At 6-14, the Angels enter play today tied with the Royals for the second-worst record in baseball, and at -12 runs, they have the eighth-worst run differential as well. They have lost eight of 10, including five straight, with the last two being of the walk-off variety. As such, the team is in desperate search of a spark, and on Friday night they hope they found it by calling up the one player who should have been with the team all along in Mike Trout. Unfortunately, the Angels roster is now misshapen, thanks to the fact that Anaheim cut the wrong player in order to get Trout to the Majors.
In Spring Training, the Angels used a pair of excuses to ship Trout back to the Minors. One was that he battled a virus and lost some weight, with the other potentially being more serious — he had shoulder tendinitis. But since Trout went out and clubbed four doubles, five triples and a homer in his first 20 games at Salt Lake, it seems his shoulder is just fine and dandy. The real reason he was sent down was that the Angels had a conundrum on the corners, and since he is the rookie, he drew the short end of the stick. And he would have likely continued to draw that short end had the Angels started strong. After all, it took a five-game losing streak to get him called up, despite the fact that he was hitting over .400 in the Minors.
Now, some of that batting average is likely attributable to the Pacific Coast League’s hitting-friendly environment, but it’s important to note that Trout’s stats still placed among the league leaders. He currently ranks seventh in wOBA, fourth in speed score and 24th in BB%. It took the Angels a little while to come around, but now that he is back up in the Majors, they aren’t being shy with him — Trout is hitting leadoff today. He is befitting of such a role because outside of Chris Iannetta and Albert Pujols, Trout may be the most patient hitter on the team. But while Trout should immediately make the Angels a better team, Anaheim hamstrung themselves by cutting the wrong player.
To make room for Trout the Angels released Bobby Abreu. This was one of the more telegraphed moves of the season. The Angels have not been shy about trying to find a new team for Abreu, and at one point had a deal to ship Abreu to the Indians, though it fell apart over how much of Abreu’s salary Anaheim would eat. But while it was a telegraphed move, it was also the wrong one. Whether or not you are of the opinion that there is anything left to salvage of Vernon Wells’ career or not, he is now completely redundant on Anaheim’s roster. Today, Wells will ride the pine, with Trout, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter starting from left to right in the outfield. You’ll notice something about those three players, and that is that like Wells, they’re all right-handed hitters.
When Wells was platooning with Abreu, it made sense, since Abreu is a left-handed hitter. They could easily swap in and out of the lineup based on matchups. Wells no longer has that luxury. And while Wells still hits lefties well, none of the three outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart has demonstrated a deficiency against lefties. Kendrys Morales has had troubles against lefties in the past, but if he needs a day off against a lefty, Mark Trumbo can stand in for him, with one of the Angels’ better fielders manning third base. Wells also isn’t going to be valuable as a pinch hitter. For starters, it’s a role with which he is almost completely unfamiliar — he has just 10 plate appearances as a pinch hitter in his 14-season career. Second, Wells is simply too aggressive to be a good fit for the role. A pinch hitter needs to be able to come in and see a couple of pitches to get his bearings and work a good at bat, and Wells doesn’t do that. So far this season, he has seen just 3.59 pitches per plate appearance, which ranks 148th out of 194 American League hitters. His BB/K is no different — his paltry 0.15 mark is 15th-worst in the game. And while the samples for this season are small, it’s not like past years have been much different — Wells BB/K last year was 0.23, and his career-best mark is 0.63.
Abreu, on the other hand, is not only the better hitter — his wOBA last season bettered Wells’ by 40 points — but he is also a perfect fit as a pinch hitter. Thanks to his time in the National League, he has pinch hit far more frequently during his career than has Wells, and his hitting profile fits the role of one much better. While Wells topped out at 0.63 BB/K, Abreu has had a BB/K of .63 or better in each of the last 14 seasons. He is at just 0.40 so far this year, but then he’s only had 27 plate appearances. And Abreu also sees a lot more pitches — his 4.30 P/PA ranks 22nd best in the AL right now. And again, since he is a left-handed hitter, he would be easier to sub in for one of the outfielders on days when they might need a breather. To take that one step further, by keeping Wells, the Angels now have no solely left-handed hitter on their active roster; they have nine right-handed hitters and four switch hitters. Abreu would have helped balance both the outfield and the entire roster better than does Wells.
While it may have taken 20 games too many, the Angels were right to get Mike Trout back to the bigs, as he will almost assuredly be one of the Angels’ three best outfielders from here on out. However, in cutting Bobby Abreu instead of Vernon Wells, the Angels have a misshapen roster that is at a tactical disadvantage in the late innings. That might be defensible if Wells was the better player overall, but he isn’t. Yes, the Angels still owe Wells a lot of money, but that is a sunk cost. By choosing to keep him and his contract over Abreu, Anaheim has not only done themselves a disservice, but potentially one to Trout as well, as he may have to look over his shoulder at Wells after every bad game.