.

After he got hurt, Napoli handled most of the duties at first. And he did what Mike Napoli does — power with little else.

68 games at first base, 237 ABs, .237/.323/.468. Fourteen home runs.

2011, Mark Trumbo: Morales is gone and who knows if, like Vaughn, his injuries will linger on to impact the rest of his career. Trumbo is considered a power-hitting prospect after hitting 36 homers at Triple-A Salt Lake last year. He also hit 32 home runs in 2008 at Double-A, and had an average north of .290 in his last two full seasons in the minors. Can he be the first Angels majority first baseman to record more than 20 home runs in a season not named Vaughn or Morales since J.T. Snow hit 24 in 1995? Many have tried.

With Trumbo, it’s looking like a good bet so far.

31 games at first base as of Friday afternoon, 113 ABs, .264/.300/.478. Six home runs. He has a 5.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio right now, but it is way too early to pass judgement on this rookie. I’m sure the Angels hope he’s just not the Scott Spiezio of this decade.

My point here — and I know I am selling Teixeira short — is this: I’m surprised that only one of the many first basemen the Angels have deployed since 2001 has hit more than 16 home runs in any season at one of the game’s more prominent power spots. It’s even more surprising when you consider the Angels’ average payroll since 2004 and the fact that the Los Angeles area isn’t exactly Milwaukee or Colorado during the winter.

Next, examining the Angels’ success at third post in the post-Glaus era. Let’s see … Figgins, McPherson, Wood, Callaspo ….

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