Coming into the season, baseball lovers everywhere knew the Angels’ offense was going to be electric. Adding veteran Ian Kinsler over the offseason gave the Angels one of the most consistent lead-off hitters in the game. Adding all-star Zack Cozart provided substantial back-up to an aging Albert Pujols in the middle of the lineup. Having a full season of Justin Upton, who put up career-highs in most offensive categories last season, would bring in a considerable amount of runs batting behind an on-base machine and arguably the best player in baseball Mike Trout. Top that off with two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani, the hottest story in baseball and possibly sports, who has already demonstrated his power and discipline at the plate and you’ve got a terrifying lineup. But what if I told you that those guys are only half the trouble?
As most are aware of, the Angels lead the American League (AL) and the Majors in many offensive categories. As a team, they currently have a slash line of .291/.344/.482 and have scored a total of 103 runs through their first 16 games, winning 13.
As expected, Trout leads the team in home runs with 6, RBIs with 13, and runs scored with 15. But what you may have not expected is that of all the danger at the top of the lineup, the one who leads the team in hits is Andrelton Simmons. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t only lead the team in hits, but coming into today, he’s tied at the top of the Majors with 21 hits. Although Simmons doesn’t walk much and doesn’t typically hit for power, his OBP of .357 provides his team the opportunity to, first of all, keep the inning going by preventing outs, and second of all, bring him in to score. Through the first 16 games, he has scored 13 times, only two less than the team run leader Trout.
Along with Simmons, Luis Valbuena has stepped up big for the Angels as of late. Despite his relatively high strikeout rate, Valbuena has provided the Angels with hits when they matter. In 58 plate appearances so far, Valbuena has a slash line of .291/.328/.473 with three home runs, eight RBI, and most impressively, 10 runs scored, which isn’t something you typically see from someone who hits seventh or eighth in the lineup. So who hits behind Valbuena that brings him in to score so many times?
Whether it’s Martin Maldonado or Rene Rivera who start the game behind the plate, both have done a magnificent job at both getting on base and bringing in runs from the ninth spot of the order. In 44 plate appearances, Maldonado has a slash line of .256/.341/.308 with 6 RBIs, while Rivera has a slash line of .389/.476/.667 with 5 RBIs through 21 plate appearances. Although Maldonado doesn’t make contact much, his ability to get on base (he has reached base by getting hit by a pitch 4 times) has given the top of the lineup multiple opportunities to score some runs. Rivera on the other hand gets on base by walking and hitting with power, both bring in runs and giving the top of the lineup opportunities to bring him in.
As a team, the Angels’ ninth hole hitter, who is usually either Maldonado or Rivera as mentioned above, have combined for an OPS of .844, the highest in the Majors by a long shot. To put that in perspective, the New York Mets, the team with second highest OPS at the ninth spot in the batting order, have an OPS of only .668, almost .200 less than the Angels’ nine-hole hitters!
Obviously it is still early in the season, but when you have guys at the bottom of the lineup like Simmons, Valbuena, Maldonado, and Rivera who can get on base consistently and occasionally hit for power, that makes for a deadly combination, especially when your turning the lineup over to guys like Ian Kinsler, Mike Trout, and Justin Upton.
That is all to say that the bottom part of the lineup for the Angels, while not terrifying alone, amplify the danger that the top hitters bring. And for as long as the bottom-of-the-order hitters continue to prevent themselves from getting out, expect the Angels to continue demonstrating their offensive prowess.