Can Trout-Pujols-Hamilton Carry the Angels with Jered Weaver Injured?

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Can Trout-Pujols-Hamilton Carry the Angels with Jered Weaver Injured?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It was all about the Los Angeles Angels' bats heading into the 2013 season. Thanks to Tuesday's news, it's going to be even more about their bats going forward.

The latest word is injury-related, and it unfortunately involves the Angels' most prized arm. According to the team's official Twitter feed, right-handed starter Jered Weaver has been placed on the disabled list with a broken left elbow:

You'll recall that Weaver hurt his elbow on Sunday night in his start against the Texas Rangers. He was forced to evade a line drive up the middle off the bat of Mitch Moreland, and he landed awkwardly on his left arm. He was in pain, trainers came out and he left the game a few moments later.

So how long will Weaver be out? Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com has the prognosis:

There goes the Angels' ace for maybe as long as six weeks. Say what you will about Weaver's 4.91 ERA and declining velocity—which has Dave Cameron of FanGraphs worried—but the guy's track record as a No. 1 speaks for itself. 

The good news is that the Angels are going to play 12 of their next 15 games at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, a park that is far friendlier to pitchers than Great American Ballpark and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. That's where the Angels played their first six games, so it's no real surprise that their starters boast a 4.54 ERA and 15.1 HR/FB rate, according to FanGraphs.

The bad news is that the Angels have nobody to fill Weaver's shoes. C.J. Wilson's good, but not an ace. The same certainly goes for Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson, as well as the two primary candidates to replace Weaver in the rotation: Garrett Richards and Jerome Williams.

This discussion could go further, but it doesn't really need to. I don't need mountains of statistical evidence to prove that the Angels don't have a legit No. 1 outside of Weaver. None of you are going to argue that point, right?

No? Didn't think so.

So despite the fact that the upcoming stretch of home games is going to make things easier on Angels pitchers, the reality is that their rotation is pretty weak without Weaver. The reality beyond that one is that Weaver's absence could last a lot longer than just the next few weeks. The Angels' starting rotation is going to be a question mark until he comes back (and even then?).

That means the time is now for the bats to step up. And more specifically, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton.

Given these guys' reputations, asking them to step it up shouldn't feel like a tall order. But it does.

Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports
Flummoxed. Mike Trout is flummoxed.

Trout, last season's Rookie of the Year and accomplisher of many awesome things, hasn't gotten going at the plate yet. He bears a mediocre .250/.300/.357 batting line over 30 plate appearances, is striking out close to 27 percent of the time (see FanGraphs) and hasn't been taking his walks.

The strikeouts are a real concern. Trout caught the strikeout bug in August and September last year, punching out in 24.9 percent of his plate appearances. The result, naturally, was fewer balls in play, and that's not what you're looking for from a guy with Trout's insane speed and hitting skills. When he puts the ball in play, very good things tend to happen.

The strikeout trend is particularly concerning because of how much Trout is getting fooled in the early goings. He's got a 10.2 swinging-strike percentage on the young season, up from 7.1 percent last year.

You've noticed that Hamilton is in that same boat. He's swinging at everything that comes near him, and he's not making a ton of contact. His swinging-strike percentage is 21.8, which is even higher than his league-leading (by a long shot) 20.0 swinging-strike percentage last year.

Through 29 plate appearances, Hamilton's line sits at .160/.276/.200. It's a good sign that he collected three hits on Sunday night against the Rangers, but less of a good sign that he saw only 11 (11!) pitches in five (five!) at-bats. His results were better, but his approach still stunk.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Hey, at least he's smiling.

As for Pujols, well, he's doing alright so far. His average is a mere .211, but his OBP is .429 and his slugging percentage is .579. He's taking his walks and hitting for power.

Granted, the Rangers did inflate Pujols' walk total by giving him four wide ones on Saturday, but the five unintentional walks he's drawn this season are one more than he drew all of last April.

That means one of two things.

One: Pujols is patient again. Rejoice!

Two: Nobody's going to give Pujols anything to hit as long as Hamilton is swinging at everything within a light year of home plate. Given how much Pujols' zone percentage (the percent of pitches he's seeing inside the strike zone) has decreased from where it was last season, that would appear to be the case.

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Pujols doesn't even want to talk to Hamilton (he assumed with about five percent certainty).

Given the dynamics at play, the Trout-Pujols-Hamilton trio is essentially defective in the early goings. Trout's not getting on base to provide Pujols and Hamilton with RBI opportunities, and Pujols isn't getting anything to hit because Hamilton isn't hitting.

Not exactly how the Angels drew it up.

The trio's slow start is particularly discouraging because of how it got to start the season off at two tremendous hitters' parks. But at the same time, the benefit of the doubt may be in order because Trout, Pujols and Hamilton had to start against two strong pitching staffs. As things stand right now, both the Cincinnati Reds and the Rangers rank in the top 10 in the league in ERA (see FanGraphs).

Here's where the Angels' upcoming opponents stand in terms of ERA, as well as where they rank:

  • 3 vs. OAK: 2.85 (7)
  • 3 vs. HOU: 4.79 (24)
  • 3 at MIN: 3.69 (13)
  • 3 vs. DET: 4.64 (23)
  • 3 vs. TEX: 3.34 (10)
  • 4 at SEA: 3.84 (15)
  • 3 at OAK: 2.85 (7)
  • 4 vs. BAL: 4.57 (22)
  • 3 at HOU: 4.79 (24)
  • 3 at CHW: 2.41 (3)
  • 3 vs. KCR: 3.56 (11)
  • 4 vs. CHW: 2.41 (3)

Bit of a mixed bag, but the pitching the Angels are set to face over the next several weeks (through May 19, to be exact, which is about six weeks away) is generally good. Some of these clubs are very likely pitching beyond their capabilities, but the Detroit Tigers stand out as a team that's clearly pitching well below its capabilities.

As such, I wouldn't describe the Angels' upcoming slate as an open invitation for Trout, Pujols and Hamilton to go to town. The chance to feast on inferior pitching isn't really there. If they're going to carry this team, they're simply going to have to live up to their talent and come together like they just haven't done yet so far this season.

Which of the big three do the Angels need to get going the most?

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Mike Scioscia and the Angels brass are surely thinking that the Trout-Pujols-Hamilton trio isn't going to stay down forever, and rightfully so.

These are three very good hitters we're talking about, and even a finger-wagger like myself feels comfortable in saying that they're going to explode sooner or later—and there's no denying that the Angels need that to happen sooner.

They're going to need as much offense as they can get as long as Weaver is out, and they know from what happened last year that they must not let their slow start get too out of hand.

The Angels' 6-14 record through 20 games in 2012 cost them a playoff spot. Given the depth of the AL West and the rest of the American League in general, the same thing could very well happen again this season if they can't start strong.

So Trout, Pujols and Hamilton had better get to it. The trio has problems that need fixing, and the clock is ticking.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter. 

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