Player highlight: Brandon Wood, Erick Aybar, and Maicer Izturis

Before we begin, I just want to talk quickly about a side project I’m beginning. On Saturday, a brand new fantasy baseball website debuted, entitled MLB Front Office. I was asked by its owner, Brad Stewart, to write a weekly column. I agreed, and I wanted to let you guys know about it.

Each Wednesday, I’ll be writing a column about a different, under-the-radar-type statistic. One week it’ll be left on base percentage, another week it’ll be contact rate, etc. A lot of the stuff you probably already know simply from reading me here at THT all the time, but if you’re looking for a refresher or maybe some new insights, stop by and check it out. There’s an introductory article up now about stats in general and the importance of looking beyond surface stats, so if you’re interested, read it over.

That aside, let’s talk about the interesting situation emerging in Los Angeles/Anaheim. With the Angels’ trade of Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox, an opening has emerged at shortstop. As of right now, there are three primary candidates for the spot. The current favorite to start on Opening Day is Erick Aybar. However, Brandon Wood has been waiting in the wings for a little while now. Many are speculating that he could take the job, if not immediately after breaking camp, at some point during the year. Also in the mix is Maicer Izturis. Let’s break down each player and see how they compare.

Erick Aybar

Actual Numbers

YEARAGELEVELABCRBB%BB/KLD%BABIPHRAB/HRFB%HR/FB2B3BAB/(2B+3B)AB/XBHSBCSSB%SBA%
200521AA52791%5%0.5815%0.32395929%7%29101411492368%46%
200622AAA33989%6%0.5815%0.30365726%8%2031512321864%55%
200723MLB19484%5%0.3112%0.280119432%2%5132284450%15%

Major League Equivalences (MLEs)

YEARAGELEVELABCRBB%BB/KLD%BABIPHRAB/HRFB%HR/FB2B3BAB/(2B+3B)AB/XBHSBCSSB%SBA%
200521AA52789%4%0.3415%0.26068829%5%2171916N/AN/AN/AN/A
200622AAA33888%5%0.4015%0.25548526%5%1621915N/AN/AN/AN/A
200723In Majors – MLE Not Applicable

Note: Minor league stats and MLEs came from Jeff Sackmann’s excellent website MinorLeagueSplits.com. MLEs not available for steals.

As of now, it seems as though Angels manager Mike Scioscia sees Aybar as the favorite for the shortstop position. After the Cabrera trade, he said, “We are very confident in what Erick Aybar brings not only in the future, but right now.” If he does get the job, what type of numbers should we expect out of Aybar?

Well, he doesn’t really have a lot of power and doesn’t hit a lot of fly balls to make up for it. We’ll put his fly ball rate at 29% and his HR/FB at 6% for 2008; it’s a little higher than his 2005 and 2006 MLEs, taking into account a little bit of development.

He doesn’t take a lot of walks either; 5% seems right to me. The one thing he does have going for him is the contact rate. He makes contact at a very good clip, and I think 87% should be attainable in 2008.

The BABIP is the toughest thing to predict for Aybar. His MLEs were terrible, but it was .280 this year in a limited number of major league at-bats. While line drives aren’t the most consistent stat (as we’ve discussed), it doesn’t help Aybar that he couldn’t get above 15% at any level from 2005-2007. We’ll put the 2008 BABIP at .280 for now, although his baseline could easily be lower without any luck involved.

Many have said that Aybar could be a 30 steal candidate in 2008 with a full-time gig, but I’m a little less certain. His Stolen Base Attempt percentages were enormous in the minors, but it severly dropped off this year in the majors. He did have a couple of injuries, though, so maybe that had something to do with it.

The first injury, to his hand, was sustained on July 1. Up until then, his SBA% was 33% in 18 opportunities. A hand injury doesn’t really affect stolen bases, although maybe he didn’t want to steal for fear he would injure the hand further when sliding. Later in the year, he sustained a leg injury that easily could have halted his stolen base attempts.

Another possibility, perhaps a more prominent one, is the Angels’ prudence on the basepaths. Over the past four years, they are consistently one of just a handful of clubs with a team SBA% lower than 10%. A shrewd reader would now say that maybe this is because they have a lot of slow runners. Maybe they let the fast guys run wild and temper the guys who are slower.

Luckily for Aybar, it seems like this is the case. Chone Figgins looks to have a green light, with an SBA% above 30% each of the past 3 years. After Figgins, the Angels usually have four to six guys between 10% and 20% — guys like Gary Matthews Jr., Reggie Willits, Orlando Cabrera, and Adam Kennedy. Aybar is likely faster than these guys, but we don’t know for sure that Scioscia trusts him as much. All things considered, I’ll assign Aybar a 22% SBA% for 2008.

He was never a very efficient base stealer in the minors, and when he tried last year he did even worse. I can’t justify assigning him a stolen base success percentage higher than maybe 62%.

Over 550 plate appearances, that would give Aybar a .254 batting average, 8 home runs, and 20 steals.

Brandon Wood

Actual Numbers

YEARAGELEVELABCRBB%BB/KLD%BABIPHRAB/HRFB%HR/FB2B3BAB/(2B+3B)AB/XBHSBCSSB%SBA%
200520A+53676%8%0.3815%0.353431243%25%5141057370%8%
200621AA45367%11%0.3614%0.358251841%20%42410619386%19%
200722AAA43373%9%0.3819%0.322222037%19%25117910191%10%

Major League Equivalences (MLEs)

YEARAGELEVELABCRBB%BB/KLD%BABIPHRAB/HRFB%HR/FB2B3BAB/(2B+3B)AB/XBHSBCSSB%SBA%
200520A+53372%5%0.2015%0.290242243%16%352149N/AN/AN/AN/A
200621AA45362%8%0.2115%0.314153041%14%303149N/AN/AN/AN/A
200722MLE Not Yet Available for 2007

Note: Minor league stats and MLEs came from Jeff Sackmann’s excellent website MinorLeagueSplits.com. MLEs not available for steals.

Brandon Wood, right now, is the dark horse candidate for the job. The one-time shortstop converted to third base this year, but with a glaring hole at short at the major league level, the club might now decide to shift him back.

Wood’s most obvious skill is his power. He hit 43 home runs at High A and has continued to rake. I wish we had the MLEs for 2007, but it seems like he should be able to hit for good power in the majors right away. His HR/FB only took a slight dip going from AA in 2006 to AAA in 2007, and a 15% mark in the majors in 2008 doesn’t look to be a stretch. He hits a lot of fly balls, although they took a small dive this year. Fly ball rates tend to fluctuate a bit, so 39% seems reasonable for 2008.

Wood doesn’t have an elite walk rate for a minor leaguer, but it is definitely above average. It seems like this skill would translate to around 8% in the majors for 2008. Wood’s greatest fault is his low contact rates. In general baseball terms, I think these are overrated for minor leaguers, but in fantasy terms it is an important stat because of its affect on batting average. I think 70% for 2008 is fair.

That brings us to BABIP. It is great to see such high marks in the minors, although it did drop in 2007. There are many possible reasons for this, but .322 is nothing to turn your nose up at. It’s strange that his lowest BABIP of the three years comes during the year he hit the most line drives, but I could still see a league average-ish mark next year. Let’s put him down for .305.

For a guy with such power, Wood can steal bases with surprising success. MinorLeagueSplits doesn’t provide MLEs for stolen bases, but those raw numbers are still very impressive. I’ll assign him an 82% success rate in the majors, and that might end up being a little conservative.

As we said with Aybar, the Angels are conservative overall on the base paths, but guys who they are confident in are allowed to run enough to have stolen base value. Assuming they realize that Wood is a good runner, they could allow him to steal in 13% of his opportunities.

Over 550 plate appearances, that would leave Brandon Wood with a .242 batting average, 21 home runs, and 14 steals.

Maicer Izturis

Actual Numbers

YEARAGELEVELABCRBB%BB/KLD%BABIPHRAB/HRFB%HR/FB2B3BAB/(2B+3B)AB/XBHSBCSSB%SBA%
200524MLB19189%8%0.8121%0.272119133%2%8416159375%24%
200625MLB35290%10%1.0919%0.31457029%5%213151214670%17%
200726MLB33688%9%0.8517%0.31365634%6%17218137188%8%

While Izturis is a lock to make the major league roster and Brandon Wood is not, I still consider him the #3 candidate. He has decent skills, but I think his ability to play multiple positions will cause the Angels to look at him as more of a utility player than a starter. Still, the possibility exists that I’m wrong and he will start, so let’s see what kind of numbers he could put up with that kind of playing time.

His walk rate has been consistentlt good, so it’s easy to put him on 9% for next year. His contact rate has also been very good, so let’s say 89% for 2008. His BABIP has been consistent over the past two years, but was much lower in 2005 in fewer at-bats. Let’s put him down for .305.

As for his power, his fly ball rate went up a bit this year, and it was this high back in 2005, so I could easily see Izturis sustaining a 32% rate there. His HR/FB has also been fairly consistent. We have HitTracker data on him, but the system isn’t complete yet, and his HitTracker hit chart looks pretty much average. I don’t see a huge power spike or decline in his future, although he will be entering his peak age of 27, so we’ll put him down for 7%.

Izturis’s SBA% has been decreasing over the past three years, but he had his most successful year (percentage-wise) in 2007. I expect this will cause him to steal a little bit more, maybe 12% of the time, and there is certainly the chance it’ll be more often than that. As for his success rate, we can’t give him another 88% mark because he achieved that with his lowest sample size, so let’s say 78%.

Over 550 plate appearances, Maicer Izturis would have a .285 batting average, 10 home runs, and 17 steals.

Shake out

So, now that we’ve evaluated each player, where does that leave us? Well, as you probably noticed, I assigned each player 550 plate appearances. It would take several injuries to other players for these guys to get 550 plate appearances each. We now need to figure out how we think this situation will eventually shake out and how the at-bats will be divvied up. Here’s what I think.

Wood will have a good spring (or at least not a crappy one) and there will be clamoring for him to be the shortstop. He’ll be sent to the minors to start the year and Aybar will start in Anaheim, but the Angels will soon realize that they are better off with Wood, leading to a mid-May callup. Unless he does really poorly, he should keep the job the rest of the year. Izturis will find himself in a utility role, collecting a good deal of at-bats, as he has the past couple of years.

Of course, this is all speculation, but Wood is the superior player and the Angels aren’t stupid. I think Wood will find himself in the starting role sometime during the first-half of the year.

To adjust, here is how I see the playing time and final stats shaking out:

Brandon Wood
450 TPA
414 AB
.242 AVG
17 HR
12 SB

Erick Aybar
235 TPA
223 AB
.254 AVG
3 HR
9 SB

Maicer Izturis
365 TPA
332 AB
.285 AVG
7 HR
11 SB

Concluding thoughts

A couple quick notes. First, these projections are preliminary. The BABIPs are very preliminary. We still haven’t uncovered a great way to predict BABIP, and these projections are the most likely to change.

That’s all. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an e-mail!

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