Purgatory Online

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Much as the good Reverend misses Timothy James Salmon, ol' Timmy isn't coming back soon. Nevertheless, there's no question that the most obvious upgrade the Angels can make to their offense is at DH, where Jeff DaVanon and his .238/.313/.286 line have been sucking up most of the at-bats. The Angels' DHes have combined for a .587 OPS; only Oakland, posting an incredibly crappy .508, is worse. As the Times points out, the next home run by an Angels DH will be the first.

Obviously, this is a significant inefficiency. DHes provide no value defensively, so a DH that can't hit is more or less worthless.

Juan Rivera has performed little better. Though he has hit about 50 points higher than DaVanon in terms of batting average, his OBP and SLG percentages are almost identical, and he's had only half the at-bats.

So what's a ballclub to do? The solution on the horizon would appear to be making Chone Figgins or Dallas McPherson the DH once Adam Kennedy returns in a couple of weeks. Figgins isn't exactly in the mold of the traditional slugging DH, but he has started to produce a bit (.250/.282/.431), and his speed and bat-handling is certainly an asset in the lineup. Moving McPherson into the DH slot and allowing Figgins to take over third makes some amount of sense as well - assuming McPherson starts hitting the way he's supposed to - but I think it's generally a bad move to DH rookies. It's important for future flexibility that McPherson get significant experience at a defensive position.

There is, however, yet another possiblity that I haven't seen discussed yet, one that might make the most sense of all when balancing the offensive and defensive merits. Consider the following lineup:

Erstad (L) - 1B
Cabrera (R) - SS
Anderson (L) - LF
Guerrero (R) - RF
Finley (L) - CF
B. Molina (R) - DH
McPherson (L) - 3B
J. Molina (R) - C
Kennedy (L) - 2B

I've written before about why I think Guerrero and Anderson should switch places in the lineup, a move that's not germaine to my point here. Today, I'm more interested in exploring the possiblity that putting two Molinas in the lineup might be the right move.

To me, it makes sense on a number of levels. Although Bengie Molina started the season some twenty pounds lighter this year, one of the major problems with catchers is that it's virtually impossible to regain quickness behind the plate once it's been lost. Weight per se is only one of the factors that slow them down; a much more pernicious effect is the deterioration of the joints and connective tissue in the legs that weight exacerbates. You can lose the weight, but you'll still have the effects of years of strain on the knees, ankles, and back. That's why Bengie has been eclipsed by Jose in the last couple of years as the Angels' best defensive catcher:

B. Molina - 762 innings, 6 PB, 51 SB, 18 CS, .261 CS%
J. Molina - 524 innings, 3 PB, 23 SB, 22 CS, .489 CS%

B. Molina - 79 innings, 1 PB, 3 SB, 0 CS, .000 CS%
J. Molina - 63 innings, 0 PB, 3 SB, 3 CS, .500 CS%

But Bengie has shown some evidence of positive effects from weight loss as a hitter. Before going on the DL, he was hitting .323/.389/.581 with 2 home runs in 31 at-bats. Some of that, obviously, is sample size related - even at his best, Molina is not a .323 hitter - but I think that those are good enough numbers to warrant his being in the lineup everyday until we see what his true level is going to be. However, the more he catches, the more likely he's going to be to aggravate the quadricep injury that's knocked him out of action to begin with, or incur a new one. Bengie is a near-perfect candidate for DH, at least as far as the Angels are concerned: his defensive utility is down, playing defense can only hurt him, and he's still got some pop in his bat.

There are a couple of downsides, of course, but I don't think the downs are all that great. For one, Figgins is knocked out of the lineup, but that's misleading. Since Figgins plays so many positions, it would be easy to get him in several games a week while resting a "regular" player. For another, Jose Molina isn't that great a hitter: last year, in a career-high 203 at-bats, he hit .261/.296/.374, making his .670 OPS 13th out of the 17 AL catchers with 200 or more plate appearances. Then again, Bengie's .717 was only 11th, and the advantages in terms of defensive upgrade and upgrade at DH should more than offset. I realize I'm trying to have it both ways here - playing up Bengie's offense as a qualification for his DHing and disparaging it to suggest Jose could do almost as well - but I think that saving him from the wear and tear of life as a backstop will help a fair amount, and his weight loss will have a much more beneficial effect on his offense than on his defense.

And, really, what do the Angels have to lose?